A year of e-learning in school, a reflection

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

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.
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.

Published by D Needlestone


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