Back in January when the UK shut down for a week because of snow schools leaders suddenly realised that VLEs and e-learning could be a solution to closed schools. Maybe the promise of virtual classrooms and 24 hour learning could actually keep school children learning when schools were closed.

With this in mind, alongside the prospect of further school closures, I started an open Google Document allowing teachers to share websites and ideas useful for student self learning. These aren’t necessarily alternatives to the classroom but links to share with a class when an unplanned closure hits.

I apologise it’s taken so long to share all the links. I was reminded of this long forgotten document by the snow outside my window and the UK school closures again this December.

You can view the ideas and links here

https://docs.google.com/View?id=dhnhtkkp_179chpjhjfh

Thanks to all who contributed, there are a list of names at the bottom of the document but there were many other contributors who contributed anonymously.

If anyone would like to contribute further links and ideas please message via twitter or leave a comment and I will send you the link to the document.

As well as the document I experimented teaching two 6th form classes online during the school closure. I’ll blog about this experience another time.

Thanks to all the organisers of Teachmeet Moodle. It was a well spent 5 hours or so! I have a few reflections, some on the great Moodling I saw, and some on the Teachmeet format.

Moodle Reflections:

There were some superb presentations on the day – many of which are linked to on the Teachmeet Moodle wiki http://teachmeetmoodle.pbworks.com/TeachMeetMoodle – James Michie has also summarised and linked to some of the presentations on his Blog http://jamesmichie.blogspot.com/2010/07/teachmeet-moodle.html

My top highlights were:

James Michie‘s  comprehensive but fast paced 72 slide presentation on Moodle in his school. It gave so many great example.

Gideon Williams fantastic presentation on Moodle plugins at his school

Helen Morgan’s presentation on how visuals can improve learning and participation – blindingly obvious,  so simple to implement and proven good practice.

Dai Barnes presentation on quizzes in Music (with embedded music)

and Miles Berry on how he now uses Moodle in teacher training

But of the above I have to again mention Gideon Williams – it was the second time I have met him and both his style of presentation (lighthearted!) and amazing moodling were fantastic. If you want to see a great school Moodle I don’t think there is a better example than that of Perins School

Teachmeet Reflections:

I’ve lost count of how many Teachmeet’s I’ve now attended – probably around 10 now including one I organised at the Computing at School Hubs Conference. There is always discussion about how they should be structured and this one again was very different and I think very good.  Here’s a few points of note about the structure on the day.

We started with a speednetworking session – everyone was given a table to fill in names, e-mail and expertise of other people and we went round to a whistle meeting person after person for a few minutes until we were told to move on. It was a great and simple way to network and get a good atmosphere in the room (especially as we has started at 10.30 am and there was little of the beer in the room that facilitates the networking in many teachmeets!)

We had one commercial presentation at the start – from the sponsors SchoolsICT – I think this was received well by the audience partly because they didn’t think to protest. But also because of the ethos of many Moodlers that if you are developing something to enhance Moodle then you are a good person. Personally, I thought it was a shame to start with this presentation, but I have no problem with a presentation from a sponsor – though there is an obvious red line when it becomes a sales pitch (this one wasn’t).

Time Limits were not kept to – I think some flexibility with time limits is good, some great presentation take a little more than the 7 minute teachmeet limit. But some timekeeping is necessary and Nano presentations become pointless if other presentations are allowed to go on and on. Short presentations also keep the audience attentive!

Video presentations – One pre-recorded screencast was shown – I don’t really think this is necessary as we schlepped all the way in we could have just watched the presentation in our own time. Live video presentations are another thing.

Overall, it was a very good teachmeet, it had a great friendly, informal and collaborative atmosphere. I think that’s what happens when you bring two great communities, teachmeet and moodle together.

There’s a great run of Teachmeets on at the moment – where I am just North of London there have been about 4 or 5 within an hour’s drive of here in the last month.

If you’ve not been to a Teachmeet try one out, they are great opportunities for learning, entertainment and networking and the best ones have an equal mix of each. To read about my Teachmeet Experiences you can take a look at all of my posts tagged Teachmeet.

I won’t explain the format here as it does so on the Teachmeet website – but I wanted to share my excitement for Teachmeet Moodle tomorrow and reflect a little on Teachmeet Fishbowl.

Teachmeet Moodle is the first Moodle Centric Teachmeet and is bringing together a great looking list of Moodle users – http://teachmeetmoodle.pbworks.com/TeachMeetMoodle - I have become a big fan of Moodle over the last few years, it’s one of the many tools we use in our school (A VLE on its own doesn’t do everything!) And many of my Teachmeet presentations have covered work we have done in Moodle. The sad part with Moodle and VLEs is that Teachers’ work is often locked behind passworded areas of the site – this is usually quite right as I don’t want strangers joining my class of Year 7 pupils – but it is a shame that we don’t find the time to make open copies of our course for other teachers to peruse. It’s not even that I want to download and use courses from other teachers (though sometimes I do!) but it’s getting that inspiration and seeing how other people use the same bit of software but for a very different purpose.

I shall try and report back tomorrow or over the weekend on what I learned from the Teachmeet.

A fortnight ago I attended my first Teachmeet Fishbowl in Oxfordshire. It was an interesting evening and an interesting format – it is important that the Teachmeet model doesn’t remain static though I would call the Fishbowl more of a brainstorming session – there were no presenters but a group of people sitting round a table working out a solution to a problem along with interjections from the audience and a few brave people switching in and out of the table. By the time the third session/fishbowl had started boundaries had dropped and there was no longer a real inner table and outer circle but just one big melding of minds with everyone in the circle chipping in. For me the Fishbowl was not a revolutionary format – but it is a structured way of getting people to collaborate informally (is that an Oxymoron?). It was fun, it was reasonably effective and it was fast paced and fun. We certainly came up with a large variety of ideas. As a technique I could see it working if you had a specific problem to solve and I guess the biggest problem we had is that the issues we were discussing were not issues that we had brought up ourself. The evening was also rather Primary focused with only three Secondary teachers present, but this in itself was a learning experience – there should be much more collaboration between Primary and Secondary teachers both in terms of pedagogy, school transition and subjects knowledge – we all have something to gain. 

Thanks to all those who organised and are organising or sponsoring these Teachmeets and I look forward to many more.

Often good things come at once. Sometimes they come at the same time and you can’t make them all – but yesterday the all worked out fine and I had a busy but fantastic day that I had to share on my blog!

On a normal day I’m in school all day, teaching classes, preparing for them or doing work around my e-learning responsibilities. Most of my CPD nowadays I tend to do in my own time, via twitter, online groups such as edtechroundup or evening meetings like Mirandamods. Occasionally I get to go to a course, in the daytime – a real old fashioned Inset!

This Thursday was one of those days – I headed over to the institute of education for a morning session on mentoring. This was the third installment of this course aimed at people like me who are mentoring participants in the graduate teacher programme (a method of teacher training in the UK). The course was useful and we learnt about different methods of mentoring most of which was new to me. By the time we had finished it was too late to head back into school so I’d arranged to try and teach my A-level computing class online.

I headed over to the British Library, a wonderful place to work, and it has free Wi-Fi. I sat myself down in the cafe and waited to see if any of my class would join me in an online flashmeeting. Almost on the dot the first students arrived – 3 joined from home and 3 from the school library. We had a 40 minute online lesson and it went okay. The main problem was the other fascinated year 13 students in the school library who kept on coming over to see what was going on. One even joined the lesson. Aside from these disruptions we actually got some work done. I talked the students through database normalisation using a hefty powerpoint presentation. It was hard working out if students were listening, participating or learning. I gauged this by asking questions and getting students to summarise what I had been saying. Based on the answers obviously something had got through! I did get a few strange looks from people in the library cafe.

No sooner had the online lesson finished when I got a skype call from Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano also known as @langwitches . Her 6th grade class interviewed me as part of their project on Jewish communities around the world. I’ve tried to help set them up with different friends of mine on different countries. Apparently Silvia has managed to cover every continent even Antartica! The girl who interviewed me asked great questions and I really enjoyed our 10 minute chat and meeting some of Silvia’s students. I’m very jealous of their project and look forward to seeing the results!

After an hour to kill in the British Library (which flies by when you have work to do) I headed over to the Moorgate offices of Oracle UK where I listened and joined in with the Owers Lecture 2009. The title of the lecture was “Can we reverse the decline of schools’ computing especially with girls”. The two main speakers were Kate Sims and Stephen Heppell who gave plenty of food for though. This was carried on through an audience discussion (we’d by then reformed into a circle) where we heard many points of view. I hope some of the lecture will soon be shared online by the people that were recording it. It’s well worth watching and I will add a link here if it arrives.

Overall a fantastic day – I like to think my school gets value for money when I pop out for an inset!

Download – What gets kids on a VLE and what difference does age make? (pdf 321kb)

A year on from completing my MA in ICT and Education and I’ve got round to sharing my research study. I had grand ideas about trying to get it published but never got round to it. So here it is to share with the world on my own blog. Despite being a year old I think the research is just as valid today as it was when I started. Please feel free to read, use and distribute. If you do use it for anything interesting I would love to know.

I chose the topic of virtual learning environments to investigate and I wanted to know what gets students to use a VLE and how the use varies between ages. You can read the abstract below – please do let me know what you think – either via comments, via e-mail or via twitter.

Abstract:

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) become compulsory in UK schools from 2008. A great deal of public money has been and will be spent on them. Research on VLEs in schools is sparse and research on what makes students use VLEs even more so. This study builds on a practitioner’s observation that students of different ages use VLEs in different ways. Through focus groups, a survey and the analysis of VLE access logs, this survey investigates why students use or don’t use VLEs and looks for differences and patterns in the uses of students in three different year groups.

Analysis of results shows that there were significant differences between year groups in perception and usage, and that the youngest students were more eager users of the VLE. Communication and homework were found to be two key factors for student use. The study advises that schools take the opinions of pupils into account when designing or procuring VLEs and suggests that more research on what makes a successful school VLE would be invaluable to school decision makers who often have few experiences in this field.

Teachers are often critical of commercial resources available to them. Be they “old fashioned” textbooks, “new fangled” software packages or, even newer, resource packs for VLEs. This is sometimes because resources, such as books, are written to work generally with a large group of people but may not tailor to exactly what a teacher wants or to what a class needs. A good resource can provide a lesson structure as well as content for both teachers and students to follow. Even with a good resource I find myself dipping in and out of it as suits me and as suits my students. I’m sure in common with all teachers I may use a textbook for some of the lesson but complement it with other resources such as websites, explanations, or other activities that I create or use. I think for ICT based resources, online or otherwise, we have higher expectations. With a textbook I would not expect students to just read through it and follow text, explanations and exercises. With an ICT based resource there is an expectation that content, especially engaging interactive content, will let students learn independently with less direction and less picking and choosing from the teacher. Maybe it’s these high expectations or maybe it’s the often high prices that often lead commercial education packages to disappoint.

With this thought in mind I wondered if I could do better myself? A module on my MA in ICT in education (now complete) gave me the opportunity to develop a web based learning environment. While most people built a website I wanted to see how well I would do at building a self contained learning resource on a topic. Additionally I set myself the challenge of developing a scorm compliant resource. In layman’s terms scorm is a standard for packaging up learning materials (files, quizzes, information etc) into one package (or zipped up file) that can then be loaded up and used in any system or VLE that reads scorm packages (eg moodle). I hope that explanation makes sense, if you want more details you’ll have to ask someone more knowledgeable!

If you want to read my full report on how this development went I’m attaching my full assigment here (all 6000 words of it) below. Be aware this report was written in June 2008. To summarise…

I chose the tricky to teach and I think slightly dry topic of database normalisation for my resource.

I used an online authoring package called myudutu to develop the resource. This was found via Jane’s E-learning Pick of the Day. Although the interface was sometimes a little cumbersome it did have some great features such as build in quiz type activities and a powerpoint importer.

Creating the resource took many hours, many more than I would spend preparing a normal set of lessons on the topic. The end result was far from perfect and far from what I wanted. I wasn’t happy with the navigation, the design of materials, the narration I provided. I am unable to share my materials as I haven’t got copyright for all the content I included.

And my conclusion taken from my document was as follows…

Having seen a number of commercial offerings for content for VLEs I was always left unimpressed. Most were expensive, uninspiring and did not comprehensively cover the topics I needed. Part of the challenge I wanted to take on was to see if I could do better. Though I created a resource that did a good job for me and my class I’m afraid I didn’t do better. The overall quality of my resource was not on par with commercial offerings in terms of layout and design. My content was good but every teacher likes to use resources in a different way and they may not meet the requirements of many teachers. The time taken to create the resources was also prohibitive. I did not tally the exact time spent creating the WBLE but I estimate I spent 6 to 8 hours creating a resource that is far from perfect and that would occupy a student for a maximum of 2 hours. For a software house this may be a good return on investment but for a teacher it is a prohibitive amount of time. One of the problems with getting teachers to use online learning environments is the time it takes them to prepare online resources (Dabbagh, 2002). This project has left me a little downhearted that this is a problem that will be very difficult to overcome for teachers who want to create comprehensive and professional materials. On the other hand, a few years ago I felt I could not create a professional quality website. Now there are online tools that I have mastered that have changed this. I hope in the near future that rich learning creators will be available that produce professional and immersive resources with minimal effort. Until then I shall be leaving any similar projects of this kind to the professionals and concentrating on making use of simpler tools WBLEs have to offer.

Do you have or know of any great content or easy to use content creators? Share it in the comments section, commercial suggestions/adverts are welcome as long as you make it clear who you are and are happy for others to disagree with you or confident they won’t!

Downloads (PDF 333kb)

Designing_a_web_based_learning_environment

Last year was our first year of our VLE “Rickypedia” (not including our mini pilot) and the first time we’ve tried Google Apps. Below is a report I gave and delivered to our SLT at the end of last academic year to update them on the progress. I have edited it slightly so that is publishable online.

As I hope you can see from the report I have tried to give an honest review of where we have got to and what we need to do. I would love to hear any feedback; here’s a few questions to get you started…
Am I being realistic? How does this compare to your experiences? How have you solved the problems?
I’ll leave the rest to you.

Rickypedia and E-learning at School 2008-2009

Introduction
The current incarnation of Rickypedia has been in use since late December 2008. It is run on an implementation of Moodle hosted by E-Cognition. E-Cognition is a small Moodle provider run by Dale Jones an ICT Advisor in the North of England. We are currently paying a modest 3 figure sum a year for their most basic service though this is likely to increase with usage. Support and help from e-cognition has been very good. I have Dale’s personal mobile and e-mail contacts and he has resolved any issues as well as special requests very quickly.
It took a while to get started as we had to move over courses from the old Rickypedia, point domain names to the correct places and set up user accounts manually. Most of this was done by our network technician. With the experience and knowledge from this year the setting up process should be much quicker next year though there will inevitably be some new issues. We will have to archive old courses and remove leavers which may take a while.
We also set up a school implementation of Google Applications for Education. Again usernames and domains (www.rickyschool.com) had to be set up manually. With improvements in technology it should be possible now to integrate Rickypedia (Moodle) and Google Apps better so that less admin work is needed. This may cost a small sum from our hosting company to set this up but may be worthwhile in terms of a reduction of administration time to create accounts and ease of use for staff and students.
Overview of current setup:
VLE: Moodle (Rickypedia.org) hosted offsite offers virtual classrooms for all teachers. Social and student spaces are also planned.
Google Apps: Google Apps for Education (www.rickyschool.com) offers online collaborative, word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tools, surveys, e-mail, start page, storage and websites.
Current Use:
Due to the time it took to set up all usernames we have made a slower start than I hoped for not being ready to go until December 2008. Nevertheless in one full term we have made good progress. This is the current usage that I have tracked.
ICT: All year 7, year 8 and 9 pupils are now using Rickypedia in their ICT lessons. A catalyst of this was the absence of one teacher which led another to create courses that students could follow when their teacher was absent. Some courses in particular make excellent use of discussion forums and other features of the VLE.
Most year 7s have completed or are in the process of completing a 3 week scheme of work on e-safety. By the end of the year they should all have idea how to use Rickypedia and the student e-mail system.
The use of Google Apps has been embedded in some existing year 8 & year 9 projects and the features available have allowed us to extend the work the students are completing.
Year 12 & 13 Computing students have made some use of Rickypedia.
Extra-Curricular: The online gamemaker course has drawn a handful of users from across year groups.
Physics: The Physics department have built courses for year 9 sats revision, GCSE revision and for AS and A-level. They have also built a fantastic course for students involved in the cosmic ray project to coordinate their work online.
Astronomy: An online astronomy club has drawn a random mix of followers across the school. Though it is only contains a small amount of content it is a snapshot of how online clubs and groups could be run through the VLE.
Biology – A teacher set up a course for year 13 students to allow them to continue their learning while he was away from school. This course is an excellent model of how Rickypedia can be used for independent learning and revision.
Library – The Red House book online group has continued encouraging members to blog about books they have read. Last year’s 6th form library course with advice on finding online resources is still available. Under development is a “portal” area with links to good sources of information for all students.
EEP Project – The EEP project has future plans to use Rickypedia to allow collaboration between students from partner countries. This should be working in some way by the end of Summer.
French – The French department has used school e-mail addresses to send e-mails to exchange partners.
Music – A teacher has built an extensive revision website for KS4 & 5 students using Google Apps site builder.
Citizenship – One teacher has built an online course for her Summer year 8 citizenship module.
History – One teacher has experimented using Rickypedia for online discussion forums with year 12 students.
Training Delivered:
One of my priorities when planning Rickypedia was running staff training. I am still struggling to work out the best way to deliver this training but I still believe it must be a priority. The following training has been delivered.
January whole school Staff Inset
Science deparment through departmental Meeting
Representatives from History, Geography, ICT, PE and Music in group after school and one and one sessions.
Some cover supervisors have also taken some training.
Other “training” not mentioned has been in terms of troubleshooting many varied problems and issues.
I strongly believe training must be as personalised and practical as possible and fitting this in has been a problem this year.
Related Projects:
I believe it is important to use the best tool for the job and Rickypedia isn’t always the best tool. Some uses of Google apps have already been mentioned but outside of this I have offered help to the following e-learning related projects.
EEP Project – have been building a website for the project using a Wiki on wetpaint.

RS – One teacher independantly has built a large revision website at Ricky Religion. I have offered a small amount of support with some more technical issues.
Teething problems:
We have had various teething and learning issues. As already said it took until December to set up all of the accounts and courses. We’ve had to work out how to lock usernames and are yet to find an efficient way of resetting passwords. Currently only staff members with administrative priviledges can do so which can delay the process.
Areas To Develop:
I believe the killer features of this technology are collaboration, interactivity and engagement but for this to happen certain areas needs to be improved.
Use of multimedia – This is difficult at present as many video services are filtered. It is also difficult for staff to create their own videos as they don’t always have access to equipment or have the training to use it.
Interactive Activities – There are many interactive activities that can be embedded into courses. From simple online quizzes to more complex webtools. Time for training is needed to show teachers how to access the functionality.
Social School Areas – I hope to have student moderated social areas set up over the Summer for students to communicate and socialise in a safe space online. Training the students up to do this correctly and monitoring what goes on is a time consuming process.
School council – I have met with school council already to discuss how they could use Rickypedia. It has the real potential for making the student voice heard and making the school council a truly representative body that can interact with students online.
Use of school e-mail – All staff and students now have access to e-mail accounts but most students and some staff don’t know how to use them correctly. There is so much potential for improving communication between staff and staff and between staff and students.
Challenges/Inhibitors
Accessibility: The ICT department has enthusiastically adopted Rickypedia though I strongly believe it has far more in terms of features to offer other curricular areas. ICT though has easy access to computers making it easier. Other departments still need better student access to ICT in lessons for Rickypedia to be used to its potential.
Working around network limitations: In terms of speed and connection we have not had any major problems this year though the internet does intermittently slow down. The main problem is with filtering and useful services being blocked. This inhibits the creativity and freedom of both teachers and students. I strongly believe that we need a more flexible filtering system in school. Many students now have internet enabled phones where they can access all content that is blocked at school in the playground unsupervised making a mockery of classroom filtering.
Training: Finding time for training has been a major problem. A plan for next year should include set dates and times for VLE training so that every staff member has had basic training and number have had more advanced training. Fitting this into my timetable is an additional concern.
Time for staff to develop resources and skills:
Dealing with e-safety issues: We have successfully dealt with some small cyberbullying issues but the system actually made it very easy to track and deal with as the evidence was saved on our system. I feel the outcome was positive but we need to do more in preparing pastoral staff to deal with these issues. We also need to do more educating students on these issues.
Lack of quality pre-prepared content: I am yet to find any killer VLE content for any subject. The market is developing and if something worthwhile becomes available it should be considered.
Continuity planning: Making sure that there are other staff members who could take over so that Rickypedia is not dependent on me.
Proposals and Objectives for next year:
Continue and develop administrative support: Having admin support this year has been essential and invaluable but there have been times when the support has been busy doing other work and it has had to wait or be left. I feel whoever provides the support should take more of a hands on role in developing the VLE and dealing with problems with staff face to face. Currently most things come through me or are requests by me. I feel regular meetings and updates with myself would go some way to doing this.
School Development Plan: I would like to look through the school development plan and identify areas where the VLE and e-learning can compliment and aid what is already in the plan. I hope in this way the VLE will be able to take a more central place in school life fitting around the needs of the school rather than the other way around.
Passwords: We have had some problems setting and resetting passwords and need to find a more efficient way of doing this.
Integration with Google Apps: I have already tasked our hosting company to look into this over the Summer. If this can be achieved for a reasonable cost it would make the Google Applications more accessible for students and staff as only one password would be needed for that and Rickypedia.
E-safety policies and integration with citizenship: E-safety policies should be confirmed in writing and commented on by pastoral staff. The teaching of e-safety needs to be integrated with both citizenship and ICT lessons.
One on one support and materials to teachers: From running training sessions this year I have found that they are most effective for those who already have confidence and skills using ICT equipment and just need to be shown the basics to get off and running. I need to find time to provide more one on one support for staff who are less confident both technically but also in terms of ideas of how to use the technology.
Bringing in external trainers: I feel that I can only have so much effect running training sessions and it may be worth bringing in some external trainers to inspire and train staff to use the VLE effectively. Bucks LEA use Moodle as their VLE LEA so I should be able to get access to excellent and experienced trainers through them.
Sharing good practice: I want to start a regular working group of staff primarily to share good practice but also to get feedback on the VLE and e-learning.
Student led areas & encouraging student voice: Creating student run areas of the VLE, allowing students to express their opinions of the school and the world via the VLE (utilising the school council) and using students to train and aid staff.
Achieving all of the above is a large task and will not be possible for me working alone on my current timetable. As I’m not expecting this to change I think it may be worth bringing extra people on board. I think bringing other teaching staff on board somehow running mini projects could also play a part and also help with continuity planning. There are a number of expert users I have in mind but I hope there will be others who crop up during the year. I am open to any ideas of how to get people to take tasks on as this may be difficult in reality. Getting other teaching staff involved in more depth will also help with continuity planning as the base of knowledge will be spread wider.