School choice of learning platform

May 26, 2006

Miles Berry

Importantly, and with relevance to the Leicestershire business discussed below, The DfES have just issued through Becta’s Learning Services Technical Subgroup, a statement clarifying issues about schools’ choice of learning platforms. They explain that:

“the mandatory and recommended functionalities that industry providers must be able to deliver to be included in the framework agreement do not also serve as a list of functions that schools, procuring from the framework, must purchase in entirety. Schools may choose any combination of functionalities from the mandatory and/or recommended lists to suit their needs. They might even choose functionalities not currently listed”

Which goes a long, long way to address my and others’ concern that the voice from the classroom hadn’t been listened to. Of course it could be no other way, as most of the funding for this is to be devolved down to school level through devolved funding capital and revenue funding, and won’t be hypothecated. As the Becta requirements and specifications are not statutory, schools could disregard these if they wanted, as the DfES acknowledge elsewhere in their statement. In summary:

“On the basis of how best to develop learner-centric teaching, schools need to be thinking about, planning and deciding whether or not and how best to use ICT to support their vision and aims.”

Sounds good to me!

Keywords: BectaDfESLearning Platforms, School choice

Posted by Miles Berry | 0 comment(s)

I see that Becta have at long last published the final, first version of thelearning platform functional requirements out onto the open web.

So, what are the requirements like? Well, they have something of the camelabout them, and I think we’d have seen a very different document if Becta had worked from the ground up, asking pupils, teachers and schools what sort of functionality they’d like to see in learning platforms, rather than the top down, with a focus on consulting policymakers and suppliers about the sort of technology they think schools ought to have.

Although they claim that,

“the Learning Platform requirements should not be biased towards a model of content delivery and will also encourage creativity and collaboration”,

the focus does appear to be about managing content, tracking learners and mapping the curriculum, and there is much attention given to learning objects, metadata tagging and adaptive learning design. With this in view, it was interesting that at the last SLICT conference Doug Brown (DfES) placed an emphasis on personalised content, rather than personalised learning. This change in emphasis, from empowering learners to personally contribute to an online enviroment, to one in which they are presented with personally tailored learning objects which take into account prior attainment and learning styles, seems such a waste of the technology’s power to engage learners in online communities, and is a return to the adaptive computer based instruction of the past. So, for example, we read that:

“The specifactions used will be partly bsaed on SCORM… one of the key foundations of international e-learning standards that is focussed upon single-learner, self-paced, online learning

Similarly, integration with Curriculum Online metadata, structures and repositories (R5, R17, R20, R38) suggests that the education content industry has had some hand in this work, perhaps more than it should have been allowed. It’s disappointing that Becta are not using this as an opportunity to push for proper integration of data between VLEs and MISs, and are content, for the time being, with import/export functionality. Interestingly, the same, industry dominated, stakeholder group has now been asked to comment on functional requirements for information management. If we ever do get to a UK standard for school MIS then integration with a range of VLEs will be much easier.

There is though much that is good, and they have listened to the Moodle and opensource community about giving at least some place to the social dimension of learning, as well as some aspects of Web 2.0. For example, as part of metadata management, there are requirements that users will be able to classify, tag, organise and annotate resources (R5, R34), and a suggestion that a folksonomy approach should be possible. Similarly, it’s not all about delivering pre-packaged content, as there’s another requirement (R7) that users be able to create their own resources. Although the e-strategy vision was for a ‘personal online space’, this seems to have been interpreted as an institutional learning platform, which learners will have some flexibility in customising (ie they get to choose screen colours, fonts and font sizes! (R15)), that said, aspects of a PLE have made it through, including a recommendation (R12) that “users should be able to combine data-streams and selectively share them with others”, which could be really exciting. The issue of learner autonomy is key here – whilst the expectation seems to be that a ‘learner profile’ will be used to adjust the resources presented (R18), there’s also provision made for learners to select ‘aspects’ of their learning journey – it will be interesting to see how the different platforms meet this requirement, given that sequencing should be controlled by content, teacher or pupil (R19), and some resources won’t be made available until certain conditions are met (R30).

Provision is made for self review, and more importantly peer review , within the assessment for learning objective (R14), such as Moodle’s workshop module provides. There’s also a requirement (R36) for Creative Commonssupport for content which the users create. Cross-platform compatability is there, although it’s interesting that all the stakeholder group consultation documents have been in MS formats, and Becta’s online forum hasn’t been able to accept comments from Firefox browsers. The social, web2.0 stuff feels as though it’s been tacked on at the end, but discussion forums are mandatory (R36), and audio/video conferencing (R39), e-mail (R41, and I know this is hardly web2.0), blogs (R40), and wikis (R42) are listed as recommendations.

Finally, I love the notion that:

“Users should have the ability to use conditional rules that can change the learning experience depending on behaviour.”

I’m thinking something along the lines of “If you lot don’t behave yourselves, then we’ll stop the practical and you can copy the notes down from the board…”