I was going to put this in a previous post but it seemed more sensible to put it as a topic in its own right. I’m calling this part one as I hope to add more posts on this topic later.
These are a few things I’ve noticed seem to work when introducing teachers to a VLE on an individual basis. To give some background my pilot VLE Rickypedia has a handful of teachers added who have expressed an interest. I have only run a half an hour group training session for some of these teachers. Obviously this is not ideal and something I hope to have rectified next year. Everything I have read about successful use of VLEs points to the importance of good staff training. Nevertheless many of us who work in schools, or I guess most of the real world, don’t have ideal circumstances much of the time. I hope these pointers of things I have found have worked well will be useful. Please do add to the list in the comments.
5 Tips for introducing new teachers to a VLE
1. Stress the importance of experimenting and not being scared to make mistakes. It’s amazing how easy it is for a teacher to get things wrong, for example confusing a live chat with a forum and setting up the wrong one. Easy to correct, no harm done and something learned.
2. Encourage teachers to look at each others’ courses. All teachers on Rickypedia have their global (or site) role set as non-editing teacher. This means they can peep in on other teachers’ courses without being able to edit them. I have got great ideas from other teachers and I know other teachers have got ideas from me.
3. Have a staff sandbox. In programming speak a sandbox is a place where you can run code without it being able to damage your system. In a VLE a sandbox can be a course hidden from students where teachers can experiment with features and build up confidence.
4. keep an eye on teachers’ courses so you can give them feedback. Some may comment that this is being nosey or interfering, but if you follow point three above you are just practicing what you are preaching.
5. Offer help regularly. A quick, “Is there anything you need a hand with?” in the staffroom can go a long way. Doing the odd favour here and there never hurts either!
Our Rickypedia VLE is still very much a pilot website with only a selection of students and teachers on the system. I’ve added new students and classes as I’ve been ready to experiment with them or as I have had requests from other teachers.
One of our student teachers (or beginning teachers as they are now known) approached me about a month ago to ask if Rickypedia would be able to help her year 7 English class with their non-fiction projects. She was looking for somewhere where students could upload their writing, she could mark up changes and the students could then refine their work and resubmit it for further review. I realised that Moodle wasn’t necessarily the ideal solution (something like Google docs or a wiki may have been better) but it did provide a solution so I explained the system and what it could or couldn’t do. Next step get the class up and running.
The year 7 group in question is also a class I teach for ICT and this seemed an ideal opportunity to get them using Rickypedia for two subjects simultaneously. It also meant that I could use an ICT lesson to get the students started on moodle to make it easier for their English lesson. All students were enrolled in an ICT course and an English course and were given access to the “Student Room” a general discussion course open to all students on Rickypedia. I gave the English teacher a brief lesson on course editing and we were off and ready to go.
It’s always fun starting off a new class on something brand new but I was overwhelmed by the reaction of the class. They loved filling in information on their profiles (see earlier post). They loved their homework to create and upload an avatar. Some of them started exploring other features such as blogging and personal messaging and word spread (especially word about personal messaging). The enthusiasm from students blew me away and when I or the English teacher added something to the site they often discovered it before we told them about it. Students log on at all hours, before school and after school. I’ll try and keep you posted about their progress but so far it has been overwhelmingly positive, a few logging on issues but nothing major. One immediate issue that has come up from the English department is the lack of a spell check on moodle, this is something that I will look into.
Here are a few things that I’ve noticed about year 7s on Rickypedia compared to year 9 and upwards that I had so far added to Rickypedia
1. They don’t mind reading and writing on screen, in fact many of them seem to prefer it to paper – maybe this generation are natural technology users?
2. They love personal messaging each other and often do so about school work – I guess older students have other communication systems that they prefer to use.
3. They are not scared of messaging teachers. I seldom receive a message from older students but get a couple a week from year 7s asking about homework or technical problems – fewer inhibitions or less independent workers?
As I write at 12:30 on a sunny Saturday afternoon my Rickypedia site log shows 122 actions on the site this morning – all by pupils from this class.
Today I rely on RSS feeds to provide me with the information I want when I want. I can’t believe that a year ago I didn’t really know what the point of an RSS feed was. RSS is an acronym for really simple syndication, it provides automatically updated feeds from websites, blogs and news sites which can be imported and read using a range of applications on the internet or on your PC. To use RSS feeds on your VLE is pretty simple.
On Moodle there are a couple of different RSS features. You can add RSS blocks to bring in external RSS feeds and you can add RSS funtionality to your site forums to allow others to subscribe to your feeds. It is the former that I use mostly because I’m still to work out how the second works especially with regard to privacy and security in schools (maybe a kind reader will explain the functionality to me).
So a few RSS examples from Rickypedia
1. The Frontpage
I’ve added three RSS feeds to our frontpage. A quote of the day, news from CBBC Newsround (child friendly news headlines) and a “This Day in History” feed. Each provides a little bit of wisdom or knowledge in one hyperlinked line. You can set how many items appear in each feed and how much information you want displayed, just the headlines or more. (the picture below has been edited). I may well remove some in the future to avoid the homepage becoming too cluttered.
2. Subject Specific Feeds
You can also add RSS feeds in a block on a course page. For my A-level computing students I added links to Wired and Computing magazine newsfeeds to present a mix of internet and business ICT news.
A colleague who teaches Chemistry added links to New Scientist and Chemistry World feeds and picked specific feeds related to energy. She then took it a step further by setting students a homework using the feeds to research a topical news item. A great use of RSS feeds and a great way to get students to read literature relating to the course and gain a wider understanding of the issues.
Problems: One specific problem I have had is with graphics and in particular advertising on a particular feed. On Moodle you can choose to allow your feed to pull in graphics or not – graphics can sometimes mess up the layout of your site by stretching boxes and moving things around on a page. With one feed even when I turned graphics off it would sometimes pull in adverts from feedburner who provided the RSS subscription. Normally I would ditch a feed that put unsolicited adverts on a site but I really wanted this particular one so I found a rather elaborate way around it using yahoo pipes (ask if you want to know more – I don’t want to bore you with the details).
Let me know how you use RSS feeds in your classroom and I’d also love to hear from anyone who has experience turning on the extra RSS functionality in Moodle.
There are three things that I ask students to do when they first log onto our VLE at Rickypedia.
1. Change their password
2. Fill in the profile information (see previous post on customising profile feeds)
3. Create an avatar (an online picture representing them)
The instructions I use for students are publicly available here. Feel free to borrow them and if you improve on them (not hard to do) then let me know so I can borrow yours!
I got some of the ideas for creating avatars from Ian Usher’s blog post on the same subject – it’s well worth reading and discusses online identity forming and whether to allow students to post their pictures as avatars. I told students not to use pictures but a few didn’t follow instructions and I’m still undecided what to do about it!
There are hundreds of websites available for creating avatars, just search and you’ll find plenty on the web. You’ll also find that your students know plenty of places already that they have already used for their Myspace and Bebo profiles.
If you’re a moodle user and an admin on your site you can see a great display of user profile pictures by visiting http://www.yourmoodlesite.org/userpix/ Click the picture below to see what my students look like.
One neat and simple feature that Moodle has is a glossary. (I’m sure you could replicate this functionality easily enough using other features of other VLEs).
The glossary lets the teacher or students put definitions of words, hence the name glossary. As it’s such a simple and easy to understand tool it’s one I have started classes using early. It also makes for a great homework and it’s easy to explain to other teachers how to use. As with all pupil generated content I’ve found the results mixed and surprising but very positive. Below are a few examples of glossary entries (not all from my classes). As you can see they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. I think the silly entries are just as valid as the serious entries. If my students log on to see the funny entry their friend wrote they are more than likely to take a browse through all of the other definitions and maybe learn something new.
I’ve not put up the inevitable glossary entries with mistakes in. These too are valuable, I can both edit and comment on posts. By leaving a comment with feedback students can learn from their mistakes and improve their entries. Assessment for learning in action!
AS English Frankenstein Glossary Entries – these two are rather impressive
Gothic: A story of terror or suspense which includes reference to the supernatural
Romanticism: Romanticism is a movement that typically refers to the late 18th and 19th century. The period was marked by a rejection of the ideals and rules of the time and new emphasis was placed on freedom of expression and thought.
Romantics were against the monarchy and against the industrial revolution. They thought that the industrial revolution would destroy and pollute nature, and that people would move away from the countryside and nature.
Romantic ideas: nature; the relationship between human and natural moods; experimentation; journeying; power of the female; genius and the power of imagination, spontaneity; and individualism.
- “Vivid flashes of lightning dazzled my eyes and illuminated the lake, making it appear like a vast sheet of fire.” (p56)
- “black and comfortless sky” (p40)
Year 9 ICT Entries:
Keyboard :QWERTY or otherwise, it is used to type letters and numbers – wholly useful for general computing.
Hands: the things you find on the end of your arm. They usually have 5 fingers on each
2] hitting your computer when its being stupid and purposly annoying you
3] throwing things at annoying siblings
4] stealing peoples shoes to put in high places
Year 12 Chemistry:
OILRIG is the ingenious way to remember that:
Oxidation Is Loss (of electrons)
Reduction Is Gain (of electrons)
Redox is both (Reduction and oxidation squashed together to make one word)
Setting up custom fields on users’ personal profile is really easy. The standard fields in a moodle install are things like skype, msn, icq, e-mail, website. I felt a bit uneasy about encouraging students to put in all of those personal details which I or the school could have no control over, particularly personal websites which may contain personal pictures. So I hid all of those fields (apart from e-mail as an e-mail address is very important for teacher student communication and students can choose for it to be private). Instead I included fields for “favourite music”, “hobbies”, “favourite tv shows”, “favourite movies”, “favourite books” and a more general “about me”. I don’t believe a school VLE will become a replacement for myspace, facebook or other social networking sites (and I’m not sure I’d want it to be) but having these fields does add a much more personal and social dynamic to the site. There’s a little bit of competition from students to see who can have the best profile. It’s also great from a teacher’s perspective to see what students are interested in. Some students have also made great efforts to customise the top part of the profile with photos and animations.
I’ve included some screenshots below of a couple of profiles (one is mine, can you guess which one?) Moodle 1.9 has a new social tagging system but it’s not quite as organised as my solution with just one box for students to write all their interests in, the new features it brings will certainly be interesting to explore.
Nb: Even if standard fields are hidden students can override this or put any information they wish in the top “description” part of their profile – there may be a way to turn this off but it’s probably easier having a set of rules that students need to follow.
This month is the first birthday of rickypedia.org. Rickypedia is the inspired name I registered for our school’s Moodle VLE. The best thing about the name is that it wasn’t my idea. Last year while spending regular lunchtimes with year 8 students in webdesign club some students decided to make a page about the local area and call it rickypedia (our school is based in Rickmansworth and commonly referred to as Ricky school) . The website was never quite completed but I thought the name was great. When it came to setting up a VLE Rickypedia was the name I decided to go with. (Rikipedia was already taken by someone else!) Thanks to Lawrence, Ed, Jo and the others who came up with the idea!
Looking around at schools’ VLEs as I often do I can’t believe how many have long hard to remember URLs (eg vle.mylongschoolname.mylea.sch.uk). Not only does a short and snappy URL make a website easier to type in, it also makes it easier to remember and most importantly gives it an identity. Here’s a few examples I’ve come across, not all have great URLs, not all have great names, but they’ve all got identities!
Chuckle 2.0 http://vle.carrhill.lancs.sch.uk/
If you’ve not got a domain for your VLE why not give it a try? It costs about £8 a year for .com .org .net address or £4 a year for a org.uk .co.uk address. Why not hold a competition at school to see what ideas the students come up with? If you’ve any great ideas or examples post them below (but maybe register them first in case someone borrows your idea!)
Every blog has to start somewhere…
At an entertaining and inspiring teachmeet at the BETT08 show I finally met Drew Buddie (and a lot of other great people). Drew only teaches 5 minutes away from me at the Masonic in Rickmansworth but it had taken us at least a year and a trip to Olympia to finally meet up. We met up again a couple of weeks later to chat and during the conversation he suggested I start up a blog to explain some of the work I was doing on a VLE in Rickmansworth School.
So here we go two months later and I’m getting started. I hope over my Easter holiday I’ll be able to add lots of information.