XChange06 – Innovation in Practice

Jul 08, 2006

Miles Berry

Stephen Roulston of C2K, the province wide managed service for IT in schools, spoke about the forthcoming roll-out of LearningNI (LNI) (ppt), a single monolithic virtual learning environment for all the schools here, with some 375,000 users. They already have experience of projects of this scale, as their MIS has been provided this way for quite a while now (and interestingly has placed their spend-per-pupil on this in the upper quartile across the UK; so much for cost savings through aggregation!). They’ve piloted a number of possible products, including, interestingly, Blackboard and think.com (didn’t mention you know what), prior to developing what looks like a fairly bespoke solution. The rollout is interesting: they’re starting with accounts for all the teachers this year, but haven’t added any pupil accounts yet, with the exception of a few pilot projects. I think this is a fairly familiar model for Moodle users, who will often get some experience of using Moodle at moodle.org before downloading the scripts themselves, and is not disimilar to our Virtual Staffroom ‘course’ at St Ives, or Mike Partridge’s and my model for NAACE CPD of learning about VLEs through experience of a VLE. One of the things C2K have got so right about LNI is their focus on using the VLE as a collaborative learning space, with a clear grasp of “learners constructing knowledge together”, although other areas of VLE use, like online assessment seem less well developed.

We heard about four of the pilot projects, including

  • collaboration betweeen Braniel Primary School, Belfast and St Patrick’s Primary School, Saul on myths and legends, via video conference and shared powerpoint e-books;
  • a cross community project ran by some PGCE students using the powerful street murals that are a feature of the local urban landscape as a starting point for history work;
  • from Lisa Brown about a blended face to face / online CPD programme, which has really taken up the idea of using the platform to faciliatiate an extended community of practice, with sustained teacher collaboration over a 12 week period producing an impressive collection of resources, and a strong sense of professional satisfaction from the participants. They got some great feedback:
    • “the online programme so enthused the staff that they gave freely of their own time, even at the weekends.”
    • “it was great to be able to work alongside and to learn from more experiences and helpful colleagues”
    • “I really enjoyed the flexibility of being able to contact others”
    • “I really appreciated being able to link with colleages who were theaching the same age”

    All of which bodes well for the model we’ve proposed for NAACE’s CPD; and</li>

  • MyTown, a project between two special schools to use the VLE to create an online community, rather than a course, with the theme of comparing two localities, using video conferencing, shared image galleries and discussion forums.
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    OK, these are the showcase pilot projects, but the really interesting thing is that all of these are about using the VLE to develop purposeful online leanring communities, rather than simply delivering sequenced learning objects, and interestingly all the projects we heard about had some focus on establishing social prescence, without which this sort of collaboration would be difficult. The fact that this is a one-size-fits-all solution worried me, but the benefit of being able to facilitate this powerful inter-school collaboration with such apparent ease is quite a recommendation, particularly in this context where integrated schools are over-subscribed and there’s a desire to bridge the divides between communities; of course you can do this with lots of Moodles (or other VLEs) with Shibboleth taking care of the authentication.