Tag: VLE

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! 😀

(image by Mr Ush @ Flickr)

How E-Learning can contribute to raising achievement

Many, many thanks to in my Twitter network who replied to me during my presentation for the ‘Director of E-Learning’ position. I received over 100 replies in total and the panel seemed impressed at the ‘power of the network’! 🙂

ABCDE = Raising Achievement

The graphic that I’ll be referring to in the presentation.

The three arrows pointing towards the centre relate to the three strands that shall permeate the Academy’s curriculum.

Background

I’ve an interview today for a position entitled Director of E-Learning. It’s a position at the Academy that is to replace the schools that I attended growing up, so it’s especially important to me. I was asked to present on the impact E-Learning should make in the Academy in terms of raising achievement – and how I would go about achieving this. It’s a school that has a catchment including fairly high levels of deprivation and standards are improving, but academic results still low.

My 15-minute presentation

Mulling over in my mind the type of person they want for the role, I decided to make a bold statement and not to use technology to present to them. Hopefully this will have the effect of reinforcing my point that it’s all about the appropriate use of technology in education. I am, however, going to show them the power of my Twitter network. How? By a 3-step process:

  1. Explain how I’ve been using Twitter for the last two years to establish connections with learners worldwide. I’m going to use the map of my Twitter follwers at TwitterAnalyzer to illustrate this.
  2. I’m then going to show the type of people (currently numbering around 1,100) following my updates by creating a tag cloud of the words in their Twitter mini-biographies. I’ll be using TwitterSheep to do this. 🙂
  3. Finally, I’m going to direct my Twitter network towards this blog post and ask them to comment on it during my presentation/interview. Their responses will appear on the screen for the interview panel to see courtesy of Twitterfall.

Whilst that’s going on, I’ll be referring to the diagram at the top of this blog post. It’s something I put together to illustrate my (hopefully) clear and straightforward way in which results can improve. That graphic, with my name, a photo of me teaching, my online avatar, and links to where to find me online will be on a sheet of A4 paper in front of each member of the panel.

I’m going to take each of the points in turn – Attendance, Behaviour, Communication, Design, Engagement – and discuss the role E-Learning can play in it. Obviously, there’s some points (e.g. Communication and Engagement) that I’ll spend longer talking about than others (e.g. Attendance). I’ve got each word with a relevant image printed on a sheet of A4 paper. I’m going to stick these on the walls of the interview room at various places as I talk about them. 😀

Here’s an overview of what I’m going to be saying:

Attendance

Alarm clockLittle in the way of worthwhile learning is likely to place if learners are not ‘present’. But what does ‘present’ mean? You can be physically present whilst being emotionally and psychologically ‘somewhere else’. This feeds into issues surrounding engagement that I’ll discuss later.

In addition, learners can be somewhat self-directed by using a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) to access resources and materials to help develop their skills. This links in closely to the ‘Design’ element that I shall also be discussing later. This will feed into the concept of an ‘e-Extended School’ programme, where learning does not stop at the school bell, but continues either on the Academy sites or at home.

Do learners need to be present in a traditional classroom to learn if they are ‘in school’? Probably not. Whilst it shouldn’t be a free-for-all, leaners should be able to take control of their learning so they are more self-directed and can ‘attend’ in various ways.

Behaviour

BullyClosely related to the ‘Attendance’ element is the issue of learners’ behaviour. This has improved in the existing High school over recent years, but still has a way to go in order to bring about a happy, positive environment conducive to learning.

Behaviour management is a huge field for research, but the findings are clear: learners who are aware of what they need to do in order to improve and who have a meaningful towards which to aim, are much likely to be well-behaved. Technology has a role to play in improving behaviour in three main ways:

  • Enabling data to be shared and made accessible to Academy staff, parents and learners themselves on how their behaviour is affecting their own learning and that of others.
  • Providing a way in which learners can publish their work and results of their learning to a real-world audience.
  • Creating an exciting, immersive environment in which to learn.

Without appropriate attendance and behaviour, other efforts to raise achievement are less likely to be effective. Getting these right means greater likelihood of employability which is central to the ‘Investing in my Future’ strand.

Communication

Tin cansFor any organization to be successful it must have a steady flow of relevant and timely information between those who make up its members. At a basic level, communication about attendance, behaviour and attainment can be shared using a shared interface.

But technology can do much more than that. In an Academy that is currently spread over 10 sites and is to end up as 5 sites, it can enable cohesion and informed decisions to be made. Communication using technology doesn’t have to be real-time: it can be asynchronous or a blend of synchronous and asynchronous. Updates and messages in a Web 2.0 world can be as real-time as you want them to be. This enables busy teachers and administrators to be flexible in their working whilst being responsive.

There is also no need for either learners, educators or administrators to be tied to a single physical space. With mobile technologies, e-portfolios and Internet access should be available anywhere. Year 9 learners at the current High school have individual netbooks and 3G broadband dongles. These, and their successors, if available for all learners should enable ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning – either individually or collaboratively. Both educators and learners should feel ‘digitally connected’.

It’s also important to have a dialogue with the local community, including churches and businesses. To truly promote the ‘Investing in my Community’ strand, the school must be confident enough in its internal communications to be able to face outwardly to the community and world-at-large. A large part of this is equipping learners with the literacy and oracy skills to articulate their view of the world and how they want the future to be.

Design

Lego bricksAll staff at the current High school are expected to use the current Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for their planning and interactions with learners. This is a good start, but does not guarantee that the VLE is suitable for pedagogically-sound learning design. We need to move from a one-size-fits-all approach to a much more personalized one. Staff will need training on how to use the introduced MLE as a base to bring in relevant and targetted resources to use with learners.

In my role as E-Learning Staff Tutor I have experience of persuading staff to voluntarily give up their time to embark upon Continuous Professional Development (CPD) relating to E-Learning. I would build upon this experience at the Academy, seeking to not only accreditize their professional development, but contexualize it and build a constituency of those willing and eager to try new and innovative E-Learning strategies.

It is vitally important to have a whole-Academy overview and plan for this. As Director of E-Learning, therefore, I would aim, after making sure data management and communication issues had been ironed out, to head a group of educators and learners focusing on using E-Learning to raise achievement. This would be on a voluntary basis, but attendees would have specific time set aside for related development work.

Using a metaphor of the National Grid, the school should build up enough innovation to sustain itself, but then feedback into the national picture, much as the most sustainable and efficient buildings sell electricity back to the National Grid.

As the Academy’s specialism is in ‘Design and the Built Environment’, modelling best practice in all elements of design is essential. Learners need to have examples of well thought-out methods of presenting information and expressing ideas on which to draw. A properly-managed and crafted blended learning environment can go a long way to help make this happen.

Engagement

EngagementWhen ICT or E-Learning is mentioned in terms of impact on achievement and attainment, ‘Engagment’ is usually the first thing that people think of. Yet, it’s something I’m addressing last in my presentation. Why?

Whilst I’ve nothing against the ‘wow’ factor – it’s important to have those moments in learning – only aiming for these when using E-Learning strategies and resources is not a recipe for success. After all, to do so would be to pit Academy-centred learning experiences against entertainment experiences on games consoles. If learners get bored playing the same game that has an initial ‘wow’ factor – despite its richly-immersive environment and compelling storyline, how much more quickly will that happen with E-Learning?

Instead, we should be using innovative technologies to provide a sense of achievement. The confidence that comes from many small successes and the positive feedback is what gets game-players going back for more, long after the ‘wow’ factor wears off. Engagement should come with well-designed and professionally-produced resources and activities that are provided for learners. They should be available ‘anywhere’ and ‘anytime’ and be immersive enough for a learner to ‘lose’ themself in them for a period of time.

Conclusion

I’ll be wrapping up my presentation by referring back to the Twitter replies to this blog post that (hopefully!) appear on the screen. I’ll talk about my connections to educators worldwide, about my ability to tap into this and other networks (EdTechRoundup, Becta, Mirandanet, etc.), about my Ed.D. on the concept of ‘digital literacy’, about events I have and shall speak at, and my CV in general.

After that, all I’ve got then are the interview questions… 😉

What do you think? Anything controversial in there? What would YOU change?

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An invitation to a conversation…

EdTechRoundup logoI’m delighted to be able to invite everyone in the edublogosphere to a special EdTechRoundup meeting this Sunday (6th July) at 8pm BST (your local time here). As usual we’ll be rounding up what we’ve found useful in the world of educational technology, but we also have a special guest!

Mike Jones, Divisional Director of Core Projects & Technologies (UK) Ltd. shall be joining us. If you remember, a couple of weeks ago there were some issues surrounding comments I made about their VLE product TALMOS. Mike shall be giving the other side of the story and helping us get at whether there is (or should be) a personal/professional divide.

Do join us if you can! 😀

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Censorship and the Personal/Professional divide

In May 2008 I wrote a post entitled What is a VLE? In it, I discussed the ins and outs of various VLEs and linked it to an EdTechRoundup podcast in which I was a participant. I made a passing comment that compared one type of VLE to another. The company whose VLE product I did’t rate very well threatened me (via my school) with legal proceedings. 😮

The upshot was that I felt it was in my best interests to remove the ‘offending’ paragraph so as to not cause difficulties within my school. I replaced it with one that, in my eyes, was more damaging to the VLE vendor: that they’d almost forced me to remove any criticism (however slight) by referring to ‘legal proceedings’ in their communication with my school.

I’ve now added a disclaimer to my blog, saying that my opinions are not that of my employer (school or Local Authority). It does, however, bring up the issue of where the personal ends and the professional begins – and vice-versa…

Have you any experience of this? What was the outcome?

Help me write my job spec. for next year!


(The response I hope not to get come September…)

I’ve mentioned this in passing in a couple of blog posts previous to this one: from next academic year I shall be E-Learning Tutor at my school. This new post (solicited by me, it has to be said) involves me spending 50% of my time (15 periods of 50 mins) per week teaching History and a bit of ICT. The other 50% will count towards the E-Learning Tutor role.

I’ve a meeting next week with my Head to flesh out my actual role. He mentioned today that I’ll have to do some “mundane” stuff, but that I will be free to push a few aspects of my choosing and accelerate perhaps one thing I’m really interested in. As you can imagine, with my Ed.D. thesis exploring the ‘Digital Literacy’, that’s the latter taken care of. 🙂

I’m expecting the mudane activities I shall have to undertake to be things like:

  • Interactive Whiteboard training (the really basic aspects)
  • How to use the new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment)
  • Using the internal Microsoft Outlook web-based email system
  • Ways to use Powerpoint and other presentation tools in the classroom
  • How to transfer digital video from digital cameras/camcorders to staff laptops

Whereas what I really want to be pushing are things such as:

  • Creating a blog to make resources available outside the classroom (I’ve already run a couple of staff workshops on this, with some success)
  • Basic podcasting and digital storytelling for non-written assessment, leading to e-portfolios for students.
  • Communicating with other educators worldwide (i.e. getting staff initiated in the edublogosphere – perhaps through the K12 Online Conference?)
  • Giving staff the confidence to take students into the ICT suites more often to use the Internet as a publishing tool.
  • Transferring schemes of work and programmes of study into an electronic format (perhaps in a wiki-like format using Google Sites within Google Apps Team Edition or the new VLE?)

Some context to help you understand where we’re at: my school has a plethora of RM One machines, Interactive Whiteboards in almost every classroom, and relatively unrestricted access (we can access Twitter, del.icio.us, Google Video, etc. but not YouTube, Facebook or games websites, for example). There’s a real mix of what I would call ‘digital literacy’ amongst staff. We range from those, like me, who use educational technology in some way in every lesson, to those who only use their laptop to help them write reports, and who certainly haven’t turned on their Interactive Whiteboard yet… 😮

What else should I be looking to include in my responsibilities? How should my success and impact be measured, given that it’s a 1-year trial role? Suggestions in the comments section please! :-p

Image credits: Hugh McLeod @ gapingvoid.com (top one censored by me…)

EdTechRoundup 5 – group discussion on VLEs and GLOW

EdTechRoundupThe EdTechRoundup meeting last Sunday night was an unusual one. We decided to record the FlashMeeting session and invited a number of VLE experts and those familiar with the Scottish GLOW network.

The resulting discussion was excellent with some great insights and useful information conveyed by a diverse bunch of educators.

You can listen to the podcast and get the del.icio.us links by visiting edtechroundup.com or click on the ‘play’ button below. 😀

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. 😉

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. 🙂

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…*** 🙁

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:

Managing Organizational Change – diagram

Karen Romeis has posted about an online VLE Conference in which she is participating where what seems like a rather useful diagram talking about organizational change and resistance was used:

Diagram?

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