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Preview: Changing the game?

Changing the game?

Notes from & thoughts inspired partly by implementing the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment across an English Local Education Authority.

Updated: 2017-09-04T22:33:14.693+00:00


Live Modelling the United Nations


This is a brief post to follow up a previous post on the Model United Nations format which we have undertaken successfully in Buckinghamshire and successfully supported with Moodle. I presented (briefly) at the BETT 2012 TeachMeet on this and thought I'd share the next iteration and how we will (hopefully) improve and focus the use of appropriate technology on the day of the conference. This post will probably make more sense in the context of the original post which is here.The view from the Al Jazeera desk at a previous iteration of the Model United Nations in Buckinghamshire.Previously the press teams had, like the Nations involved in the MUN process, used the Moodle-based areas for preparation for the conference day, but had not really used technology to communicate outside of the conference. We've used the Moodle model again, but we're hoping to change the use of technology tomorrow and, with that in mind, each media team has a dedicated Twitter account with which they will (hopefully) broadcast bite-sized chunks of news from the conference, which is about the potential for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals by a process of nuclear arms reduction. We want the Media Teams' activities to feed back into the Model United Nations process as well, so I'm hoping to use something like  to display an RSS feed of all of the Media Teams' tweets about the positions different nations will be taking in the form of a News Ticker across any projected screens we have in the room (the conference is being held in the council chamber at Wycombe District Council). However, this was a problem - creating a list of Twitter users is one thing (I've created a list of the five media teams' accounts - you can see (and follow) it here) - but getting these Tweets out in a form which is useable elsewhere (via RSS, once the lingua franca of web services but now apparently deliberately hidden by Twitter who are desperate to keep users on the Twitter web site at all costs) has become nearly impossible. Google for rss feed from Twitter lists and even the titles of the results give you an idea that This Isn't Going To Be A Straightforward Thing.The Al Jazeera team from a previous iteration of the Model United Nations in Buckinghamshire.Previously I'd tweeted about what I saw as my only alternative to Twitter, which was CoverItLive. There were a few issues reported by respondents, who pointed to a security breach which occurred earlier this year, which appear to have been dealt with. CoverItLive does offer a very useful feature which allows the aggregation of a number of Twitter accounts, or hashtags, into the feed offered by a CIL event. As CIL offers RSS feeds of the content in an event, this might provide a way around the limitations of Twitter lists and RSS.We're hoping that the Media Teams are going to replicate what media teams covering any major event would do - report to the world, knowing that their reports will be seen by those at the event during breaks, recording short pieces (on FlipCams) for summaries during the day, and in general expanding the reach of the media over what is always an inspirational day. If you want to get involved and give the process a wider audience, then you are welcome to follow the Twitter accounts of the MUN Media Teams, who I hope will be tweeting live from the event all day tomorrow...Media teams covering a previous MUN conference in Buckinghamshire. [...]

Teachmeets @BETT 2012 - Get Involved!


What follows is a close relation to a blog post I wrote about a year ago. Most of it still applies, but there are some notable changes...Pre-Teachmeet @BETT 2011For the past few years, Teachmeet has been a highlight of the BETT Show for many people – with many even choosing to come on the Friday of the show as they know that they’ll get something new, innovative, fun - or all three - to take away. People have previously even timed their journeys from the other side of the world to attend a Teachmeet. Teachmeets aren’t only for big conferences or exhibitions of course – a cursory look at the Teachmeet site shows them appearing in all sorts of contexts, all over the UK and even abroad.A last Olympian hurrah for Teachmeet @BETTDue to the nature of BETT - a four day exhibition/trade fair with 700 exhibitors, its more than 30,000 attendees making it more than twice the size of NECC /ISTE in the US, there's a sense of enormous cabin fever or Lost In Space which arises from being there for more than a few hours. Such an environment means that there are more than a few issues faced by a Teachmeet set at BETT. For a start, a Teachmeet is about sharing practice – classroom practice, work being done with learners now – rather than theoretical “in the future there will be robots” presentations or sales pitches. This will be the last BETT show in the halls at Olympia, so next year will be a learning curve for anyone involved in running a Teachmeet at the show.BETT 2009 TiltshiftedInterestingly, this year's BETT is due to be opened by the Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath - personally speaking I won't be there on the Wednesday for this auspicious / idiosyncratic / surreal moment, but if you're attending BETT in any capacity then at all other times there will be plenty of opportunity for you to see and hear from people with experience of teaching, rather than those who set policy for those who do the work - and to share what you're doing if you'd like to.TeachMeet at BETT 2011 panorama from the frontIt's possible that there will be fewer teachers attending BETT 2012 – even though entrance to the exhibition is free, it's easy to imagine many school leaders being less willing to release staff to browse an exhibition whose lifeblood of dedicated funding has been stemmed. So could this mean a Teachmeet devolved of practice and practitioners? Well I for one hope not-TeachMeets aren't about sales pitches, and there are enough of those on the floor of Olympia for the four days of BETT. Of course, if you're more than a little cunning you could see some real practice by attending one of the TeachMeet Takeover sessions - read Ian Addison's blog post on that here.Once again we'll be using the Eventbrite service to manage 'tickets' for the Friday night Teachmeet session and releasing those tickets in three batches:teachers/LA/RBC consultants (those who are employed and work directly in schools on a full-time basis);independent consultants (those who work in schools subject to contracts etc);exhibitors (those who'll be at BETT and are salaried by a commercial company).The reason for releasing the 'teacher' tickets first is that current classroom practice is the lifeblood of any good Teachmeet - and so ensuring that there are as many teachers and current practitioners as possible maximises the chance of everyone hearing about Good Things Happening Now. Of course consultants can talk about all sorts of great practice too, but getting your fellow teachers to present means that it's (more?) likely something will be replicable in your classroom just as it was in theirs. That doesn't mean that the other tickets are second class, or even third, but ensures that the balance is more likely to be right so that everyone sees what's happening now.Get involved!As ever, we'll be looking for sponsors (beyond EMAP's sponsorship of the room and AV/ICT support) to cover wifi access for attendees, an extra half hour of security so we don't all get booted out at the end, and[...]

Using Moodle to help Model the United Nations


During the last academic year I was fortunate enough to be involved in a Model United Nations (MUN) project being run in the Aylesbury Vale area of Buckinghamshire. This post reflects on how that process worked and (as you might expect) how I used Moodle to support and enhance the project. This post will demonstrate why this couldn't really have been done without an online environment, and how it couldn't have been managed without a Virtual Learning Environment. It will also give some guidance on how to meet the project's requirements using Moodle in case you ever need to do this.The Aylesbury Vale MUN Conference in session The project's backgroundVoting during the MUN ConferenceA few months ago I was asked by a colleague to see if there was a way of supporting an instance of the MUN being run in Bucks by the Schools' Linking Network (SLN) charity, which has considerable experience of running MUN projects in Local Authorities. I was initially invited to a meeting for staff from schools involved to work out the logistics of the project with a brief of sharing documents between the schools. This was the first time an MUN project had been run in Buckinghamshire and after listening to what my colleagues and those from SLN were proposing it became clear that without some sort of online interaction - beyond simple document sharing - the project would struggle. The students (henceforth known as delegates) would all meet once at the project's inception, and again for the final conference, but between those two times would have no organised times when they could meet. Delegates from nations would need to work on position papers which would be presented at the final conference and the representatives from international media organisations would need to carry out similar work. How the project workedThe French MUN DelegationFive Aylesbury Vale schools came together to work on the project. The students involved were from Years 9 and 10 and worked in pairs to represent either nations or international media organisations. Although there were nearly a dozen students Delegates from each school, the pairs of delegates would not be from the same school, and so would have to work with someone from another school to prepare a country profile and subsequent position paper. Their colleagues representing five international media organisations (Fox News, the BBC, Russia Today, PressTV and Al Jazeera) received some training and advice from colleagues in the BucksCC Press Office and would cover the conference on the day. During the preparation process, the accompanying staff from the schools involved (henceforth known as Faculty Advisers) would support a number of the nations and one media organisation each. The Delegates and Media Organisations they would support would not necessarily be from their own schools and the Faculty Advisers would be expected to communicate with all of their groups. An important issue was that as nations were preparing position papers which were to be presented at the final conference, this work needed to be private within the group of two delegates and one faculty adviser. What do you want to do, exactly...?Delegates working on papersduring the ConferenceThe secret to supporting an event such as the MUN, or successfully extending and enhancing any learning using technology, is to work out the processes and transactions involved - what are those involved expected to do, respond to, share, produce - and then appropriately applying technologies to support those transactions. From the initial meeting with colleagues, SLN staff and staff from schools, it was apparent that the following things needed to happen:All delegates, media correspondents and faculty advisers needed to be able to access resources, news and updates about the project;Three levels of access were required - BucksCC & SLN staff (aka "UN Advisers") should have complete access, school staff ("Faculty Advisers") should have access to the groups they are supporting, students ("Del[...]

Presenting at #ngconf on Learning Platforms


Newcastle platforms tiltshiftedI’m tapping this out on Windows Live Writer while my 3G connection searches for a signal north of Durham and the “paltry fifteen minutes of free wifi” offered by East Coast trains sits unused. #ngconf is the Twitter hashtag for the Northern Grid for Learning Conference (alternative Lanyrd link) and, although Newcastle was a long way to travel to present a single workshop, the journey was more than worth it.This was an interesting time to attend another conference, as two days before I’d run some workshops at Buckinghamshire’s own, far smaller, “Future Learning with ICT” conference held for schools in Bucks. The Northern Grid covers several local authorities in the north-east of England and (for anyone reading who’s not in the UK, or hasn’t spent too much time in the world of educational ICT) is a Regional Broadband Consortium, who have been tasked with offering services to schools and Local Authorities in whichever region they cover. Today's conference was illuminated by lots of inspirational and (at least as important) practical people to illustrate the difference well-used online tools can make - people like Russell Prue, Steve Wheeler, Jan Webb, Bill Lord, Martin Waller and Ian Addison (among others) were there to stimulate, provoke, make people think and above all give practical ideas.Steve Wheeler closing keynote. Picture by simfin2010. Used with permission.My workshop had the (rather verbose) title of How to improve your school using your learning platform without wasting time, money and opportunity. Not exactly the most catchy title, and if I’m honest I was half expecting to be in a room with half a dozen other people. However, the session was quite full (maybe fifty or sixty people) and I confessed at the start that I wasn’t sure if they would be leaving at the end with an “answer” (if indeed there is one). One of the aims of the session was to share and publicise the Steps To Adoption Model, originally written by a group of experienced users and advocates of the sort of work that can be done using elements of a Learning Platform, and the new post-Becta home for that work, namely the Learning Platform Network. I’m aware that even the mention of Learning Platforms will provoke the usual mix of responses, some positive & hopeful, some vehemently negative or sceptical, or more than a few saying “Learning Platforms – they’re so last decade…”. Which of these reactions, if any, is right?Your answer to that will almost certainly depend on what your experience of the concept of a “learning platform”. I’m frequently amazed by the baggage the term has acquired (Becta coined the term and then, in my opinion, tried to include absolutely everything that could possibly ever take place in the definition. Simply defining it as “a tool that provided a platform or stage for enhancing learning using online technology” would have been too simple (imagine a procurement framework based on something as vague as that) - however the phrase would almost certainly have meant more in schools.Simply put, it’s a tool (or a suite of tools, or a collection of small tools loosely joined) a school can use to be more effective, more engaging, more efficient, more open… etc. You get the idea. The group of us who were brought together under the auspices of Becta during the autumn of its time were tasked with developing, refining and publishing a refinement of the work done by the excellent Dave Whyley during his work with WMNet using the LP+ learning platform. We came together from using a whole range of tools – this was the point, we shouldn’t pretend (nor should anyone) that effective use could only be made by using A Single Brand Of Tool. That, some might argue, is the job of the vendors of such tools, but this afternoon I was really concerned to (try and) put people at ease. I feel uneasy when some schools – those just starting out, or those regrouping after a change o[...]

A Today Programme approach to an Open Source vs. Closed Source learning platforms debate


Vegas Pictures 2009 Canon 003 by AdolfGalland. Used under Creative Commons.I was recently asked to contribute to SecEd magazine on the case for using an Open Source Learning Platform - a piece to go up against an advocate of a "buy a commercial Learning Platform" approach. I didn't know who would be writing the companion / conflicting piece, so it was an odd piece to write. In the end it turned out that Dominic Tester from Costello Technology College was writing the other piece. I've met Dominic at  SSAT learning platform events and he does really good work with CTC's tools, particularly on parental engagement. As I was writing / redrafting / fussing over the piece, knowing it would be edited and thatIcouldn'tfiteverythingIwantedtosayinto800words - in fact on the day I submitted it - I heard Graham Linehan's appearance on the Today Programme to talk about his adaptation of The Ladykillers. You can read about his experience on his Posterous blog or an expanded version on the Guardian's Comment is Free opinion site. Essentially, Linehan thought he was going on the programme to discuss the issues concerned with adapting a film for the stage, with Michael Billington from the Guardian there to provide a wider context. The crux of the issue is in the Guardian piece:The style of debate practised by the Today programme poisons discourse in this country. It is an arena where there are no positions possible except for diametrically opposed ones, where nuance is not permitted and where politicians are forced into defensive positions of utter banality. None of it is any good for the national conversation.You can listen to the exchange here, though I'm not sure for how long - but Linehan's irritation with the staged conflict is obvious. I'm not comparing myself to the man who wrote Father Ted and The IT Crowd, nor would I associate Dominic with either Linehan or Billington, but it struck me that we found ourselves in a similar position (I'm not sure what Dominic felt).I'm not suggesting that any SecEd debate is somehow poisoned - it's not that strong. However, it struck me that having an "either/or" debate on something fairly crucial to schools who want to develop isn't that helpful for decision makers in those schools, who almost certainly won't follow either path, but instead plot a course between. We have plenty of schools who used to use commercial learning platforms and now use Moodle, and there will be schools who change the culture of their school using Moodle and then spend a sizeable budget on another tool in the future. I would loved to have had a constructive exchange of views with someone like Dominic, who is aiming for the same outcomes, using similar approaches, albeit taking a different path to that which I'd recommend. I often find the most interesting opinion pieces in newspapers are those which take the form of a thoughtful exchange of emails or letters from two contributors - which is where the "nuance" that Linehan alludes to might become more clear. If and when I can find a link to an example of this more constructive opinion piece, I'll replace this sentence with a link to it...Anyway, here's the article as I originally wrote it (the formatting was changed slightly - to fit SecEd's publishing tool? I'm not sure) and some parts were edited out. It also includes direct links to the references. You can see Dominic's piece alongside this (well, underneath, which isn't significant) on the SecEd site, and I recommend that you read both.Why choose an Open Source option over a proprietary Learning Platform?When an author or commentator wants to highlight the differences between “commercial” and “open source” tools, some standard statements are often made about these broad categories to attempt to reinforce differences between the two. Such statements normally take these forms:“Commercial products are well-supported, proven, popular and are the route you should go down if you’re serious abou[...]

How not to apply for your own job


ParentsPstcrd_120309.jpg by Carolyn_Sewell - used under a Creative Commons license.A previous post looked forward (if that's the appropriate phrase) to the end of the process of applying for my own role in the Buckinghamshire School Improvement Service, and was written the evening before my half-hour interview. So what happened?Well, the outcome was that I didn't get the post I applied for (School Improvement Adviser) but was instead offered a post of School Improvement Consultant with salary protection for three years. This is definitely a mixed blessing - of course, I'm incredibly fortunate to have a job at all in the current climate, but to say I was disappointed would be an understatement and, according to the postcard above, a way of wimping out. I'm angry with myself for not having done a better job, and in some ways angry at... what? A system that doesn't recognise work that it can't categorise? My employer for not realising how obviously great I was/am? Hmm, probably neither of those two, so it's probably just myself - and the second one wasn't meant seriously by the way...That said, I know there are many, many other people facing similar situations right now or in the near future, so I hope this post might be helpful to someone. I've always been a fan of schools and individuals sharing practice - not just "good practice" but also "bad practice" - the "don't do what I did" sort of practice, so if you're facing a similar situation, whether in a school, Local Authority or any other organisation then I hope there's something you can glean from this.I'm aware that this isn't a perfectly rounded or objective post, so if I have anything not-quite-right then please be patient!The contextI've been in post for six years now (really?) - I was originally appointed with a brief of making a web site for the School Improvement Service but rapidly moved into supporting & advising schools with the practical aspects of E-Learning - specifically through the use of Moodle and Adobe Connect. (Sometimes when I'm speaking about this work I revert to the "we decided to do this" form of language. Actually, much of it was just me at first.) This was before Becta started the Learning Platforms Framework and before 98% of schools knew what a VLE, Learning Platform or accessible videoconferencing tool was. I was not an adviser, but not a consultant either, but was appointed on an adviser's pay scale, so I guess if you had to call it, you'd say I was an adviser. I remember my two-part interview vividly - the first part was three headteachers and the Head of Service (who'd previously moved from Hertfordshire and asked me to apply for a role in Bucks) and the second part was four senior advisers. I was appointed outside of the curriculum ICT team and was line managed by one of the senior advisers - which meant I very much had a "School Improvement" focus rather than an "ICT" focus. Having someone with a self-professed lack of understanding and experience of technology to support learning and school improvement as a line manager, I started to use this blog as preparation for line management and appraisal meetings - which helped me focus on writing things that could be read by anyone, even if they weren't familiar with the environment and issues my work focused on.  Around 2008 the position of my role changed abruptly - without warning I became part of the curriculum ICT team and was line managed by the county adviser, which changed the game (!) significantly. My post went from being core funded by the Local Authority to being paid for from the Harnessing Technology grant - which didn't seem significant at the time. At the same time the focus of the ICT team became less on curriculum ICT and more on e-learning-like activities, since that's where the funding was. Of course, with the seismic changes to funding for all kinds of school improvement-type work, plus swingeing cuts to Local[...]

Giving up for Lent?


Black Chair by Alex @ Faraway - used under Creative CommonsShrove Tuesday is the day when, for some people, things are done for the last time before the liturgical season of Lent. This year, there's a chance I might be giving up something for longer. For a couple of months now I've been officially 'at risk of redundancy' - changes in government funding, plus the view of the Secretary of State that Local Authorities (and their staff?) appear to exist as a "bureaucratic intervention" (which I assume he doesn't mean in a positive way) - and so last week I put in a brief application form for my own job, or one like it. The post is School Improvement Adviser - a generic post (rather than a specific one like "ICT", "E-Learning" or "English"). If I don't get a job I can be considered for a job at a lower pay range, but if I still don't get a job then I'll be made redundant. If (for some reason) I'm offered a job but turn it down then I'll be considered to have resigned. Naturally I'm competing with colleagues for a number of roles that's less than the number of people applying - some will have applied for voluntary redundancy (I haven't) and some for potential reduced hours (I have). I know in some ways I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to apply, rather than (as appears to have happened in some LAs) being taken out the back of a County Hall and put to sleep with a mumbled apology - I've read the Redundant Public Servant ("News from the front line of deficit reduction") so I know what could (have) happen(ed).It's an odd situation - when applying for most roles (other than in a brand-new startup, I guess) you'd have some idea who your colleagues would be, plus who you'd be working for, plus the broader environment in which your organisation is working... all sorts of things that I don't know for a variety of reasons. Maybe the startup analogy is a good one - the push of the White Paper is clearly to strip away responsibilities from Local Authorities, reducing their role to that of commissioners - to change the landscape and hence the nature of the organisations operating in it.I'm not quite what the role of commissioner means - there are plenty of examples of commissioned services which haven't worked and even a cursory read of the Government's proposals sees many things which I'm already part of or have (in some measure) instigated being encouraged. You want schools working together? got it. Want innovation? Yup. Want examples from successful schools being used in those on the road to outstanding? Got it.My chance to get a job lasts thirty minutes - a five minute presentation (no visual or audio presentation aids which is as - as anyone who's sat through anything I've ever presented knows, I can talk/bore for England) on a project I've worked on recently (that'll be Chick Cam then) - with a reflection on how problems were overcome and how I'd measure the success of it. Then twenty-five minutes for questions (of me). I'll know the four people interviewing me, and if my calculations are correct they are interviewing over 100 people in seven working days. Yikes.So. It's the night before. I've read the White Paper and summarised what I think are the pertinent sections, gone over what the project's about (in that respect writing a blog post helped) - what else is there to do? Ah yes - iron a shirt. Tomorrow is supposed to be a lovely sunny spring day - do I spend the morning sat indoors worrying about what's happen at 2.30 in the afternoon? I'm tempted to dig the garden... anyway, see you on the other side. Maybe.Daffodils by Danielle Boyle Photography. Used under Creative Commons. [...]

Mixing Moodle and Connect with a side helping of eggs for Year 2


I've been involved in some work with the Headteacher at Grendon Underwood Combined for a while now, but it's been difficult to get the school's use of Moodle off the ground - the school has decided to use Moodle as their main web site, but hadn't yet used it as an important part of the pupils' learning. A couple of weeks before half-term I was asked to go in to the school to work with a class teacher to help her allocate her class of Year 2 pupils to a particular Moodle course to work on a special project...Chick Cam setup - laptop hard wired into school network connected to Buckinghamshire Adobe Connect server. Incubator containing eggs from It turned out that the project was a delivery of eggs (in an incubator) from The Happy Chick Company which would be with Year 2 for a fortnight. The original aim was to share some information about the project - and involve the pupils in any way possible. Getting pupils at Key Stage 1 to log in successfully is often a challenge, but there are plenty of examples of ways in which this can be overcome - and as with anything, practice makes perfect. Just before half term I took a Year 2 class with Miss Hair in which we introduced the Secret Project to her Year 2 class. The class was held in the school's ICT suite and so pupils could practise logging in and replying to messages on the forum.  In Moodle this was a forum set up as a Single Simple Discussion - the teacher said what she thought the surprise might be and asked the pupils to respond. There were a few Class Rules - held in a web page at the top of the Moodle course and read during the lesson - one of which was "only one smiley per message"! The class's task over half-term was to log in and respond to someone else's idea - not just saying why that person might be right or wrong, but also giving a reason why. In my experience this is really important when giving younger children their first taste of writing something online, so as to reflect the responses which would be hoped for in the classroom:Forum set up as a Single Simple Discussion in Moodle. The teacher starts things off, and pupils reply to her and one another.Considering the pupils were the first in their school to really use the VLE as part of a project, I was really impressed by the way they took to it. Miss Hair said that some of their parents reported that the children were a little obsessed with logging on to the VLE over half term - and for a typical Key Stage 1 class, their levels of interaction would put many secondary classes to shame. They also used Choices for a number of activities and there's a lot of potential to support their learning in future. This is by far my preferred method of introducing a class or even a school to using a VLE - it has focus, the pupils are actively involved (rather than simply clicking on links or printing off endless documents) and (by implication) the staff are active as well.Activity report for the Year 2 "Surprise Project". On the left is the teacher's activity setting up the coruse, the pupils first accessed it on the 18th-19th February, the last day in school before half term. The eggs arrived in class on the 28th February.While meeting before half term I suggested that with a little creativity we could use our Adobe Connect server to broadcast the eggs (and their potential hatching) beyond the classroom, since chicks aren't normally timetabled and therefore might not arrive during school hours. I'd used it in a similar way a few years ago to something I'd (worryingly) called PuppyCam (read that blog post), where a teacher in another of our primary schools had a dog about to give birth to puppies at home, and wanted pupils in the classroom to be able to see. The teacher had a webcam at home and a BucksGfL account, so I set up the room, created a logo, she pointed the camera at the litter, and we were i[...]

Teachmeet @BETT 2011


Teachmeet at BETT 2010For the past few years, Teachmeet has been a highlight of the BETT Show for many people – with many even choosing to come on the Friday of the show as they know that they’ll get something new, innovative, fun - or all three - to take away. People have previously even timed their journeys from the other side of the world to attend a Teachmeet. Teachmeets aren’t only for big conferences or exhibitions of course – a cursory look at the Teachmeet site shows them appearing in all sorts of contexts, all over the UK and even abroad.Lost in Space / School of DutyFPP - derived from dsc_0113.jpg by metacheetr under a Creative Commons license.After Duke Nukem.Due to the nature of BETT - a four day exhibition/trade fair with 700 exhibitors, its more than 30,000 attendees making it more than twice the size of NECC /ISTE in the US, there's a sense of enormous cabin fever or Lost In Space which arises from being there for more than a few hours. Such an environment means that there are more than a few issues faced by a Teachmeet set at BETT. For a start, a Teachmeet is about sharing practice – classroom practice, work being done with learners now – rather than theoretical “in the future there will be robots” presentations or sales pitches. BETT is by and large like an immersive first person pitch-em-up game (FPP?) – you’re dropped into an alien environment, populated mainly by people you don’t understand, with a mission that you’re not clear on, with a cast of characters who don’t always behave or communicate in ways you’re familiar with as a teacher – unless you are on the receiving end of a lot of sales phone calls I guess.BETT 2009 TiltshiftedThis are accentuated by the current cloud of issues around the role of ICT in education – the confiscation of Harnessing Technology funding to support the controversial Free Schools programme, the closure of Becta and the apparent absence of a role for ICT in the Education White Paper - all of which make for an extremely rarefied atmosphere in which schools attempting to use technology to support learning, school improvement and engaging with their school community might find the DfE unsympathetic with their aims. TeachMeet at BETT 2010What this could mean for Teachmeet is fewer teachers attending BETT – even though entrance to the exhibition is free, it's easy to imagine many school leaders being less willing to release staff to browse an exhibition whose lifeblood of dedicated funding has been stemmed. So could this mean a Teachmeet devolved of practice and practitioners? Well I for one hope not-TeachMeets aren't about sales pitches, and there are enough of those on the floor of Olympia for the four days of BETT. Of course, if you're more than a little cunning you could see some real practice by attending one of the TeachMeet Takeover sessions...In order to mitigate against that we're proposing a slightly different method of registering for the Friday evening Teachmeet at BETT 2011. We'll be using the Eventbrite service (which fits with the TeachMeet ethos, as it's a free service to those organising free events), and releasing the tickets in three batches:teachers/LA/RBC consultants (those who are employed and work directly in schools on a full-time basis);independent consultants (those who work in schools subject to contracts etc);exhibitors (those who'll be at BETT and are salaried by a commercial company).Eventbrite will mean that we will be able to communicate with ticket holders, match our numbers to the capacity of Olympia's Apex Room and release tickets in a way to try and ensure that as many teachers as possible get first chance to attend and share practice.As ever, we'll be looking for sponsors (beyond EMAP's sponsorship of the room and AV/ICT support[...]

Open letter to Michael Gove re: Severe Weather Disruption


Snow Day in Seattle by cheukiecfu. Used under a Creative Commons license.Dear Mr Gove, Vobiscum cupio in situ euentus causa extrema caeli vel quasi eruptiones molaris scholae adhuc potest universaliter function - supportantes doctrina parentum Communicantes, cuius virtute baculum munere aliis huiusmodi. Video Admonitio de Severe Weather DFE collocato situ quoslibet mentionem fieri faciat quam Headteachers suis iudiciis quam scholis ludunt in partes key communitates locales.Intrigued me saepe notione res posita in extreme Tempestas (maxime nives) ut simpliciter magistris conantur vade ad scholam localis. Miror quid sentias facturos ibi liberis nesciunt (possibly aetatis sunt inexperti supportantes dogmatisare), an non curriculum liberari. Quod hoc confirmat opinio sit essentialiter magistri pueri uelut minders et literae tantum processus auctoritate figura requirit praesens specimen in Nullam ac ante.Postremo, miror si quidem plerosque studiis habere patriam potuerit facultas docendi et discendi si manere in corpore clausa Schola. Local Schools et vallavit auctores tempore et CPD volutans animo in developing online usu tools suscipere doctrinam administrationem communicet & carers parentes. Videtur quod parum vel nihil diceret aut recognicio inde consilium habilitas in scholis vel Local Authorities Communionem.Si um necessitatem directionis pagina DFE de situ ero gauisus super scriptis sustinebunt eam.Tuus ex animo,Ian UsherE-Learning Co-ordinator, consilio County Buk.Rough translation.Source material.Why? [...]

Tweaking a Moodle course to display Resource & Activities in two or more columns


It's a long time since I've done a HowTo kind of post in Moodle, so please forgive any rustiness.West Pier by orange brompton. Used under a Creative Commons license.Moodle's default course layout arranges things in quite a linear way - items (Resources or Activities) are added in each section in a course, and can then be re-arranged by moving them up and down, or indenting them. This normally works fine, and a judicious use of sections means that it's not too tricky to achieve an appealing layout that works well and is understandable by anyone accessing it.However, sometimes you (or I) will end up with a bunch of links, or resources, or something, which just seems to go on forever and starts to look like a long line of toilet paper, stretching on forever.I'll use our soon-to-be-revamped CPD pages on our main BucksGfL site as an example. We will shortly have a long list of Directory resources containing PDFs of CPD courses, which could easily go on down the page forever. Here's how they currently look:You can probably see that adding any more to this will make the page go on forever. In contrast, have a look at this arrangement:If you think that's more appealing, or maybe just easier to take in, than the previous image, then here's how it's done. It's quite simple and requires a tiny understanding of how a HTML table is structured, and then the tactical addition of a few Labels into your Moodle course.A HTML table's structureIt's not very CSS, but here's the HTML that structures a table with two columns:
Content in column 1Content in column 2
Breaking it downHowever, it's not possible to wrap this HTML around the content on a Moodle course's main page, so it can't be done, right? Wrong.To achieve a two column layout we need to dissemble the table HTML and break it into labels, which we can then intersperse among the list of Resources and Activities in Moodle to force it into displaying two columns. Here's the content of Label 1:                        
Here's Label 2:   and finally Label 3:  
Making the Labels in MoodleInserting a Label (essentially a piece of free text or HTML) into your Moodle course is easy - Turn Editing On, Add a Resource, Insert a Label. However, the old-ish HTMLarea editor in Moodle insists on correctly forming any HTML which is edited in it - so if you try and enter Label 1 as written above, you'll end up with all of the tags "closed" - which will end the table prematurely and stop you using it to tweak the layout. This is how you should edit the label to ensure that it's not closed: Code for Label 1 in the Moodle editor (HTML view). The start of the table, table row, and table cell.You should Save and return to course while in this (HTML) view, not the standard (rich text) view - otherwise the editor will close the ,, and
tags and stop the layout tweak from working. Do something similar with Labels 2 and 3:Label 2 - the code which marks the end of one cell (hence column) and the start of the next.Label 3 - the code which closes the table cell, the table row, and finally the table.Once you've done this, you then need to place these three labels around and in the list of Moodle Resource/Activities you'd like in two columns. Place Label 1 at the start, Label 3 at the end and Label 2 a[...]

Teachmeet Takeover @ BETT 2011


Well, it’s nearly that time of the year again… the the end of Movember and the arrival of Advent means that January can only be a month away. That means BETT is approaching like some looming city in a US road movie, full of promise, labyrinthine alleys, hidden joys (and tacky mainstream pleasures) and an accompanying population which longs for a return to the countryside when all this is over...BETT is a behemoth. It straddles the receding world of educational ICT and does its best to stare anyone down who dares to look it in the eye and say “stop trying to sell me stuff – what actually works in a classroom?”.Last year, Tom Barrett conceived the idea of Teachmeet Takeover – a movable Teachmeet feast where, rather than assembling speakers and participants in a room after hours, teachers take the floor during BETT’s office hours - an event that could answer this question. The aim of Teachmeet Takeover is to take the interesting things shared during normal Teachmeet sessions and bring them into the well funded and rarely-replicable exhibition space in Olympia’s main halls and, in the words on the accompanying TMTakeover presentation which preceded most talks around the stands, to“Learning something new, be amazed, amused and enthused”Stuart Ridout #TMtakeover by kvnmcl. Used under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa license.For BETT 2011 Teachmeet Takeover will again be using spaces donated by exhibitors to allow teachers & practitioners to showcase free tools, ideas and examples of how to do interesting things – right in the middle of BETT, during each day of the show. If you’re planning on going to BETT, either as an exhibitor or a ‘punter’ then you can sign up on the wiki – just names and contact details at the time of writing, there’ll be a detailed timetable available for vendors to offer slots and presenters to choose which slots they appear in later in December.So far we’ve got (at the time of publication), 16 presenters (who, it would hoped, present at least once) and 10 exhibitors who have signed up to say that they’re willing to take part. I’ll be doing something Moodle-related (as yet undecided) and it’ll be good to, subject to trying to take in the rest of BETT, to see what people have been up to. If you’re not sure what it’s all about, have a browse of pictures taken during last year’s TM Takeover, or watch a brief video of Tom B doing one of his #tmtakeover presentations from last year’s show. Even if you’ve never been to BETT before, presenting at TMTakeover is a great thing to do. Read the guidelines on the #TMTakeover2011 page on the Teachmeet wiki, and get stuck in! Thanks in advance to all the exhibitors who already have (and will) donate their time, space, AV, 240V AC, etc. – and a huge thank you to you if you’re going to share your real in-the-classroom ideas, tools and experiences with the slightly confused, bag-carrying hordes at BETT.Many people say they most significant ideas and conversations they have at BETT come not from conversations with exhbitors, but from interactions with other teachers and practitioners - and that's what all Teachmeet events are supposed to be about. So, why not learn something new, be amazed, amused and enthused for free in the New Year? [...]

Using a VLE for a Headteacher's trip to Ghana


About a year ago I received a note passed to me by my line manager. One of our primary schools was having an issue with Blogger being blocked by their default filtering - presumably because they were taking the "lowest common denominator" filtering offered to schools who don't want to control their own. It turned out that the Headteacher of the school was about to undertake a VSO placement in Ghana and had set up a blog to document it. After a few exchanges of emails I went to meet Karen Brooks, Headteacher at Weston Turville Combined School not far from Aylesbury. The previous year, another headteacher from Marlow Infant School had used their Moodle to document her yearly trip to Uganda over the summer and keep in touch with the school community while she was there, so there was an obvious application for the Karen's Ghana trip. After she returned to the UK, having been in Ghana for I asked Karen to write about her use of the VLE and how it supported what she'd been doing in Ghana and the UK. So, over to her...Weston Turville FlagsUsing a VLE was a new experience for me and for most of our pupils, so going to Ghana was the ideal opportunity to experiment with it.  Ian came in to help me set it up, so the children could see where I was going and some of the facts about it, such as the location, the flag, the weather etc.  We also put in sections for diary entries, pictures and video clips, some of which we pre-populated with school information.During the trip I uploaded diary entries, pictures and video clips, and I was really pleased with the response from the children.  Initially they wrote when prompted by their teachers in their lessons, but after a while many of them started to write independently whilst accessing the VLE at home.  Parents, staff and older siblings also took part.  The children asked a wide variety of questions and used the site to find out about Ghana and the school we linked with.  They also communicated with each other as well as with me.  It seemed to fire their imaginations and one child even asked if we could continue using the site after I came home.  They used the information for discussion in class, and sometimes sent a class response.I was also able to use the VLE to show our partner school about us.  They were able to look at the photos and video clips and explore the questions being asked by the children.  The disadvantage in Ghana, however, was the slow internet connection which meant that each page took a relatively long time to load.While I was away staff began to design their own VLE pages and experiment with them.  We still have a way to go in exploiting all the potential of a VLE; however, we have a number of plans to develop it for use with parents as well as pupils, and the trip to Ghana was the stepping stone we needed to become inspired, and to learn how to start to use it effectively.If you're not a pupil or member of staff at Weston Turville you won't be able to access the VLE, but you can read the public facing side of what Karen did on her blog.Display board in Weston Turville SchoolShrink-O-Matic screen shotBefore Karen went I spent some time with her thinking about some of the practical things that might prevent her getting information back to the VLE with a slow or unreliable connection. Taking digital photographs that she might want to keep (of a large size and good resolution) might be one thing, uploading them to the VLE would be another. I think this was the first headteacher's machine I've ever seen that already had Adobe AIR installed on it, so I downloaded the easy-to-use Shrink-O-Matic AIR app which allows the downsizing of images simply by dragging them ont[...]

A school library manager's view of a VLE


RETRO POSTER - In the Library by Enokson. Used under a Creative Commons license.Over the last few years I've done a fair amount a lot of training and development in secondary schools across the County. The schools choose who will attend and it's normally a helpful spread of subject teachers, or Heads of Department, or Third in Faculty, or... well, as with all aspects of ICT development in a school, participation is determined by someone senior in the school deciding who will take part & them having a vision to extend and apply it across the school. Occasionally there are non-teaching staff there - library & learning resources staff, network technicians, administrative people - and, to my mind, those are often signs that the school might be thinking in a more creative way about the way to use online learning to support all aspects of school life.About three years ago a colleague and I did our regular four half-day sessions in Dr Challoner's High School for Girls in Amersham - one of the Grammar schools in Buckinghamshire's selective system. I can remember some of the details of those sessions - working across all schools in the county means they tend to blend together at some point, but among the fact that there was an issue with some PowerPoints not displaying correctly I can vividly remember that the school's Library Manager took part in the sessions - and that this was, amazingly, the first time a school had nominated someone from their library to take part. She was keen to get going and during the sessions was already thinking of applications of the VLE for student use.Three years on, and that Library Manager has moved on from the school at the end of the 2010 Summer term. Before she left I asked her to write about how she's used the VLE to support her work, and the students' learning. So over to Lauren...RETRO POSTER - Management by Enokson. Used under a Creative Commons license.As a secondary school library manager, I’ve found that the involvement students have with online communities can be harnessed to further their engagement with reading and writing. When students visit the Learning Resource Centre area of our school VLE they encounter a variety of pathways into literature and research. In one corner, the latest headlines from our library blog promote library events and writing contests as well as new resources and study tips. In the other corner, the covers of our newest fiction books appear as moving graphics that students can click on to read summaries and reviews. There are forums for pupils to request books or discuss authors and novels with classmates. Students can also share their writing or post comments on the stories and poems of others in the creative writing section. Additionally, there are links to recommended research sites, subscription databases, reading lists, and websites that promote books and reading.When I first began setting up the Learning Resource Centre area of our school’s VLE, I saw it primarily as a place to provide links to resources and websites. I divided the area up by subject, creating separate courses under the Learning Resource Centre umbrella (for example: LRC – Chemistry Resources, LRC – English Resources). Previously, we had given sixth formers enormous paper packets listing recommended web sites, as well as passwords for subscription websites. Unfortunately, these packets were costly to print and were regularly lost or mislaid by students. As soon as the resources were moved to the VLE, students could access them more readily, without having to find the packet, type in the web address or fiddle with different usernames and passwords. Students have a tendency [...]

Moodling in your Office? Should you?


It's been about two months since the Microsoft Office Add-In for Moodle was released. The what?Well, it's an extension for Microsoft Office 2007 and 2003 which allows you to save Office documents to your Moodle and open them from your Moodle.Saving a file to Moodle from within Office 2007This is, in many respects, undoubtedly A Good Thing. When I'm doing Moodle training there are often teachers and other staff for whom uploading a document to an online space is something they've not done before - so the process of updating that same document stored in their Moodle course's Files area is not intuitive. They'll open the Files area, click on the file to open it (either directly in their browser if using Internet Explorer or in their browser's cache of downloaded files), edit it, save it and wonder why the file in their Moodle course hasn't updated. For people who've only ever stored files "locally" - i.e. on USB, network or local hard drives - the idea of having to upload again seems alien to them. Well, this Add-In could deal with some of that. What doesn't happen is that the file is automatically saved when using the default Save (or Ctrl-S) option within an Office program (Word, Excel, or PowerPoint). However, it could be possible to alter this by a network admin (or a keen user with geek tendancies) to customise their copy of Word/Excel/PowerPoint to include the Open from Moodle and Save to Moodle buttons as defaults, possibly even (gasp!) removing the default Save icon:The Open from Moodle... and Save to Moodle... commands added to the Quick Access Toolbar in Word. The default Save command could be removed if you were feeling brave.I tried to find the Save to Moodle command in the Customize... button for Keyboard Shortcuts above, but as far as I could tell it wasn't listed, even under All Commands. Shown below is the default shortcut keys for Save - if the SavetoMoodle command was here you could (again, for the brave) map this to Save to Moodle by default:I've done a quick Captivate movie of how the Add-In works in practice. Once you've watched it, read what follows below...There are a few riders to this seemingly seamless way of saving to your Moodle:You need to have Teacher rights over a number of courses on your Moodle. Administrator rights will get you in a whole heap of trouble, since the list of courses will be over-long if you're an Admin, and this might mess things up.Your course(s) needs to have the My Courses or Courses block displayed on them. This appears to be the way that the add-in picks up which courses you are on and could explain why, in the demonstration movie above, the course titles are prefixed with the code to display the course icon in the My Courses block. The documentation that there is indicates that you can hide this block once the Add-In has picked up which courses you have - though I'm not sure if the Add-In would then automatically pick up any new courses you had teacher rights on.You can have access to multiple Moodles via the Add-In, though I'm not sure where the passwords are stored (and how secure they are) if you check the "remember my password" box. I'm not saying they're insecure, I just don't know.It doesn't work on a Mac. Or with Office 2010.It hasn't been tested on Moodle versions earlier or later than 1.9.n - and the indications are that it might not sail faultlessly into Moodle 2.nIf you are a Teacher on some courses, and a student on others in your Moodle (for example, your Staff Room where others post notices, files and messages) then that will still show up, you'll just get an error message when you try to add something to those courses you have a "Student-like" role on.The bigg[...]

TeachMeet hits its fourth birthday: Coming of Age


The main room awaits TeachMeet Midlands 2009TeachMeet is entering its fifth year and the unconference for teachers, by teachers has helped hundreds - maybe thousands, in fact - to try out something new, alter the way they already teach and learn, join a community of innovative educators or completely transform their way of working. The hope was that the model would spread. It has, but as those who have created and helped pull TeachMeet together over the past four years, we want to see it spread further, deeper and with increasing quality of input from practitioners. This post outlines how we think we might manage this. This is the beginnings of a conversation with those who care about TeachMeet. Add your views in the form of any blog post or comment or tweet - tag it #tmfutureWhat are the goals of TeachMeet? TeachMeet was originally designed to: Take thinking away from the formal, often commercialised conference floor, and provide a safe place for anyone to pitch their practice;Provide a forum for more teachers to talk about real learning happening in real places, than one-hour conference seminar slots allow;Showcase emerging practice that we could all aim to undertake; sales pitches not allowed;Be all about the Teach, with only a nod towards tech that paved the way for new practice;Provoke new ways of sharing our stories: PowerPoint was banned. We wanted people to tell stories in ways that challenged them, and the audience;Empower the audience to critique, ask questions and probe, all online, through SMS or, later, Twitter.Over the years, these 'rules' have altered, leading to some great innovations, others less so. The answer to "What is a TeachMeet?" has become a myriad of meanings, some pretty far off the original goals. We need to help and support people to organise, run and contribute to events that build on previous ones. We need to make TeachMeet as accessible to newbies as it was in 2005. We need TeachMeet to once more find its focus.Supporting the "infectiousness" of TeachMeetsOrganising TeachMeets should not be easy. Taking part in them should be. But more support is needed for organisers:Sponsorship is hard if there's no bank account into which funds can be sentWithout sponsorship, any event over 30 people becomes tricky to organise while also giving people a special night of learning, the time, space and mood that gets people over their self-conscious selvesPaying for refreshments and venues is impossible if there's no organisation to pay them the precise sum.The best TeachMeets provide social space, social activity, entertaining MCs, good refreshments, good online coverage and some form of online 'conclusion' - this needs coordinating by the organiser(s), but it's not a skill everyone will have the first time around.We've got a superb opportunity to curate the best bits from all these TeachMeets that are happening weekly - this needs a degree of oversight.A means to make TeachMeet more sustainable, easier to use for sponsors and organisers, and have the ability to do something spectacular.TeachMeet is owned by the community that shape it - but there needs to be a body to manage sponsorship and sponsors, and provide support for new organisers so that they maintain the TeachMeet goals. We assume that if someone is organising a 'TeachMeet' they would like to emulate the success of those popular early TeachMeets, and better-supported national conference ones (e.g. SLF and BETT).What would support look like? (is this for new organisers of events? support from the TeachMeet body?)Seeking of sponsorship all year round - including ways and means to get your message to as many teachers as possible;B[...]

Becta, Jamie Oliver, and the Romans


Highland Theatre by miss mass. Used under a Creative Commons License.Something I should say up front: I've done a little consultancy for Becta in the area of learning platforms, but the funds involved went to my employer (Bucks County Council) for my time & travel, and not to me.[This post was started before the announcement of Becta's closure and completed on the day of it and so the first section has been edited to reflect this.]With the nascent coalition government already unable to control leaks of Tuesday's forthcoming Queen's Speech to the newspapers, today is the day tomorrow is heralded by many as the day on which it will be has been announced that the government's education technology agency - Becta (formerly the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) - will either be closed  or at least severely cut back. Becta - a non-departmental public body classified as a quango - operates in many different roles  and its roles have changed over the years. It was very much a child of its time - formed in 1998 to oversee the increased levels of investment in education technology which the incoming Labour government of 1997 brought with it. It's fair to say that the UK had never seen such a significant investment in information & communication technology specifically aimed towards education and hence Becta's role could be likened to inventing, then studying, nurturing and then trying to domesticate a new breed of animal - namely ICT harnessed to support education.Becta has a number of aspects which impact on schools - it was charged with overseeing the Primary Schools  Whiteboards Expansion project in the early 2000s, of the Laptops for Teachers scheme of the and a number of procurement frameworks, in particular the ones concerning Learning Platforms and Infrastructure Services.It's easy to place oneself at either end of the spectrum of views of Becta - either at the "it never did anything for me, so good riddance, let's put the money straight into schools" or the "it should carry on as it ever was". Whatever the truth is (and no-one will ever know), there are some odd attitudes around. Some people seem to be overjoyed at the prospect - though someone would only toast it with a chilled bottle of wine if they were particularly bitter at feeling marginalised in the past, or didn't quite appreciate that there might be perspectives other than their own. I've seen a lot of messages on Twitter saying things like Becta never managed to introduce technology effectively into schools or I never got anything from it or an unthinking It didn't work - and a lot of these messages come from those whose heads are screwed on normally in terms of educational ICT. There are a few things that these points of view miss:Becta was not really given the power to make schools do anything.I recall a conversation with someone involved in the Learning Platforms framework who was referring to the spring 2008 "personalised learning space" target. As this person said "it was a target with no teeth" - meaning that  schools wouldn't face sanctions it they didn't meet it. The drivers which would make it a genuine target - if Ofsted looked at the school's provision of such a space as part of their inspection, or if a school's SEF had a section concerning online support for learning - just didn't exist, and with Oftsed showing such a lack of understanding of Learning Platforms / Virtual Learning Environments it must have felt[...]

Preparing your VLE for snow, swine flu, or a huge invisible cloud of volcanic ash


Waiting by ShawnMichael. Used under Creative Commons.On Monday I had a phone call from one of our Area Advisers - a colleague who works with schools in a particular area of the country. He'd been contacted by one of our schools who had a group of students in Chicago and couldn't get back to school due to the volcanic ash affecting flights in and out of the UK. Naturally the school was thinking about how to get work to and from the students (and accompanying staff). We could, of course, have supported the school via its Moodle and our county-wide Adobe Connect server - if, that is, the school had engaged with our county-wide offering and hadn't chosen to do its own thing, which wasn't an issue until this event when it became clear that they had a need for this sort of facility to support teachers and learners who, for whatever reason, couldn't be at school physically.Speaking to senior leaders at one of our Upper Schools this week it was apparent how thinking about how to use the VLE or Learning Platform in a day-to-day environment makes it far easier to cope when unexpected events occur. Witness the teacher stuck in North Africa who emailed the SLT to say that she'd got to an internet connection and all of her work was on the VLE ready for students to access.So, if you have a working VLE, what do you need to do to ensure that it's useful and useable what might you need to do to ensure that it's ready to be used in times of crisis, or even just times of inconvenience? As promised earlier this week, here are some pointers for things you might want to think about as an institution to ensure that, come hell, ash, snow or high water, your insitution will be in the best position to use your VLE or Learning Platform and have as few traumas as possible in the process.I'd break the issues down into several elements. Some of the processes described are Moodle-specific, but if you use a different platform and have more than a few brain cells to rub together, you'll be able to see the parallels to your system. You don't need to pretend that if people buy the tool you're using then that's probably the only answer to H1N1 or snow or anything like that, even (or especially) if you're flogging Moodle to schools. Right? Oh, and when I refer to VLE, you might want to read that as Learning Platform, it's up to you.Awarenessperspective by paul (dex) busy @ workused under Creative CommonsYou'll need to make sure your staff & students are aware of:the VLE's address - in Buckinghamshire this is of the form Encourage them to email it to themselves, add it to their equivalent of an iGoogle page if they use one, or use an online bookmarking tool such as Delicious if they are away from their "default" computer where they may have it as a bookmark, or it may be their home page. Probably the simplest way of doing this is to ensure there's an obvious link to the VLE from the school's "official" web site (if they aren't already one and the same). Trying Googling searching for your school's VLE and see if it's easy to find when you use what should be the obvious search terms.their username and password - our system in Bucks uses the same set for their email as for their VLE login, so if they can get to their email and can enter the address of the VLE, then that's OK. If systems use different passwords, then you'll need to think about the logistics of this. Do you email the VLE or Learning Platform username and password to them - and if so, is this only to their school address? It's your to find any new resources and access them - if you're creating n[...]

Your school's VLE/LP & Swine Flu - sorry, Snow Days - no, hang on, Volcanic Ash


You might think that the title of this blog post is trying to be link-grabbing, but it's simply a manifestation of the latest incarnation of many phenomena which might close schools or a school for a length of time.Now, that opening sentence was originally written last Autumn in relation to H1N1, but in the intervening months it's had an increased relevance for all sorts of reasons. Anyway, back to the original post - I'll cut in soon and try & put it in a more recent context...I'll do my best to explain.Peppa Pig beset by Swine Flu by cole007. Used under Creative Commons.Swine flu H1N1 was due to rise this last winter and the accompanying media coverage ensured that very few people weren't informed about it, from symptoms, to treatment, to vaccinations (I had one a few weeks ago before writing the original incarnation of this post), to all sorts of user-submitted stories about the virus.One of the only things it was difficult to get a clear picture of is what would happen to schools - sometimes the virus appeared to be spreading too fast for school closures to have any effect, other times it was thought some schools would need to stay closed at the start of this term in September. Actually, bear that last article in mind, we'll come back to it.There is some guidance from Teachernet on Support Learning During Extended School Closures (PDF) and a Model Flu Pandemic Plan (a checklist in Word .doc format). The relevant sections in there are probably:1.7 Develop communication and dissemination plans for staff, students, and families, including information about possible closures, any timetable changes...2.2 ...Consider also compiling home email addresses for students and parents/carers who have access to the internet at home.2.9 Consider developing and testing communications mechanisms in the possible event of school closure e.g. Telephone trees and text messaging services.2.11 Investigate options with your LA about how students might work from home during a pandemic.The guidance from Teachernet is here: What stands out in this document are:It is useful for schools to review the proportion of students with IT facilities at home, and the extent to which students with such facilities could access school IT systems from home;It is useful for LAs, or any schools that work outside pan-LA plans, to consider possible (non-IT) systems for getting work to and from students in the event of lengthy school closures;Schools should recognise that staff – teachers and support staff – have a role to play in emergency planning and, together with their trade unions or professional associations, should be consulted on the school’s emergency plans (for pandemic flu or other emergencies);This (for me) is interesting as there are lots of issues here. If schools were to close for extended periods and hadn't made any provision to support learning during this period, what would happen?Well, that's how the post started. Then it snowed.The Snow Days of January 2010 - an extended period of school closures due to wintry weather - highlighted the fact to many schools here in Buckinghamshire that they needed the ability to provide for supporting learning online when physical access to the schools was limited. This ran into a snag. What happened here was that a lot (if not all schools) saw a screen similar to this, only with their school's Moodle address at the top:Now, if you're familiar with Moodle, then you know that that could mean a significant issue, even if you're not sure what caused it. Of course, a lot of people saw it as an opportunity - see? Doing that[...]

On leaving Firefox for Chome


If you're vaguely serious about working online, then you almost certainly don't just have Internet Explorer as the only browser on your computer (assuming you have control over these things). Even before Google officially joined the IE6 No More movement many people still wanted an alternative to Microsoft's default browser, and most of those people installed Firefox, which rose from the ashes of Netscape's demise. There was even a funeral for IE6 planned for the 4th March - and in a nice touch Microsoft (apparently) sent a bouquet.Firefox is famously based on Open Source and so you'd think it'd fit in around this blog, which looks at using the similarly Open Source Moodle - and to a greater or lesser extent, it does. This is in part due to the vast constellation of Firefox Add-Ons which are incredibly helpful for all sorts of reasons - the Web Developer add-on is essential in identifying which CSS elements of a Moodle theme can be selected and customised, something like ColorZilla offers all sorts of helpful elements for working with existing pages and designs and Aviary's Talon brings a browser based screen capture tool which will drop the results straight into With Internet Explorer 7 being average at best and Internet Explorer 8's approach to standards meaning that even my County Council's (Microsoft) Outlook Web Access (OWA) server can't be opened unless IE8's "compatibility mode" is active, it looks like Firefox should clean up, especially with the essential IETab add-on which allows selected sites (such as an OWA server) to be displayed in a tab which uses the IE7 engine to display the site As Microsoft Intended (e.g "not in Firefox").However, any user of Firefox can point to numerous issues associated with relying on the browser. It's an enormous memory hog and - the efforts of add-ons such as MemoryFox/AFOM notwithstanding - can often run sluggishly, though I'm fairly sure that the complex pages of the OWA service don't help the load of running IETab in my case. However, most of these issues are moot, aren't they? After all, most new machines have uber-processors and an excess of RAM, and so should be able to handle anything that Firefox can throw at them, right? Until you have a netbook, that is. 1 or 2GB of RAM and slower processors make the weight of running Firefox more apparent. So what to do?Well, the most recent kid on the browser block is Google's Chrome, which has been heavily plugged in the press (and shared large billboards outside this year's BETT Show with David Cameron). Chrome is fast, relatively lightweight browser which is based on the Open Source Chromium project and will be a significant part of Google's forthcoming Chrome Operating System. For many people, the huge billboard and newspaper advertising campaign were a mystery - until the impending EU "browser choice" issue surfaced, and it became clear that people were going to be offered a choice of which browser to use.So, it's quite possible that a few of our schools might end up using Chrome - but what are the issues with using something like Chrome with Moodle? Most stem from the increasingly old HTMLArea editing tool which is the default in Moodle 1.n versions - in Chrome this simply doesn't display, leaving the (often unsuspecting user) with a plain text box, with no formatting controls:This box will take HTML tags to format the text and content, but that's not an option for most teachers. Contrast this to the standard HTMLarea view in Internet Explorer 7 (similar in Firefox):There are two options for this. One is to [...]

Open approaches to education from an LA perspective


the following post is a facsimile (with minor edits) of a position paper/provocation paper presented at the Open Source Schools Think Tank held in London on the 26th March 2010.Just in case you were wondering, all opinions are mine and not those of my employer.These are not fully realised or worked-through thoughts, but hopefully contain some useful / contentious principles to provoke some discussion, or at least make the reader think. While reading please bear in mind that it may be unfinished!What's the problem?As someone who started working in school-level education systems ten years ago, the one thing which has remained constant throughout has been my amazement at how a certain system has dominated and, in some schools and in many ways, has shaped the way children of all ages are taught and how teachers of all levels of experience work. I am of course referring to the dominant MIS system used in the UK. I have no particular beef with the system , but the fact that it is in some spheres so universally reviled by staff (and hence used ineffectively or in ways which are less than optimal). However, the tortuous process of moving from the MIS system in question to any comparable system are such that most schools appear to feel content (compelled?) to stick with the devil they know.Such a situation can only lead to a lack of innovation. Consider how this landscape would look if the opposite was the case - i.e. that schools could migrate from one MIS system to another with no more than a month of upheaval, which consisted of a certain amount of data transfer (possibly through open XML schemas) and some appropriate retraining of key staff. If this was the case, innovative and (let's face it) better tools would be rewarded with schools flocking to them - the "the school down the road thinks it's great so we're having a look" modus operandi is well developed in terms of technology in schools. Since these tools would operate on data (which would be held in a common, open standard) then it would be possible to use a single tool to access all of the data, or even (for those schools who really wanted to cherry pick the best bits) to use different tools to carry out different tasks - for example, one element of a particular MIS to "do" attendance and another from another provider to "do" assessment.Such an environment would nurture innovation - indeed, innovation would be the main driving force in this sector, which isn't something that can said to be true now. The market leader is by parts counter-intuitive, lumbering and nowhere near as agile as its competitors. However, it's still the market leader, which gives you an idea of how difficult it must be to migrate from it.Where is the role of Open Source in this? OSS-based school MIS tools don't currently come close to the worldwide reach and use of a tool such as Moodle for any number of reasons - they are either fragmented, the efforts of a small group of individuals, or in the case of the leading contender (SchoolTool) so beholden to a complete insistence on being run on a particular Linux distribution that this immediately disqualifies them from use in most schools-and almost certainly rules them out of a wider market in the UK.Again, here an insistence by a body such as Becta on Open Standards for MIS data would be a way to make this work and could also stimulate innovation in the MIS market. SIF does some of this, but is primarily concerned with ensuring that data can be piped between systems and doesn't, from this user's perspective, hav[...]

Troubles for StudyWiz - an acid test for the LP procurement framework?


During Wednesday this week it became apparent that things were not great with eTech - one of the (relatively) newer players in the UK Learning Platforms market, which provides its StudyWiz platform to about 13 Local Authorities (LAs) and other schools (29,000, according to its own site). An increasing number of tweets indicated that Becta were going to contact schools (and presumably, LAs) who had opted into StudyWiz as part of the Learning Platforms Framework (which itself has been the subject of much blogging here and elsewhere).I had assumed that StudyWiz had been at BETT but for some reason I hadn't seen them - however it became apparent that they hadn't, despite still sponsoring various elements including TeachMeet. A couple of direct messages on Twitter during Wednesday suggested that eTech Europe had gone into administration. The information isn't as easy to find as you might hope, especially if your school was depending on it, but it appears to be here - a winding up order served by HMRC (PDF). Subsequently it would appear that eTech appears to have gone into global administration - see this article from an Australian newspaper last weekend (PDF) - despite receiving an AU$2million government grant after being "unable to secure finance from other sources" in 2009. eTech is an Tasmanian-originated company which had previously grown rapidly across the globe (see video with obligatory dot com fußball and table tennis segments) and, like all of the other providers of Learning Platform services under the framework, had to pass a number of tests which weren't just concerned with what its product could do, but also about the viability of the company.Ten companies made it onto the framework and a number of advantages were promoted as pointing to why the LP Framework was A Good Thing. One that was routinely mentioned but not (to my mind anyway) ever taken seriously as a scenario was that "if one of the providers go under, then within the framework [a school or LA] should be able to move to another supplier". Everyone who heard this imagined schools getting bored or dissatisfied with products or companies - but not the companies themselves going under. Well, I guess this situation is the acid test of that claim - and it might ask some serious questions of a number of groups:first of all, Becta, under whose guidance the Framework was put together. The "moving to another supplier" idea is, course, an assumption predicated on interoperability - another core principle of the LP Framework but one which, when discussed with anyone involved at an LA or RBC level, is normally met with either a chuckle or a shrug. Essentially, everyone is aware that it appears that most vendors appear to pay lip-service to true interoperability. Becta's role in this will be to deal with many of the issues which arise from this for those LAs and schools who opted for StudyWiz through the provisions of the LP Framework. It's always been my understanding that if a school purchased direct from StudyWiz/eTech (or any supplier) and didn't go through the Framework then they wouldn't benefit from its provisions, even though eTech were an approved provider. It appears that Becta, eTech/StudyWiz (in whatever form they are now) and the affected LAs are meeting next week to sort things out and plan ahead. secondly - and obviously - eTech/StudyWiz. If the worst happened and those schools or LAs who chose StudyWiz under the LP Framework route are forced (or choose) to move to another supplier, then[...]

Taking over BETT 2010


Subject to the uksnow it's likely that I'll be trekking to Olympia again next week for the annual shuffling-round-a-large-hall-fest that is BETT - like Naace it's something whose origins are given away by its acronym - in this case the British Educational Training and Technology Show/fair/exhibition/bunfight. I'll be there for four days, mainly on the Adobe stand talking about our use of Connect & Captivate to support our Moodle implementation, and also about some of the practical issues around running our Games Design course across two continents. This is fairly standard stuff as far as BETT goes, as is (surprisingly) the Friday evening TeachMeet session - which if you're attending you can (& should) find out more about and sign up for on the relevant TeachMeet page.During various threads on Twitter about BETT - including a mainly productive one on Tips for (new) visitors to BETT - I opined how BETT would, to my mind, benefit significantly from having an "L" in its title (and core purpose) similar to the one in SLF - the Scottish Learning Festival, which was tellingly formerly titled SETT. Both are run by EMAP, who have donated the space for TEDx Orenda, AmplifiED and TeachMeet's evening session on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights respectively but it appears to me (never having attended SLF) that there's a clue to the focus of the events from their acroymns. I don't know what "BELT" would be like, but I think it would have more of the flavour of a TeachMeet-like event...It struck me this week that I'm could end up being ridiculously busy during BETT - I've put myself down to do a micropresentation on the Teachers As Writers project I've blogged about previously, plus there's...Perhaps something more encouraging in this is the development of TeachMeet Takeover - which can best be summarised in the strapline on its wiki page - teachers sharing inspiration for free. Essentially, if you're going to BETT and want to share something about using free tools to support learning, you can sign up for one of the thirty minute slots donated by a number of exhibitors from the Thursday to Saturday of BETT and share what you're doing (with free tools). It's that simple. Here are some of the sorts of topics being covered at the time of writing:Edmodo, Ning and Wallwisher - The more ways students can communicate, the more teachers should listen;Google Maps and Google Earth in the classroom;Ideas for using tools in language learning (but applicable to whole curriculum!) Voki, Voicethread, Storybird, Wallwisher;Maths Maps - using Google Maps to find maths all around us; Glogging all over the World;Wordle, Tagul & BrainpopYou can read the complete list (and sign up) on the TeachMeet wiki, or read Tom Barrett's original blog post. Either way, if you're around BETT on the Thursday, Friday or Saturday, come and encourage those who are taking the free stuff into the exhibition halls (like a better, newer, shinier version of something that happened a few years ago...). I'll be doing three practical #tmtakeover sessions on how to incorporate things like Google Docs, Buzzword, Aviary, Wallwisher etc. (all free) into Moodle - though the principles I'll be demonstrating are hopefully generic enough that any VLE, Learning Platform or web-based app that's half decent will be able to use them to good effect. I'll also try and record one of the presentations (or maybe someone on one of the stands might do it for me) and publish it in full af[...]

Using a VLE with teachers as the learners


Today I've been at my second face-to-face session with teachers from all over the County who make up the Teachers As Writers group (despite being started in November, this post wasn't finished until the end of the Autumn term). The TAW project is part-funded by NATE, the National Association for the Teaching of English and is being led by Simon Wrigley (our English Adviser and former Chair of NATE) and Jeni Smith from the University of East Anglia. Here's Simon's desciption of where the project had its genesis:TAW was inspired by rage over the past 20 years of seeing the culture of English teachers denigrated, side-lined and eroded by centralised systems more concerned with control than learning. The National Association for the Teaching of English (a completely independent charity, funded entirely by subscriptions of those wanting a free voice in education) has argued for all that time (and indeed since its foundation in 1964) that teachers' culture was by no means all bad, that teachers knew things and, if trusted, could improve the lot of learners through their own agency. All this fell on the deaf ears of government- until about 2005 when it seemed that the powers that be were force to admit that without attending to the health of teachers' professional 'hinterland', further 'progress' was stalled. In fact, shortly before that the DCSF had been forced to concede that testing arrangements at KS1 were flawed, the importance of talk for learning had been underplayed, and there was a great deal more to education than that which could be easily be measured (eg ECM). And despite the enormously expensive apparatus of inspection and assessment, in the end, if a professional education service was to work well, you had to nurture and trust professionals rather than dictate to them or dismiss them. Indeed, had it not been for the professionals pointing out the short-comings of education policy, the policy would not have improved.TAW was also inspired by the growing conviction that teachers who were succeeding with learners did so by their own energy, enthusiasm and reflection, by personal understanding of their pupils, and by trusting that film and literature had ways of talking directly to pupils which no amount of simplified method or scheme could do. What was needed was to gather teachers into self-help groups so that they had the space, time and respect to recharge their batteries, gather evidence and support each other. TAW's final impetus came from Jeni and I discussing writing groups which we had run with NATE over the past 17 years in Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, London, Cambridge in the light of two government publications. That teachers of writing should write - and hence build healthier writing environments for pupils in classrooms - was endorsed and encouraged by Richard Andrews (Lecturer at the Institute of Education) in his 2008 DCSF report Getting Going, and by Phil Jarrett, (English HMI) in his 2009 Ofsted report, English at the Crossroads.Bucks TAW is funded by Bucks County and DCSF Strategy money for the professional development of lead teachers, and for raising standards. It is endorsed by NATE and by UEA. Other TAW writing groups run by Jeni and by me will be contributing to the overall findings; these are funded by teachers themselves or their institutions. Jeni runs several other (mainly self-funded) writing groups, including a student writing group that must, therefo[...]

Microsoft, Moodle & Ayers Rock


At the start of June I was invited to Microsoft's HQ in Reading to be shown some developments that the company has made in the area of VLEs/CMSs/Learning Platforms. I mentioned this briefly on Twitter and received a number of responses and direct messages speculating on what this might mean. Some were positive, some were of the "I've heard MS wants to kill Moodle with version nn of Sharepoint" variety, others said "Don't drink the Kool-Aid".Microsoft, Moodle & usOur relationship with Microsoft (or at least their products) in Bucks varies - naturally all schools use their products in some form and to varying degrees and prior to our use of Moodle on a significant scale most of the servers at Atomwide (who do our hosting) were, as far as I could tell, MS-based. When we started our Moodle project both our central Moodles & the schools' Moodles were hosted on Microsoft's IIS web servers. When the scale of the project increased, it became apparent that for a number of reasons the Moodle installations weren't running as well as they might have done. Over two years ago I wrote about how we switched to Linux-based servers and, as the project has scaled there appears to be no reason to switch back. The vague “real time reporting to parents” targets will (apparently) be met with a SharePoint-esque integration with Capita’s unweidly, as-open-to-the-rest-of-the-world-as-North-Korean-pop-culture SIMS and any SharePoint integration gives schools another chance to have a whole different set of interactions with parents, or completely confuse staff even further, depending on your point of view.The (mainly) NDA stuffSo what was the meeting in Reading about? Well, two main subjects, primarily the work that Microsoft have been doing to begin to bring the worlds of SharePoint and Moodle together. It's still NDA, but as a first draft I thought it was an interesting take on things. Also at the meeting in Reading were colleagues from Swansea and Pembrokeshire, who are definitely starting at the other end of the scale from where we are - heavy users of SharePoint who are looking to develop their use of Moodle, whereas we're travelling in the same direction for reasons mentioned above. I can’t go into much detail (all will probably be revealed at some point in the near future), but I think that the Moodle integration & associated tools, though well intentioned, may be based on a model of Moodle use that’s not that widespread in schools. The forums on are a useful place to get support if you are in the developer/pathfinder/early adopter role, but aren’t necessarily the place where a regular teacher would share what they’re doing. Hence, I think the MS approach, while having much to commend it, may need some finessing before it turns into something that a regular Moodler (meaning a teacher in a school) might use in their day-to-day moodling - it may be too based on patterns of use described on the Moodle support forums. Those forums aren't where (for example) teachers in our schools in Buckinghamshire would describe how they were working, but as someone who started experimenting with Moodle before we adopted it it was there that I'd ask questions, but they were definitely asked from a situation where our use of Moodle was in beta - even if the software wasn't, and hence wouldn't be "normal" use cases.The second part of the meeting (and, if anything can be [...]