Itslearning Webinar: Research into Student Use

November 28, 2011

I recently conducted a webinar for itslearning entitled “How to succeed with learning  platforms – new research into the student’s perspective”. The webinar raised some questions including:

What do students really think of learning platforms? And how can they be used  most effectively to improve the performance of teachers and students?

You can listen to and watch a recording of the webinar at

ELSE Conference in Bucharest, Romania

October 13, 2011

I have had my paper on an analysis of national patterns of learning platform use by students in schools and academies accepted for the  8th International Scientific Conference eLearning and Software for Education, Bucharest Romania,  April, 26th – 27th, 2012. Conference details are at I hope to see some of you there.

An analysis of national patterns of learning platform use in schools

June 22, 2011

The United Church Schools Trust and the United Learning Trust comprise a national group of 12 independent schools and 17 academies across a wide range of geographic and demographic areas of England. In 2008, the decision to implement a learning platform (also known as a Virtual Learning Environment or VLE) across the group was made. Although a fully supported technical solution was provided along with a sustained programme of continuous professional development, the decision as to how the learning platform was to be used was owned by each individual school and academy according to its own priorities.

The learning platform chosen was itslearning©, developed in Bergen University College in Norway and now adopted across a wide range of educational establishments. As a cloud-based product, itslearning offered a number of attractive potential benefits

1. Ease of use

2. Speed of implementation

3. Enhanced collaboration

4. Continuity of curriculum anywhere and anytime

5. Minimal initial investment

6. Scalability

7. Reduction of operating costs

8. Reduction of hosting costs

Now that the learning platform is embedded in many of the schools and academies with consistent, sustained usage in areas of excellence, it was decided to undertake research into how the learning platform was being used and what strategic and implementation lessons could be learned so far. A survey was consequently undertaken of 1000 students into how they used the
learning platform and what their perceptions were about it as a vehicle for teaching and learning. The survey was based on the most commonly used features of the learning platform and was conducted online using the built-in survey
tools of itslearning.

The following descriptor preceded the survey:

To help us improve itslearning in UCST schools and ULT academies, we are asking you to fill in a survey.

We are looking at ways in which itslearning can help with students’ education and to see if there is anything we can learn from the way that you use it.

We would like you to do a short survey which will not take up too much of your time. You will not need to give your
name and no-one will be able to identify you from your answers.

We would like you to do this survey so we can look at what students themselves think and do. You do not have to do it, but we hope that you will help us in this way. However, we understand if you would prefer not to take part. It is totally your choice.

The following is a list of questions that were
asked using the survey:

1.         Which school or academy do you attend?

2.         Are you a boy or a girl?

3.         Which year are you in?

4.         How often do you use itslearning?

5.         Where do you use itslearning?

6.         When do you prefer to use itslearning?

7.         Which subjects do you use it in?

8.         What do you use itslearning for?

9.         What do your teachers use itslearning for?

10.       Have you ever used itslearning on your phone?

11.       Would you like to be able to change the colour and design of itslearning?

12.       How much does itslearning help with your learning?

13.       How much do you enjoy using itslearning?

14.       How easy is itslearning to use?

15.       Do the people who look after you at home have access to itslearning?

16.       What do you like best about itslearning?

17.       For which subjects do you find itslearning most useful?

18        What things in itslearning could be made better?

Tha data analysis will take place over the summer of 2011-2012 and will be available to inform our future direction at that time. A copy of the report will also be posted here.

Action research for teachers measuring the impact of ICT

May 5, 2011

This paper is based on the guidelines available from the Becta site ( It provides an extremely useful tool for people about to undertake Action Research. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide a basic framework for reflection on classroom practice, most especially to enable study of the impact of ICT on teaching and learning. The guidelines are intended to support teachers at the planning stages of action research in the classroom. Using a structured format can enable research outcomes and findings to be shared, and can provide a research basis for subsequent planned change.

What do I need to consider to undertake action research?
Action research follows a cyclical process, and only the first cycle can be planned in advance. Thereafter, the next action research cycles depend on the evaluation phase at the end of previous cycles. Action research is often collaborative, involving planning with a colleague or colleagues. Action researchers may have a `critical friend’ or research facilitator working with them. Below is a suggested structure to help you plan and organise your research.
Keep a research journal
It is a good idea to keep a research journal, in which you can accumulate information about the progress of your work. Your journal should contain contextual information, field notes, ideas, dates, and any seemingly minor details which you feel are best recorded. They may well turn out to be important, and it is often hard to recall these things after time has elapsed.
Plan your research
Before you undertake your research, consider the following structure for planning the various stages of your research.
Title of the research project.
Outline of the study in 100 words.
Clarify the start and completion dates for the study and specify milestones in the research. Meeting times and dates can also be recorded. The timeline may well be altered as the research progresses, with the archived timelines acting as part
of your research journal data.
Contacts list
Ensure that contact details of everyone involved in the study are accessible to all. Each person on the contact list, including administrators, should have a paper copy of this document, and one person should have responsibility for updating it regularly. A `Who has Responsibility’ section can help to ensure that everyone is aware of their own role and those of other colleagues.

Research and learning
Specify how the research links into the curriculum and record some of the pre- conditions of the study. This stage of the planning records information about the `value added’ expected of the ICT employed in the research. Include a brief
description of the nature of the activity to be undertaken by teachers and learners, its intended outcomes and any anticipated difficulties.

Field notes record sheet
Standardise the recording of contextual events as the study progresses. Completed sheets can become part of the research journal and provide a basis for discussion at meetings.
Establish the purpose of the research
Key questions to ask are:
1. What is the principal aim of the research?
2. What do you envisage as the potential benefits of the research? – for teaching and learning, – for individual pupils, –
3. for your own professional development, – for the school?
4. How might the research contribute to our general understanding about the process of teaching and learning?
Formulate questions for your proposed research
It is a good idea to summarise your proposed research as a question or a short set of questions. Your research question or questions should be well focused, for example to reflect a particular issue which has arisen as part of teaching and
learning in your classroom. You might wish to research the effects of change using new hardware, software, or classroom management. Whatever the topic, formulate it as one or more questions requiring answers.
Specify the background to the project
Provide an understanding of the cultural context of the study school(s) and partner organisations. Include any conditions which you consider may affect the outcomes of change. Background information can cover:
1. the whole-school context – type of school – number of pupils on roll – number of staff – ICT provision – other relevant information.
2. the classroom context – physical characteristics of the classroom (including ICT provision) – class profile, including:
– age range – number – strengths – pupils on SEN register – other relevant information – classroom support.
3. the personal context – How did you become involved in the research project? – Why is this research important to you at this point in your career?
4. other factors.
Have you obtained consent to undertake research? Record the response of your discussion of the research with the headteacher, senior management, governors, other colleagues and pupils.
Can you ensure that confidentiality is protected, if required? How?
Some ethical rules for school-based research:
1. Ensure that the research you propose is viable, that adequate research design has been established, and that appropriate data-collection techniques are chosen.
2. Explain as clearly as possible the aims, objectives, and methods of the research to everyone involved.
3. If using confidential documents, ensure that anonymity is maintained by eliminating any kind of material or information that could lead others to identify the subject or subjects. Pupils’ identities should not be revealed in web material published as a result of the research.
4. Ensure that you have permission from all involved before publication of any or part of the research.
5. You should be aware of the possible uses of the research findings.
6. Research should not ultimately disadvantage any group of pupils.
7. Data should be stored securely and destroyed within 18 months of the end of the study.
8. If there is joint or collaborative research, all researchers must adhere to the same set of ethical principles.
(Adapted from Hitchcock, G and Hughes, D 1989. Research and the Teacher . London: Routledge. p 201)

Setting up the research: some decisions
Before undertaking research, decide on the method of data collection, and why.
1. What data will you collect?
2. Who will you collect data from?
3. In what form will data be collected?
4. How will recording of data take place? Consider the suitability (or otherwise) of a range of research methods.
For example:
• qualitative data – case study – interview – questionnaire – documentary evidence – observation journal
• quantitative data – What will be measured? – How will data be collected? * analysis – How will data be analysed? –
At what points will analysis be undertaken?

Running the study
This checklist can help to ensure that the study is well organised before you pilot or run the research. Have you:
• obtained consent for the study?
• booked computers / ICT / computer suite?
• checked that electrical / ICT equipment is in working order?
• obtained supplies of consumables (for example, tapes)?
• checked that you are familiar with any software or hardware?
• checked that you can obtain technical support if necessary?
• produced and tested your data-collection instruments?
• kept a record of the contextual conditions existing before the study?
• checked that your study is integrated into the school’s planning?
• checked that your pupils understand your aims for the research?
• checked your own and your pupils’ aims for their learning?
• organised classroom support if necessary?
• checked that everyone involved has a timetable for the study?
• checked that everyone involved has contact details for one another?
• ensured that there is a clear storage and retrieval system for data collected?
• built time for analysis, reflection and discussion into the research timetable?
• organised a definite start and end point for data collection?
• decided who will write up the study?
• decided who will read and comment on drafts of findings?
• found a way to disseminate your findings?
• started a research journal which must be continually updated?
• set up a way to record questions which arise during the study?

Reporting your findings
The structure, content, word length and style of presentation of your findings will depend on your intended audience. For example, papers for journals or articles for magazines will be presented in a different format from book chapters or a research report. It is important to look carefully at existing publications of the kind you are trying to write, to gauge such features as the style, length, and format for your writing. The following structure outlines the presentation of a research study and its findings. The abstract may well be the last section to be written. Material for sections 2 to 6 and 10 to 12 can be collected throughout the study. For information on good practice in educational research writing see:


structure for a research report
1. Abstract
2. Background / introduction / context for the research
3. Review of relevant literature
4. Research methods
5. Findings
6. Analysis
7. Discussion
8. Conclusions
9. Summary and new directions
10. References
11. Glossary
12. Appendix

Finding the relevant literature
What existing work, including articles on research methods, relates to, or informs your study?
Compile an annotated biography of books, book chapters, articles and papers, with quotations, including page numbers.
Compile an annotated list of relevant web addresses with dates. Links provided here can help you to find relevant work:
• BUBL contains a thorough list of links to journals and research for specific subjects.
• Educati on-line has a directory of papers and research.
• Educational Action Research a publication on action research.
• PINAKES a portal to subject-specific academic research directories.
• Social Sciences Information Gateway .
• Teachernet – the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) portal for teacher information.
• T for T: Action Research by Teachers for Teachers .
• TTA: Teacher Training Agency Research pages .
• UK Higher Education & Research Libraries .

Other sources of information
• Becta Becta Research Area contains information on Becta’s research activities,
• Teacher Resource Exchange teachers can submit their ideas for ICT use, and develop ideas to become full resources for use in classrooms.
• Teachers Online Project a discussion forum, where teachers can exchange views and join in collaborative projects. There is a monthly newsletter on ICT in education.
• Virtual Teacher Centre (VTC) links to ICT in practice across the curriculum, as well as news and updates for teachers.

Is ICT a myth?

September 2, 2010

Whilst watching  a TED broadcast by Ken Robinson the other day, I noticed his remark that 15 year olds do not wear wristwatches because they do not see the point in using single-function technology. Several years ago, I asked a group of year 9 students if they used e-mail to which one replied, “no but my granny does”. To a large extent, ICT is a mythical construct perpetuated by people from my own demographic (middle-aged, male, overweight and geeky). This of course is to grossly over-generalise and I am being deliberately mischevious in doing so although some of the more interesting observations in recent years have come from a less stereotypical position. Turkle, Byron, Livingstone, Marsh, Davies, boyd et al have focussed more on the social, cognitive and constructivist aspects of the digital landscape and seem less obsessed with the artifacts of digital culture. Read Turkle’s “Evocative Objects” for a particularly beautiful depiction.

In a time when we are still obsessing over large, meta-technical “solutions” (heaven help us), young people are doing interesting things with that which is personal, portable, wireless, networked and social. Yesterday I talked with someone whose developmentally delayed son was doing astonishing things using adaptive communication apps on an i-thing. Talk to any child about ICT and they may look at you blankly. The modernistic labels of information, communications and technology suit the language of education systems very well (and remember, school itself has been described as a technology) but really. Do we honestly think that these structures truly reflect what (we may kid ourselves) is educationally and technologically cutting-edge. Becta has gone. Children are deserting ICT as a subject in droves. Despite the third paranthetical attribute with which I described myself in the first paragraph, I am reminded of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”; something is happening but you don’t know what it is…...

Six Impossible Things

June 22, 2010

“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Alice Through the Looking Glass

“… the grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses, regardless of whether it is a speculative narrative or a narrative of emancipation.”

Jean-François Lyotard

After 14 years of service to education, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) is being retired.  Becta was the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning. According to their website, Becta’s remit included:

  • raising educational achievement
  • narrowing the gap between rich and poor
  • improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people
  • increasing the number of young people on the path to success
  • improving the skills of the whole population throughout their working lives
  • building social and community cohesion
  • strengthening the Further and Higher education systems.

Many thousands of educationalists across UK, and indeed the world, have valued the support and advice that Becta provided over the years, and the decision to close it down means that educational institutions and communities will need to find new and creative ways to embed deep thinking into their decisions about learning technologies, ICT and e-learning. These decisions about the use of new technologies in education will inevitably focus on the raising of educational standards, whether through improving attainment, progression, engagement, enjoyment or by making educational institutions more efficient. But something else will also emerge.

I will always be grateful for the resources and support that Becta provided and for their contributions to the educational discourse that now allows so many individuals and organisations to embrace current and emergent technologies with confidence and ambition. But we must now pick up new challenges, one being to question the way in which the models of ICT support have been traditionally presented. We have the opportunity to challenge the old, modernisitic models of large, centralised support. As Stephen Heppell has said

…we need to see the opportunity presented: we are in a world where, as I have often said before, instead of the old 20th century model of “building big things that did things for people” we now have a world of “helping people to help each other…we’ve said all along that ICT empowers autonomous and collaborative learners. Now is the time to prove that these learners include ourselves too.

Now is an excellent time to encourage and work with the many online collaborators who provide inspiration and support for others. Many communities of practice exist that are well placed to take this debate forward. The online community will ensure that Becta publications and services will survive if there is a demand for them but we may also be entering an era of new opportunities. This has been signalled for some time by writers such as Clay Shirky and Charles Leadbeater. Some of the clubby, old, paternalism that has guided our thinking about ICT for so many years may be swept aside as impatient, younger influences become more dominant in education.

Many writers have opposed universal solutions, meta-narratives, and generalisations. More so than ever, some ‘universalist’ claims have been challenged in areas relating to knowledge and technology. Lyotard in his 1979 report on knowledge argues that our postmodern era is characterised by an ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’. These meta-narratives are grand theories and philosophies such as those that characterise the inevitable progress of history and the infallibility of science. Lyotard argues that the world has changed and that these sorts of narratives may no longer stand up to scrutiny. We have to embrace individuality, diversity, conflict, local knowledge and context, and encourage smaller strategies that have meaning and relevance to those who own them. Lyotard signposts the diversity of smaller communities and the multiple collaborative and conflicting systems which create their own meanings and their own rules.

Becta served and helped shape our views of ICT and e-Learning admirably and was instrumental in moving both technological and pedagogical discourses away from the technocrats and into spaces inhabited by teachers, parents, pupils and the wider community. The challenge for us all now is how to create new discourses about ICT, not just through membership organisations and formal bodies but through informal spaces which are increasingly attracting collaborators, inventors and innovators. The technologies are there to support these spaces and the old argument that puts pedagogy ahead of the technology is sounding tired. The boundaries between the two are blurring and young people know this. We need to do six impossible things before breakfast.

Becta had a Business Plan which set out its work for 2010-2011 which identified six priorities:

Priority 1: e-enabling institutions

Increasing the numbers of schools, colleges and other providers using technology to improve outcomes for learners and deliver value for money.”  Building on the work that Becta undertakes in the next twelve months, we need to take Stephen Heppell’s vision forward and each in our own way make a point of connecting up with each other through informal and formal networks to encourage, collaborate, celebrate and help each other to raise and meet expectations on the use of ICT in education.

Priority 2: Delivering Home Access and improving services for learners and families

Increasing the numbers of learners able to access learning materials, the school and wider services through technology” Many schools are already technological hubs of their communities. By opening physical and virtual doors to their ICT resources, schools are well placed to take this forward. By opening up provision of cloud-based resources through learning platforms, e-learning and other resources schools are increasingly positioning themselves to lead in supporting their communities through the use of ICT.

Priority 3:Supporting the frontline to achieve savings through technology

Achieving savings through better procurement, management and interoperability of ICT and improved operational efficiency”. This is possibly the hardest of the “impossible six” to achieve. Again, the key is collaboration. Procurement frameworks and the creation of ICT contracts that meet local needs will need to be well coordinated. Where the motivation is financial, there is greater motivation to collaborate. We can look forward to commercial strategic partnerships, regional procurement frameworks and other entrepreneurial and innovative methods of procuring and achieving interoperability. If the foreseeable future is to be based on personal, portable, wireless, networked, interactive devices then we can expect interesting times indeed.

Priority 4: Propositions to achieve future productivity through new operating models

“Developing propositions to policy makers, local authorities and system leaders on new models” Whether schools become academies, free schools or remain within Local Authorities, new models of operating will emerge. There is much to be excited about, as both educational structures and technologies will change rapidly over the next year. The challenge will be whether or not leadership models respond strongly enough in both reactive and proactive ways.

Priority 5: Supporting leaders and developing system leadership

“Ensuring commitment by education leaders to a strategic vision for technology and its implementation” This priority is inextricably linked to the previous one. To refer back to Stephen Heppell, we need to revisit our grand, strategic visions and focus on autonomy and collaboration.

Priority 6: Organisational delivery and reducing administration costs

Managing the organisation efficiently, effectively and reducing administrative costs.” The coalition government has stated that it is committed to giving schools more freedom from unnecessary prescription and bureaucracy. ICT will continue to play an important role in the management and administration of schools in increasingly efficient ways.

Becta had established each priority with both one and three year targets. It will be the challenge of schools and other educational providers to take these priorities and reinterpret them after March 2011. By collaborating and contributing to the national and international discourses on ICT in education we can embark on a new era of creativity and innovation in education.

Following the Alice in the Looking Glass quotation on Six Impossible Things, we would do well to remember what the Sheep said later in the same chapter: “I never put things into people’s hands — that would never do — you must get it for yourself.” Now is the time to start getting things for ourselves. How many impossible things can we dream before breakfast and then make real?

Closure of Becta

May 24, 2010

After 12 years of service to education, the  British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) is going to be retired.  Becta is the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning. According to their (presumably soon to be dismantled) website,  Becta’s remit includes:

  • raising educational achievement
  • narrowing the gap between rich and poor
  • improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people
  • increasing the number of young people on the path to success
  • improving the skills of the whole population throughout their working lives
  • building social and community cohesion
  • strengthening the Further and Higher education systems.

I have always valued the support and advice that Becta provided, and the decision to close them down means that schools, academies, local authorities and educational charities will need to find new and creative ways to embed deep thinking into their decisions about learning technologies, ICT and e-learning. The use of new technologies in education is only justified when it can make a demonstrable contribution to the raising of educational standards, whether that be through improving attainment, progression, engagement, enjoyment or by making educational institutions more efficient.

I will always be grateful for the resources and support that Becta provided and for their contribution to the educational discourse that now allows so many to face current and future technologies with confidence and ambition.

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