Starting things up again, like a new VLE, takes time. More time than even a pessimist like me expected! So here’s a little summary of what we’ve done over the last few weeks and what we plan to do. I’m not sure this will be exciting reading but it may be of use to other people doing something similar and of course I’d love to hear any ideas of things we’re doing wrong or could be doing better. When I say we – I’m talking about Julie one of our network technicians (who got the short straw of helping with the VLE 🙂 and myself.

Before half term we backed up all the useful courses from our old Rickypedia moodle some with user IDs some without. I’m a bit of a hoarder so probably took too much but I wanted some examples to show staff when they are creating new courses and resources.

Over half term I got the domains www.rickypedia.org and www.rickyschool.com pointing to the right places.  (Our new empty Moodle and our new google apps for education sites).

This past week has been about getting accounts and usernames sorted. We weren’t able to sort out any automatic authentication so have been creating spreadsheets with details for user accounts. We’re about 3 sign ons away from single sign on at school (we have different usernames for staff e-mail, network and MIS online portal). Luckily for us we were able to pull a list staff usernames and passwords from one of the existing systems. Although the VLE and google usernames won’t be synched with the existing system staff won’t have to learn a new set of usernames and passwords. If you don’t know anything about Moodle roles and are running a Moodle you need to! They basically set the permissions for areas of the site or the site as a whole and define what each user can see or do. We’ve set all staff as sitewide non-editing teachers. This means by default all teachers can see inside all courses. There’s a blog post here from Our Lady’s Catholic High School in Preston. It explains why you shouldn’t edit system roles. I am ignoring this advice for now as I want teachers to be able to see and explore how other staff are using the VLE and I hope the benefits will overcome any problems with privacy.

Another small thing we have done is to restore the courses backed up from the old VLE – these have started life in an archive category but may find themselves in new places soon.

To do next week:

1. We have already started adding areas for each subject. Each member of staff will be manually assigned the role of course creator in their subject area. This means they will be able to create and edit courses in their own subject area.

2. Creating student accounts. We will be giving students the same username as they have for the school network but will have to give them new passwords initially. Working out passwords that will be usable by students but not easily guessable by other students is something we hope we have sorted out.

3. Starting to play with the look and feel of the site. I’ve previously written about how customised profile fields can make a VLE more personal and social. Our theme and graphics also need updating.

4. Creating a 6th form group of experts. 6th form VLE club is starting this week. I’m hoping these students will in time take on a number of roles. Helping work out a VLE AUP (acceptable use policy) that is relevant and simple to understand. Helping to create content to help younger students stay safe online and to help students search and use information effectively. Helping to create graphics and themes for the site. Helping to run and moderate student areas of the site. And I hope soon, helping to train teachers to use the VLE. That’s a lot and we’ll see on Monday who turns up and what we get done.

Wish us luck and please share your comments or advice.

One of the major tasks I will have this year implementing our new VLE is to train staff.

To get staff on board I will need as many staff  on my side as possible and one idea I had was to run a separate group of teachers not just learning to use the VLE but learning, playing and sharing other web tools. So I advertised for enthusiasts – didn’t push anyone to come (except offering cake) and we got a very nice turnout. (About 8 staff of 7 specialisms)

We started off playing with voki, next I got staff to have a play setting up blogs on posterous and we finished off with a flurry looking at voicethread, delicious and classtools. Okay this was a lot to fit in a 45 minute session – ideally we would look at a tool, examples of how it has been used in a subject and then work out how to do it. But I think I and the staff enjoyed a fast place and having fun after school rather than planning. I finished off by setting a little homework – to find a blogger of their subject and to report back on what they found. To help them get started I pointed staff towards Doug Belshaw’s list of edubloggers as well as the edubloggers directory

Overall it was a fun evening and we shall certainly have more. I hope by the time we have our next big ICT Inset we will have lots of examples that our staff can demonstrate of their ICT use in the classroom.

I will write a separate post on our plans for VLE training which I’m still working on – I would love to hear feedback and ideas on how to train 100 staff of different subjects with different specialisms and IT skills. I also wonder how my budget of £30 per staff member (which is probably quite generous for a school) compares to the amount that would be spent in industry?

Student e-council meeting part 2

Posted on October 31st, 2008 in VLE | 1 Comment »

I previously wrote about our student e-council meeting held last term. The aim of this was to get students opinions and ideas on how technology should be used in school and what features they would like. This year I want to evolve the role of this group to actually taking on a hands on role with our VLE.

These are some ideas of what I’d like the group of students to be doing in my utopia.

1.  Helping create the structure, layout and look and feel of the VLE.
2. Running and creating their own areas of the VLE.
3. Contributing content to their own areas and to subject areas of the VLE (specifically links, audio and video)
4. Self moderating their own areas.
5. Helping to train staff use the VLE and acting as technical support for staff and fellow students.
6. Helping to formulate a student led acceptable use policy.

Obviously this is a potentially large project and I plan to start small. The first thing I have already done was to convene the group – we had our first meeting before half term and those students that came were enthusiastic about the project. I’m still not sure which students I want to make up the group and it’s hard to get a mixture of quality and quantity. So far I’ve picked up students who I think are both responsible and have a talent for ICT but I’m sure there are other students who I’ve missed out who would be valuable assets. I’m also not sure what age students I want – originally I had a spread from all the year groups but with a diverse group the younger students can be intimidated to talk infront of the older students. In future meetings I will probably separate KS3 students fromKS4 and 5 students (to non UK readers KS3 is age 11-14 KS4 14-16 KS5 16-18). We will also meet in the morning during form periods and assemblies as students are never quite as good at coming during lunchtimes!

I’m fairly optimistic that once I find the right students and have accounts for them all to use and play with the facilities on offer, as well as a little bit of equipment for them to use (think video cameras and bluetooth for connectivity with mobiles) this will go fast. Right now though I’m stuck on the basics and we’re going to start with working on our student led AUP and see where it takes us.

Wish us luck and I’d love to hear any comments or news of people doing similar projects.

Another year older another year wiser, so the old adage goes. The problem with that adage is that technology moves so fast you might be wiser in one aspect but have completely missed out on something brand new that’s just come out. I try not to let that worry me though as if the new things are any good I’ll probably hear about it through a blog or twitter somewhere, if not then it’s yet another new innovation that’s passed the whole world by!

I’ve not had as much time to update this blog as much as I would have liked. I have much respect for some of the prolific edubloggers out there, especially those who are full time teachers such as Nic Peachey, Tom Barrett, Jose Picardo and Doug Belshaw. I just don’t seem to find the time and I’m not sure I ever will!

My excuse is that I am in, and I hope coming to the end, of my second year MA in ICT in Education. Yes I know some of the people I just mentioned are doing similar things or even doctorates but lets just pretend I didn’t know that! While my University assignments may take time that I could have spent blogging they have given me the opportunity to do some heavy reflection. In an assignment from February 2008 I had to write about the implementation of a technology initiative. I chose to write about the implementation of Rickypedia. It’s a little scary posting my rather rushed and unpolished assignment in a public forum for the first time but I hope it may be of use to people. It’s about 6000 words but I think is quite readable! It’s quite interesting looking back personally and seeing how my perceptions have changed even since February. I’ll keep you posted on the developments since then when I get the chance. Click on the link below to have a read

Implementing a Pilot VLE at Rickmansworth School (PDF 152kb)

Student e-council

Posted on June 5th, 2008 in rickypedia, VLE | 5 Comments »

After a year of our pilot VLE and a few years teaching ICT I was eager to hear the opinions of the students. I hear lots of little student comments and gripes during my lessons in the ICT suite. Most of them are “why has so and so got a better computer than me” pointing at the new flatscreen monitor on one PC. I then explain that they both have the same computer it’s just the old monitor died and we had to get a flatscreen to replace it. But there are plenty of very valid comments that students make and of course plenty of positive comments.

Setting up a student e-council was something that I had meant to do for a while. I think most schools now have student councils who discuss and feedback on a variety of issues in a school. Our school PE department set up their own sports council to find out what sports provision and clubs students wanted. For my e-council I picked two or so students from every year group to come to the first meeting. I picked the ones I knew were the most talented OR enthusiastic at ICT or the ones who were frequent users of Rickypedia (our VLE). From a scientific or research point of view this obviously isn’t a very good sample, but bringing this group of students together had other benefits. It allowed some of these brilliant minds to meet and ‘network’, it allowed me to get together a group of students who may be in the future be involved in training, design, resource creation and support of the VLE. It also meant I had a group of students who knew what they were talking about when giving feedback and the participants were certainly not out of touch with the average student.

Below are the minutes from our meeting (edited slightly for privacy). As you can see they came up with some brilliant suggestions and comments as well as a few that are just not going to happen (ie VLE with links to games not blocked by filters). I look forward to our next meeting soon.


1st of May, Meeting of “student e-council” to get student feedback on e-learning in School.

Invited Participants:

Year 7 x3 Yr 8 x3 Yr 9 x3 Yr 11 x1 Yr 13 x2 (1 year 7, 2 year 10s and 2 year 12s missing)

nb participants are all students who have used Rickypedia this year – I selected students who are either very active on Rickypedia or who I thought would contribute well to the discussion – the representation is probably skewed towards the more ICT literate students.

Feedback on Rickypedia:

+ve

Overall Very positive, “I like it”, like the messaging, much faster to use since the upgrade.

-ve

Some problems with blogs (Password problems having to retype it, highlighting doesn’t work). Would like a spellchecker, problems adding pictures to work.

What Extra Features Would you Like?

Place to store files

Having a personal webpage

Being able to personalise the site – add colours and widgets

More help pages

A place to put calendar reminders or notes for yourself

Live student chat

List of games that they could access through the school filters!

Would you be interested in (suggestions from teacher)…

Student E-mail accounts: Overall enthusiastic response, student who joined in year 9 said it would have helped her to make more friends if they all had school e-mails. Would be good for communicating with teachers.

Having one password for everything: Everyone agreed this is a good idea.

Social Features: Response was varied – younger students wanted a place to chat with friends, older students prefer to use myspace or facebook.

Being able to see attendance and grades: Not so excited about this but not negative.

Online application (ie Google apps – spreadsheet and word processor): Definitely liked this idea even if they don’t use it all.

Online library catalogue: Yes

Online Encyclopaedia (like Britannica): Year 13s said it would be extremely useful for projects especially if it’s accessible from home. Overall very positive.

Any particular resources you would like on a VLE?

– Would like to have all resources from lessons on Rickypedia, any powerpoints or resources that teachers use in lessons should be up. Useful if students are absent. Also if teachers make notes on interactive whiteboard they should save them and put them online (example of teacher who already puts his whiteboard notes in shared network folder for yr 11)

– Google search box so they can search for things without opening a new window

Ideas for Design of Rickypedia:

Less cluttered frontpage – there is too much on it. One suggested a hippy themed frontpage. Students enthusiastic about getting involved in the future design. Variation in preferences of older and younger students again.

General ICT Issues in the school: All brought up by students – not part of the original agenda.

MyClasslink (accessing files from home): Some students had problems but most said it worked fine – would like it integrated with rickypedia.

6th form laptops: Need Delphi on them (non-6th formers jealous that they don’t have access to laptops.

School Website: Needs updating – students eager to get involved in doing this.

More storage space: Students would like more storage space (especially KS3)

File types: Problems with students having latest version on Office at home and not being able to open it at school. Suggestion that all computers have the converter installed (or the latest version of office)

Would like Google Toolbar installed on PCs to make searches easier (they don’t like existing yahoo toolbar)

This project has been on my list to write up for a long time. A successful presentation at the Teachmeet North East London Conference gave me a bit of kick to get it done.

This project was a cross curricular project for gifted and talented ICT and English students in year 9 (ages 13 to 14). We used a range of technology including shared network folders for online information gathering, digital video, digital photos and both synchronous (live chat) and asynchronous messaging (discussion forum) using our VLE.

In our school all subjects have the option of running extra after school classes for gifted and talented students (cleverly branded GATE in our school). This year our gifted and talented coordinator wanted to have a shared theme running through classes and in a meeting with representatives from all curricular subjects we decided on the theme of China. We also agreed that all classes should have two curricular subjects joining together. I joined forces with an English teacher (Ed Macleod) and we started work on a course where students would make videos about China after synthesising and analysing a variety of sources of information about China such as articles, prose, poetry art and music. Eventually our brainstorming and discussions came up with the following structure (the original was slightly different but this is what we ended up with by the end of the course). Nb all classes were 1 hour 45 minutes.

Week 1: Introduction to China – writing an introduction to your movie – will your film be positive or negative?
Week 2: Trip to China Town with cameras and video cameras (along with Food Tech. and Geography groups) Experience Chinese culture and collect media for use in films.
Week 3: Human Rights issues in China – internet research saving documents and resources in a shared folder.
Week 4: The Cultural Revolution in China – looking at art and writing and using it for inspiration to create their own pieces of writing.
Week 5: Introduction to IMovie. Playing with the software using footage shot from China Town.
Week 6: Script Writing – writing scripts for movies and putting together other written materials.
Week 7: Movie Editing.
Week 8: Movie Editing plus live online chat.

Lesson plans for all lessons and powerpoint presentations for some are available below. Some topics were particularly hard to cover. Human rights in particular was an issue that I really wanted to cover but at the same time I didn’t want to overshadow all the other positive aspects of China. It’s very hard to show a fair picture of such an emotive subject. You will see at the end of the presentation I looked at a comparison of human rights in the UK to show that there is plenty to criticise in any country.

It didn’t take long to realise that the knowledge of myself and my colleague, on China, was not enough to fulfil the needs and answer all the questions of our inquisitive students. On a Tuesday evening a solution came to me.

I am in my final year of an online Masters degree in ICT in Education at the University of Leeds. While looking through our University VLE (Firstclass) I noticed a posting from a fellow student originally from China. A few messages later and I had a real Chinese person very willing to help answer questions from our students.

Our willing volunteer Fiona Shen, originally from Shanghai, is a teacher at Harrogate Ladies College in the North of England. Even better her English is perfect!

I set up a Moodle course for our group on our VLE (rickypedia). The first step was to get a discussion going for students to ask questions to Miss Shen. This was set as homework for students. You can see the list of topics they asked about in the following screenshot.

Discussion Topics

I’ve picked two questions as examples. The first on food is a great simple discussion about Chinese food. The second is a question about the honesty of the government – I think this was superbly answered by Fiona Shen.

Food Discussion Government Discussion

The level of questions, and dare I say learning through the process, was astounding though as you can see from the topics not all students asked questions.

I decided that as we had a willing volunteer to answer questions we should take things one step further and try a live online chat with Miss Shen. It took a few weeks to get this organised and we ended up doing this during our final lesson. My original plan was to bring students into the chat room in groups of four for about 10 minutes each. It ended up being about 20 minutes until I could get the first group to leave and even then we had a mixture of students from different groups, some of whom I let stay on for well over their allocated time. The reason for this was the reaction of some of the students. One girl pleaded; “Sir, please let us stay on, we’re learning so much from this!”

I’ve put a few highlights from the chats in the screenshots below. Some of them have been edited slightly to get them to fit on the page or to get rid of some of the more inane chatter. I also include a full transcript of a section of the chat to give you an idea of some of the chit chat and silly comments that happened in between the serious ones.

Travel in China, terracotta army chat
Food in China, dog and turtle, Chat
Longer Food in China Chat
School in China Chat
Full Chat Transcript – Government and freedom (rtf format)

As you can see from the chat there was some incredible thinking and learning going on.

The final part of the project was creating the documentary videos on China. All the videos are viewable on teachertube and all are amazing pieces of work. One or two aren’t 100% finished and two of the groups spent a significant amount of time outside of the lessons finishing off their films. One example which I think is particularly powerful is embedded below. All the script, poems and prose were written and read, edited and produced by the students. Most images are still images but some footage from our trip to Chinatown was included.

Conclusions and thanks: Masterclasses are normally six week courses but thanks to the foresight of our gifted and talented coordinator Lacey Joy, who has some experience of film editing and realised we would be tight for time, we were offered two extra weeks. These weeks turned out to be essential. We were able to incorporate such a wide range of ways of learning and I think this was key to the success of the course. The expertise of Ed Macleod my English teacher colleague facilitated some amazing creative writing that I would never have been able to get out of students alone. His powerpoint China in Crisis gives links to some resources he found. Two other colleagues Sally Jessett, a geography teacher, and Janet Staerck, a food technology teacher did all the legwork and more importantly paperwork organising the trip to Chinatown and allowed our group to tag along and join them for a meal. This cultural experience was such an eye opener for students in ways we didn’t envisage beforehand. My ICT and technical experiences helped with the internet research (thanks to our network manager Roger Baron for setting up the shared directories) and also with the use of our school VLE. Fiona Shen answered questions from students patiently and expertly. And the students Mr. Macleod and myself all pitched in together with IMovie (thanks to Matt Earles our Apple Mac network manager for helping us out technically). There are of course improvements we could make for “next time”, we could have done more work on assessment (though all students were assessed by teachers at the end), we would have liked to do some work on our group presentation at the end of the course and we would have liked to try and spend more time concentrating on the positive aspects of China. But all in all the experience was positive for both students and teachers and the results speak for themselves.

As always I would be glad to hear comments, feedback, ideas or questions.

Resources:

Final Videos (nb sound volume varies!)

Video 1 – China Mediated

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4 – A glimpse of China

Lesson Plans – not in order, also some lessons changed after we created the lesson plans.

Lesson Plans 1

Lesson Plans 2

Lesson Powerpoints

Introduction to China Powerpoint

Human Rights Issues in China

China in Crisis

example homework

Flashmeeting Presentation of the Project from teachmeet (about 10 minutes)

http://flashmeeting.e2bn.net/fm/fmm.php?pwd=759b1f-3229&jt=02:50:20