Tag: BECTA

The post-Becta, QCDA and GTCE future.

These thoughts are my own and don’t represent my employer’s, my wife’s or the those of Father Christmas. πŸ˜‰

On the one hand, the Conservatives’ education policies heavily (and negatively) influenced my vote in the recent General Election. On the other hand, now that we’ve got Mr Gove, at least he’s had the courage of his convictions to get rid of three bodies:

Becta

Probably the most useful of the three to go, Becta was the government’s advisory service for educational technology. I was part of their Open Source Schools project and attended events such as BectaX. Unfortunately, they became less relevant, increasingly unwieldy and seemingly more subject to internal politics as time went on.

QCDA

The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency advised the government on the National Curriculum, assessment and qualifications. The new coalition government believe that its functions can be discharged more effectively in other ways (e.g. Ofqual). I didn’t have much dealings with them, but never really knew why they were there.

The QCDA’s sample National Curriculum schemes of work were unfortunately taken as gospel by some Heads of Departments and Senior Leaders – rather than as a basis upon which to innovate. Sometimes it is your fault if the tools and resources you produce are used as instruments of repression…

GTCE

I have never hidden my utter contempt for the General Teaching Council for England, noting how ridiculous their ‘code of conduct’ for teachers was. The fact that they took money off you and then gave it back if you were employed as a teacher seemed utterly pointless. Their only purposes seemed to be to send out glossy magazines and discipline teachers who take drugs. I found their lack of proper consultation, their arbitrary stance and their waste of public money shocking.

The future?

I’m really pleased that these three organizations have gone together rather than in a piecemeal fashion. I think it signals a bright future for schools in England – so long as the Academies programme isn’t used just to shuffle the money from quangos to consultants. I hope that getting rid of these organizations means that money can be channeled more effectively to schools, partnerships, federations and authorities who in a position closer to the ground to gauge its impact.

Grassroots innovation and sharing of practice through online networks should now take centre stage. Instead of people being able to hide behind (their readings of) recommendations made by quangos, they’ll have to actually engage and think about their particular context. That can only be a good thing.

A note of caution, however. Just because a tool such as Twitter is open and decentralized does not make the networks it facilitates open and decentralized. We need to be careful not to fall prey to the age-old “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and gatekeeper-ism. πŸ™‚

I’d really like to hear YOUR views on this. Are you a teacher in the UK? What do you think? If you’re not, what’s your take from the outside?

What are the ‘functional specifications’ of a VLE that drive real learning?

You may want to read my post What is a VLE? as an introduction to this post!

lp-dvd-capture-05It’s the nature of blogs that they reflect the ideas and interests of those who write them. As a consequence, this particular one has, of late, featured much on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of E-Learning – i.e. the systems and processes that enable Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), for example, to work effectively.

In my new role as Director of E-Learning (and I quote from my job description) it is my responsibility to:

Ensure the creation of the virtual learning environment (VLE), identifying clear targets, time-scales and success criteria for its development and maintenance in line with the Academy Development plan.

As such, in conjunction with the ICT Advisor from the Academy’s consultants, I need to come up with some ‘functional specifications’ for the VLE. We shall be using the existing VLE that is in place in the current High school, either developing that or replacing it for the new build in 2011.

Becta’s list of functional requirements can be found here, but I wanted to ask those in my network if they had any other suggestions. Here’s what they came up with in a short space of time (click to enlarge):

In terms of what I want to see in a VLE, I think it needs to:

  • Be a collaborative space where students and staff can collaborate on documents and web pages (like Google Apps)
  • Enable users to have appropriate contact with others within the Academy and the wider community by a range of methods (e.g. Twitter-like microblogging, instant messaging, shared whitetboards, video conferencing,email, social networking)
  • Promote learning by have clearly structured course elements, rather than be a file repository.
  • Process appropriate data quickly in a visually-appealing and easy-to-understand way for Academy staff, students, and parents.
  • Allow students to publish their work to various parties: peers, teachers, the Academy, the world.
  • Enable outside agencies to access appropriate data on students, staff and Academy issues.
  • OpenID login so users have a single sign-on and have more control over their digital identity.
  • Integration with immersive worlds such as Second Life (as, for example Sloodle does)

I’m sure by 2011 there will be many other things I want the VLE to do function-wise, but that’s enough for now… Would appreciate your input in the comments section! πŸ˜€

(image by Mr Ush @ Flickr)

BETT 2009 and EdTechRoundup

TeachMeet09 @ BETTI’m off to BETT 2009 on Friday, one of the largest educational technology-related trade fairs in the world. This year I’m speaking about my use of Linux-powered netbooks as part of a Becta-funded Open Source Schools project of which I’ve been part. Last year, if you remember, I spoke with Futurelab about barriers and enablers with regard to the adoption of educational technology, and in particular Web 2.0 tools, in schools.

If you’d like to see me and others from the project in action, come to the seminar on Saturday 17 January at 10.45am in the Club Room!

I’ve been granted cover for my one ICT group on Friday afternoon, meaning I’ll be able to get from Doncaster to London in time for the TeachMeet. Last year’s was great and I not only got the chance to do a 2-minute nanopresentation about EdTechRoundup (thus officially launching it), but met lots of great people for the first time. I can remember Lisa Stevens and Jo Rhys-Jones accosting me and talking as if they’d known me for years because they read my blog! I can remember meeting JosΓ© Picardo for the first time at the ‘TeachEat’ meal at Pizza Express afterwards, and having a debate with Ian Grove-Stephensen about the future of schools. In fact, I met so many people there for the first time that I feel like I’ve known for years! πŸ˜€

This year, if I get a chance to do another nanopresentation at TeachMeet (people are randomly selected using the ‘fruit machine’ from ClassTools.net) I’m going to give an update as to how far we’ve come with EdTechRoundup and hopefully recruit even more regulars. :-p

If you’re heading to BETT 2009 on Friday or Saturday and want to say hello in person, please get in touch via Twitter (@dajbelshaw) or the contact form.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

What does it take to build a community?

I spent today down in London with some great educators and those involved in the Open Source community. We were part of an advisory group for a Becta-funded project allied to the website opensourceschools.org.uk. Part of the discussion naturally focused on starting a community of educators interested in using Open Source Software (OSS) in their schools. The question we were tasked with was: how do we get started?

AlphaPlus, the consultancy firm employed by Becta to run the project haven’t had a great deal of experience in Open Source, although they’ve done a decent job so far. What was great was that there were some ‘big hitters’ there to get things moving along. At the meeting, apart from myself, were:

In the morning session we discussed who we were aiming the website at. It was agreed that there already exist some excellent ‘technical’ website for network administrators and the like, but that more was needed for ‘beginners’ and those new to OSS. At the moment, opensourceschools.org.uk is a framework to build the community upon. We were concerned with how to go from eager early adopters using the site to gaining mainstream traction.

The key question of a previous blog post of mine (Why as an educator you should care about Open Source Software) was used as a stimulus to discussion. The point was raised that actually we need to move one step back: why should teachers even care about software? From there we discussed recent Becta license agreements after which Josie mentioned that at present students are taught how to use specific software (usually Microsoft) instead of more generic skills.

Michelle shared with the group the policy at her school of giving Year 7 students a USB flash drive containing all the software they will need during their time at the school. It is all Open Source and the school computers all run Linux. As a result, teachers can be confident that students have access to the software they need at home as well as school. A representative from Becta built on this, talking about the complex license agreements for some companies mean dealing with OSS is a lot easier for schools.

This got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if the (eventual) community at opensourceschools.org.uk could discuss and agree on customised versions of the OSS available at portableapps.com? For example, a version of Firefox with useful plugins for students pre-installed, or OpenOffice with everything set up in a way students and teachers alike would find intuitive.

Josie then took over to do some scenario planning for the community we are planning to attract and build on the site. She asked us to split into groups and come up with two axes on a graph in order to think about the type of community we want to foster. our group wanted to steer a course between a place that was almost unbearingly positive and back-slapping and a forum that involved lots of flamewars. On the other axis we put ‘enablers’ and ‘reticent’. Obviously, there’s no point in ‘preaching to the choir’ and just setting out to attract those who already know and use OSS. Whilst those people are needed, we need to focus on those who are at present disinterested and do some evangelism. Other groups talked about having specific roles in the community and whether the site should operate largely as a repository or a community.

After lunch, we had more of a freeform discussion about the website and how we could go about building the community. Many agreed that whilst Drupal is a good example of Open Source Software, it perhaps isn’t best for the purpose in mind. One of the AlphaPlus team mentioned that they’d planned to have ‘roadshows’ in order to do some form of evangelism. I suggested that they may want to run some ‘unconference’ sessions in a spirit similar to that of TeachMeet. The short presentations could be filmed and form a set of rich-media case studies to go on the site. More importantly, however, people would be able to meet face-to-face and share advice and ideas.

The best bit of the day, for me, was meeting in person people I had only previously met online. It’s great to spend time with like-minded, positive people who care deeply about education. πŸ˜€

Check out opensourceschools.org.uk. What would YOU suggest? Are you interested in using OSS in education?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Why as an educator you should care about Open Source Software

I’ve been invited to be part of a Becta project into Open Source Software (OSS). “What is OSS?” I hear you ask. A Google define: open source software search does a reasonable job, but for the layperson something a bit closer to home is needed.In a strange way, using OSS is a bit like buying Fairtrade products. Most people don’t see the direct results of their choice: they’re a water droplet in a beneficial deluge.

I’m sure you’re aware that creating software programs and web applications involves ‘programming’; programmers enter code in one of many programming languages. When this ‘source code’ is ready to be released, it is ‘compiled’ ready for Joe Public to be able to install it on their computers. Joe Public, however, can never read what was in the source code. Usually, that’s hidden and protected by copyright.

OSS, however, makes the source code readily available. This means that anyone with the requisite knowledge can make changes to the software. Note that even though OSS is usually free, nothing about the philosophy behind it says that the software can’t be sold for profit, just that the source code should be made available (under something called the GPL).

Strong communities often develop around popular OSS. You may have heard of an operating system called Linux. There are different ‘distributions’ (or versions) of this – perhaps the most popular being Ubuntu. The PCs in my classroom run Edubuntu, a derivative. You’d be amazed at what a community can put together and make available free of charge!

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where a program or web application you’ve relied upon has stopped being developed, but I certainly have. It’s frustrating and there’s nothing you can do about it. With OSS, however, good projects never die due to the community being able to access the code. Someone else can come along and continue developed the software.

Many people reading this post will be educators. Not only does ‘free’ usually sound good to schools, but the philosophy enshrined in OSS should appeal to. Students can contribute to these communities and projects, and real-world learning experiences can be had. Show them the alternative to capitalism. :-p

There’s a wealth of OSS for pretty much every need. Check out the following repositories:

If you want to know more about OSS and the Open Source movement in general, the Free Software Foundation is a great place to start! πŸ˜€

Do YOU use Open Source Software?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

What is a VLE?

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about VLEs and how schools will soon be required to have them. It’s easy for parents (and teachers for that matter) to get a little confused. :-s

So… what is a VLE? Easy! Wikipedia has the answer:

A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a software system designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting, as distinct from a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) where the focus is on management. A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for assessment (particularly of types that can be marked automatically, such as multiple choice), communication, uploading of content, return of students work, peer assessment, administration of student groups, collecting and organising student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, and similar. New features in these systems include wikis, blogs and RSS.

While originally created for distance education, VLEs are now most often used to supplement the face-2-face classroom, commonly known as Blended Learning.

End of blog post? Not quite. πŸ˜‰

Becta (“the Government’s lead agency for Information and Communications Technology… in education, covering the United Kingdom”) has specified certain requirements for VLEs, which must be implemented in schools by the beginning of the new 2008/9 academic year. I was going to list them here, but the requirements are quite large in number. You can see the functional specifications for VLEs (also sometimes called ‘learning platforms’) on the Becta website here.

There are 10 ‘approved Learning Platform Services Framework’ suppliers (name of product in brackets – unless same as name of company!):

Sadly, Moodle, the open-source Content Management System (CMS) doesn’t make it onto the list, although, pleasingly, Fronter is based on open technology with the source code available to clients. πŸ™‚

There are other VLEs available – for example Doncaster, where I teach, has gone for FrogTeacher from 2008/9 onwards. Despite the bizarre name, I was quite impressed with it when I had a play with it at the BETT show earlier this year.

***I had criticized TALMOS in this section, but they contacted my school to ask me remove my ‘potentially commercially damaging’ comments. It’s a shame to be effectively silenced through legal threats when all I did was compare their offering unfavourably against another…*** πŸ™

The QIA Excellence Gateway has a useful diagram for gaining an overview of the functionality of a VLE:

The problem I have with all this is twofold:

  • The focus doesn’t seem to be on learning. It seems to be upon assessment and streamlining communication between educational institutions and external agencies. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but to call it a ‘learning environment’ or ‘learning platform’ is something of a misnomer.
  • The majority of ‘approved’ VLE suppliers aren’t education-specific. Therefore, however much they may protest that they’ve built their VLE solution from the ‘ground-up’, it’s likely to be heavily influenced by the world of business. As I’ve argued elsewhere and (metaphorically) until I’m hoarse, schools and businesses are not, and should not be, alike. They have different needs and methods of operation.

To my mind, and you’ll have to read the aforementioned Becta functional specification for VLEs to really see what I mean, everything that should be ‘mandatory’ for a VLE seems to be merely ‘recommended’. Instead, it’s those things such as communication, record-keeping and assessment that are mandatory and core to the specifications. What does this mean in practice? The potentially transformative Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, VOIP tools, RSS feeds, etc.) mentioned as ‘recommended’ in the specification take second place and will either not be included at all or take second place to the other features. I really hope that pressure from teachers, parents and students means that all VLE suppliers are forced to enable these tools in a meaningful way.

The Doncaster approach, where schools are (in effect) given free access to a chosen VLE solution, could be useful. This potentially creates a district-wide intranet similar to the GLOW network in Scotland. Whilst the latter is likely to be the result of a lot more joined-up thinking, the former could lead to a situation of more collaborative teaching and learning. I can’t help but think, however, that having a well-thought-out and useful government-funded national intranet is a much better way of going about things than perpetuating a marketplace in education for companies more interested in profit than personalisation of learning. As Martin Weller (Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University) pointed out last year, VLEs are already out of date – the way forward is loosely-coupled, not central-and-monolithic… :-p

I’d be interested to hear YOUR thoughts on VLEs, whether or not you live in the UK. Has your institution got a VLE? Are you happy with it?

Further reading:

Towards a forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policy for mobile devices

Enough is enough. I think it was Clay Burrell who (via Twitter) initially pointed me towards this quotation by Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Unhappily, teachers in many UK schools (and further afield) are forced into a kind of cognitive dissonance as a result of official mobile phone bans being flouted by almost every student in the school. In fact, it’s more than that. Teachers are made to feel guilty when they encourage students to use the technology they have for learning.

Andrew Field and I had a brief Twitter conversation about this situation recently. As a result, Andrew started a thread on the EffectiveICT.co.uk Forum to discuss the issue. I’d like to bring more people (i.e. YOU) into the discussion, especially if you’ve got any links to good and forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs)! πŸ˜€

A brief search for AUPs relating to mobile devices brings up the following problematical example:

Mobile phones must not be used during the college day, including break and lunchtimes. Phones must be switched off during the day. If any student is found using a mobile phone at any time during the college day it will be confiscated until the end of the day

Of course, one can see why this particular college, like many educational institutions, has gone down this road. They’re protecting their own back; it’s the reason why networks often blacklist sites that teachers want to use for perfectly sound pedagogical reasons.

But then, there’s the rub. As Andrew Field pointed out, if the Internet connection’s already filtered, why lock pupils out of wireless networks and the like when they’re using their own devices? He cites using an iPod touch for accessing online content through the wi-fi connection in his department. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do the same – give out the password to students.

A big stumbling block is insurance, I suppose. But then, I’m only supposing. What exactly is the legal situation? Surely if a student damages their mobile phone/MP3 player in school it’s covered by their parents’ home insurance in the same way it would be on their way to and from school? Andrew quotes the following from Halifax insurance:

Personal Belongings
For those items that are normally worn or carried in everyday day life Halifax Home Insurance offer Personal Belongings cover away from the home both in the UK and abroad. This cover complements their unlimited sum insured contents insurance* and provides cover for items such as jewellery, money, credit cards and mobile phones.**

* Inner limits apply to certain areas of contents cover, including; money restrictions, single article & high risk item limits and contents left in the open. High risk items are subject to a Β£2000 limit per item. Details are available within the policy and schedule.
** Aggregate limits of between Β£2,500 and Β£10,000 apply. Individual limits apply to mobile phones, money, credit cards and pedal cycles.

I wonder if there’s anyone reading this who has links with those in the industry who could give a definitive answer?

Becta provide some reasonably helpful (general) advice on the subject, stating that an AUP should not stand alone, but instead be part of a ‘safe ICT learning environment’, including:

  • an infrastructure of whole-school awareness, designated responsibilities, policies and procedures
  • an effective range of technological tools
  • a comprehensive internet safety education programme for the whole school community.

I agree. Unhelpfully, they state that there “are many sample acceptable use policies available, both online and via local authorities, which schools can use as a basis for their own policies” – but then fail to link to any. πŸ™

To their credit, however, they have a PDF document from 2006 on E-safety which could provide an excellent platform to spark a discussion within your school. It covers everything from the potential dangers of online access, to the responsibilities for those with various (already extant) roles within the organization. It’s focus, nevertheless, is on prevention of abuse rather than enabling and opening-up as much as possible!

Diagrams are powerful tools when trying to effect change. This one, from the PDF mentioned above, demonstrates a sound (if slightly conservative) process. As technologies change, so must AUPs and, most importantly, the whole organization’s response. ICT lessons, as many teachers of the subject have realised, cannot simply be focused on learning how to use Microsoft Office and the like. They need to prepare students for the 21st century online world.

We need to create responsible users of the Internet and mobile devices. Yes, there are risks. Yes, there might be financial and other costs to the school. But isn’t it worth it in the long run? πŸ™‚

Update:

Liz Kolb replied to this post via Twitter providing a handy link to some AUPs:

Barriers to teachers’ use of ICT

There’s a report by BECTA from 2003 which reviews research looking at teachers’ uptake of ICT – Barriers and Enablers to Teachers’ Use of ICT

The key barriers are identified as:

  • Confidence, time and access to quality resources are major factors in determining teachers’ engagement with ICT.
  • Recurring technical faults, and the expectation of faults occurring during teaching sessions, are likely to reduce teacher confidence and cause teachers to avoid using the technology in future lessons.
  • Resistance to change is a factor which prevents the full integration of ICT in the classroom. In particular, teachers who do not realise the advantages of using technology in their teaching are less likely to make use of ICT.
  • There are close relationships between many of the identified barriers to ICT use; any factors influencing one barrier are likely also to influence several other barriers. For example teacher confidence is directly affected by levels of personal access to ICT, levels of technical support and the quality of training available.

The key enablers are identified a:

  • leadership and planning
  • sharing of resources
  • reliable technical support
  • schools working with each other and with the local community
  • differentiated training and continuous professional development for teachers
  • participation in national ICT initiatives and projects.
css.php