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
including:

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.

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Digital Indigestion

February 22, 2011

About 12 years ago, an event occurred in my personal life that changed everything dramatically. The details are not important but the net result was that I lost nearly all my stuff. Except for my clothes, some CDs, a lot of books and various bits of ephemera. The event was traumatic and changed my life considerably. On the bright side, it resulted in a new, streamlined me. A thinner, more economical, sleeker and low-maintenance version of myself that revelled in a new asceticism. Never, I swore would I accumulate stuff again. Unnecessary baggage.

Ha. Fat chance. 12 years on and I have more stuff than ever. Too much stuff. I put it down partially to my slightly obsessive personality. Music for example. My iPod, which started off with a modest collection of some 500 tunes now has over 20,000 pieces of music on it. I mean, what’s the point? I might as well listen to the radio as use the shuttle function. And when you get a collection that large it becomes impossible to choose. It’s like a wine list that’s too long. In the end, you throw your arms in the air, shut your eyes and point at random. My Kindle is the same. Swollen with hundreds of free ‘classics’. It has become increasingly hard to choose what to read. My television has over 1000 channels. I cannot choose what to watch. My listening, reading and watching habits have been sabotaged by too much choice which is really no choice at all. In desperation I turn to the Internet and type ‘cats’ into Google. I receive 100 million pages to choose from.

There is no alternative. I put the iPod on shuffle, read two pages from each of the squillion books on the Kindle, whilst simultaneously surfing the web, browsing the television and for good measure checking Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and a quick burst of COD. But something is missing. Oh, yes. I need to do my homework too. Just as well I can multitask. Or not.


The Horizon Report: 2011 Edition

February 14, 2011

“On the near-term horizon — that is, within the next12 months — are electronic books and mobiles. Electronic books are moving closer to mainstream adoption for educational institutions, having appeared on the mid-term horizon last year. Mobilesreappear as well, remaining on the near-term horizonas they become increasingly popular throughout the world as a primary means of accessing Interne tresources. Resistance to the use of mobiles in the classroom continues to impede their adoption in many schools, but a growing number of institutions are finding ways to take advantage of a technologythat nearly all students, faculty, and staff carry. Electronic books continue to generate stronginterest in the consumer sector and areincreasingly available on campuses as well. Modern electronic readers support note-takingand research activities, and are beginning to augment these basic functions with new capabilities — from immersive experiences to support for social interaction — that are changing our perception of what it means to read. Mobiles enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity, and much more. Mobile devices continue to evolve, but it is the increased access to affordable and reliable networks that is driving this technology now. Mobiles are capable computing devices in their own right — and theyare increasingly a user’s first choice for Internet access.

The second adoption horizon considers technologies expected to gain widespread usage within two to three years, and this year’s candidates are augmented reality and game-based learning. Both intersect with practices in mainstream popular culture, both have been considered significant tools for education for many years, and both have made appearances on a number of campuses already. Advances in hardware and software, as well as in a broader acceptance of new methods in teaching,secured the place of these innovations as the top technologies for the mid-term horizon. Augmented reality refers to the layering of information over a view or representation of the normal world, offering users the ability to access place-based information in ways that are compellingly intuitive.  Augmented reality brings a significant potential to supplement information delivered via computers, mobile devices, video,and even the printed book. Much simpler to create and use now than in the past, augmented reality feels at once fresh and new, yet an easy extension of existing expectations and practices. Game-based learning has grown in recentyears as research continues to demonstrateits effectiveness for learning for students of allages. Games for education span the range from single-player or small-group card and boardgames all the way to massively multiplayer onlinegames and alternate reality games. Those at the first end of the spectrum are easy to integrate with coursework, and in many institutions they are already an option; but the greatest potentialof games for learning lies in their ability to foster collaboration, problem-solving, and procedural thinking. For a variety of reasons, the realization of this potential is still two to three years away.

Looking to the far-term horizon, four to five years from now for widespread adoption, are gesturebasedcomputing and learning analytics. Bothremain largely speculative and not yet in widespread usage on campuses, but both are also garnering significant interest and increasing exposure. Gesture-based computing moves the control of computers from a mouse and keyboard to themotions of the body via new input devices. Depictedin science fiction movies for years, gesture-based computing is now more grounded inreality thanks to the recent arrival of interface technologies such as Kinect, SixthSense, andTamper, which make interactions with computational devices far more intuitive and embodied. Learning analytics loosely joins a variety of data-gathering tools and analytic techniques to study student engagement, performance,and progress in practice, with the goal of using what is learned to revise curricula, teaching, and assessment in real time. Building on the kinds of information generated by Google Analytics and other similar tools, learning analytics aimsto mobilize the power of data-mining toolsin the service of learning, and embracingthe complexity, diversity, and abundance of information that dynamic learning environments can generate.”

Download the full report from: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2011.pdf

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Willis, H., Levine, A., and Haywood, K., (2011). The 2011 Horizon Report.Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.


YouTube and the Death of Nostalgia

February 10, 2011

Given my chrono/geodislocation I am particularly drawn to a time and geography that I am mythologising in the context of my current identity. Let me explain. I am an expatriate Australian who has lived in England for the past 11 years. I am also a child of the 1970s. As I reach the transient point of no-return I am drawn to the Kodachrome memory of Australia at that time with its colonial naivety and modernist sensibility embodied by the era of the triple-fronted-brick-veneer-nuclear-(free)-family.

I think with remembered adolescent affection about that Pre-Dismissal era of Nation Review, Gough Whitlam, Barry McKenzie, Auntie Jack, Pre-outed Patrick White, Moomba and the sample bags of the Royal (?) Melbourne Agricultural Show. How to revisit those times?

Ebay, YouTube, Flickr and Wikipedia let me revisit/reinvent these shabby romanticised times which of course is covered by the eternally ironic cloak of Edna Everage. I can even virtually and literally buy back the rusty toys of my childhood.
In the future, the past and present will be perpetually connected by the umbilical cord of social media, removing the spatial and temporal dislocation which nostalgia feeds on. Perhaps the only nostalgia we will have will be for nostalgia itself. Future generations may live as T.S. Eliot describes in Four Quartets.

“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.”

Who would’ve thought that a modernist poet could be so postmodern. I relish the fact that social media happened during my middle age. I relish the gap between “What might have been and what has been”. It gives me a nice warm feeling. And listening to the theme song of ‘The Adventures of Barry McKenzie’ still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I look fondly back to an imagined time of Carl Ditterich, Sunny Boys, Happy Hammond, Zoot and Polly Waffles. Australia grew up and I never even noticed. But I can relive my past through YouTube on an endless loop. Social media in an intravenous feed. A place where I am doomed and blessed to recapture the mythologized past. Future generations don’t know what they are missing. For them, nostalgia may already be dead.


Salmon, Napoleon and online safety

January 18, 2011

In 2002, The Salmon of Doubt, the sixth volume of Douglas Adams’ trilogy the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published posthumously. In it Adams says;

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Ask yourself these three questions about primary school-age children you work with.

  1. Do the children have mobile phones?
  2. Do they engage in online gaming?
  3. Are they members of an online social network?

If the answer to any of these is ‘no’, revisit the questions in three years’ time. I’ll bet the answer will be ‘yes’.

100 years before Adams’ book, G.K. Chesterton wrote a novel entitled The Napoleon of Notting Hill. In it he describes a game where;

The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

Part of the problem is that the ICT curriculum for primary schools is largely becoming irrelevant (as is the secondary one). Children are turning away from it in droves. There is an apparent deepening divergence between what children do with digital technologies and what we teach them.

But does this mean that children know everything and we know nothing?

No. The biggest single issue related to online technologies in education over the next few years will be e-safety in all its incarnations. It will be the softer, human, ethical skills that we will need to focus on.

This relates to issues relating to:

  • Online grooming by sexual predators
  • Exposure to potentially harmful material
  • Identity protection
  • Online addiction
  • Cyberbullying

Independent schools are not immune to these issues and they relate to out-of-school use as much as in-school use.

Some statistics

  • Young gamers spend on average 8 hours weekly playing online.
  • Young people sleep 2 to 3 hours less per night than 10 years ago.
  • In January 2010, 18 million accounts were registered on Second Life.
  • Facebook reports more than 500 million active users (3rd largest country)
  • Users spend 700 billion minutes on Facebook each month.
  • 20% of children who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web. Solicitations were defined as requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk, or to give personal sexual information.
  • 25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online.
  • Only 30% of households with Internet access are actively protecting their children with filtering or blocking software.
  • 75% of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services.
  • Only approximately 25% of children who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent or adult.
    • 22% of the targets for sexual predators were users under 13.

What do we do?

  1. In accordance with last year’s Ofsted guidelines we need to move away from a reliance on locked down systems to monitored systems with good educational provision for children, parents and teachers.
  2. We need to work closely with form tutors, PSHE teachers and pastoral staff
  3. We need to educate children about locking down privacy settings
  4. We need to take control. Zip it. Block it.

Other issues

  • Cyberbullying
  • Online, social gaming by girls
  • Increasing usage of mobile/gaming devices

Is it all doom and gloom?

No. There are massive opportunities for both information and communications technologies, but with this comes new forms of literacy. Our challenge is to bring children’s personal, social and ethical skills in line with their technical skills.

As Diana Laurillard says “This is not rocket science. It is far more complicated than that.”

There are many programmes to support this work.

  • DigitalMe- SAFE (social networking for primary school children)
  • CEOP
  • Childnet
  • Safer Internet day on February 8th.

We must educate children to behave ethically, skilfully, intelligently and creatively.

Douglas Adams says “Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.” Education on the other hand is something that does work. In the case of e-safety, our challenge is to align it to the technology in a meaningful and effective way.


“Daddy, what’s a laptop?”

December 31, 2010

By accidental stealth, our house has become infiltrated by technology produced by that vegetative symbol for original sin.  Almost without us realising it, the i-listen, i-natter, i-browse and i-fiddle have grafted themselves onto our lives. This is not to imply that we owe an allgegiance to the fruity purveyors  of these devices. We do not walk around wearing wholesome black and white t-shirts tucked into Harry Highpants faux casual designer jeans and sporting goofy, white, Stepford smiles. We do also possess the more suburban, double-glazed metaphors of everyday computing.

Like most of you, I have possessed an i-listen for years. Ubiquitously, I am plugged in to avoid bordeom/thinking/talking/socialising/working. I am a bit like that. The i-natter I “need” for my employment (as if no other, cheaper device would suffice). The i-fiddle was a present for my wife so that she could more conveniently feed her addiction to FarmTown, and the i-browse was a freebie for a conference I have no intention of attending. Auntie also has an i-fiddle to replace  her recently deceased PDA that has given her faithful service since 1853.

On Boxing Day, our 4-year old twins discovered FaceWasteoftime and spent some hilarious moments using the devices as walkie talkies until they were standing so close, the bouncing echoes made them sound like early Radiohead. Something interesting happens when a little person picks up an i-thing. The kinaesthetic connection of the child to the device is arguably the most natural interface I have ever seen between a human and ICT.

Double-glazed technology is only tolerated by them because of the Cbabies website’s reliance on Phlash. Both Thing 1 and Thing 2 infinitely prefer the liquid elegance of the handheld devices lending themselves far more to independent and collaborative learning. It is the grown-ups and their modernist institutions who see the technology as being rooted in the architecture and fabric of buildings rather than being connected to the inquisitiveness and creativity of individuals.

I’m afraid that our educational ICT taxonomies need a radical makeover. Thing 1 and Thing 2 see the digital world through different lenses.


ICT Project Management

June 18, 2010

ICT Projects

The United Church Schools Trust and the United Learning Trust have many years’ experience with major ICT projects in schools and academies, having managed the design of ICT for 17 academies since 2003, each project involving the installation of at least £1.1m worth of ICT resources.  ULT has highly experienced ICT projects executives based in the north, midlands and the south of England, all with  both educational and computing qualifications and holding Certified IT Professional status with the British Computer Society.

Their experience includes consultation with stakeholders, specification, design, procurement and project management of ICT which also covers procurement under European Law as ULT has its own OJEU framework. Our range of experience includes liaison with architects, quantity surveyors, builders, M&E and FF&E contractors as well as close liaison and consultation with staff in schools and academies to develop and implement an educational ICT vision and strategy.

We are experienced in enabling the provision of both dedicated and cross-curricular ICT facilities including suites, wireless provision and individual classroom facilities. We have considerable expertise in the use of interactive whiteboard technology and user response systems and employ experts on the provision of Local and Wide Area Network services to support both administration and teaching and learning.

Strategic direction can be provided for the provision of educational software and a full range of expertise is available to address the implementation of ICT in all curriculum areas.

Systems

As well as managing the Wide Area Network and its associated data centre, we provide technical support to its schools and academies before, during and after commissioning, ensuring both continuity and robustness of systems. Induction and technical accreditation of local technical ICT staff is also provided along with project management of the major ICT contractors.

E-Learning

A critical element of the design of new-build schools and academies is ensuring that the teaching and learning places are fit for purpose and this is achieved through a thorough involvement of the e-learning team during all stages of design and construction. A detailed audit of teachers’ needs is undertaken and a complete, ongoing professional plan is developed and implemented providing every teacher with a bespoke professional development programme that extends beyond basic technical specification into detailed pedagogical practice specific to each teacher area.

Lesson observations are undertaken in all new buildings to ensure that teachers are able to manage the ICT resources and to fine-tune the individual support for every teacher to ensure that they are best placed to exploit the resources to maximum educational effect.

The United Church Schools Trust and the United Learning Trust have formal accreditation in several areas and were the first national providers to receive accreditation through the NaaceMark Quality Assurance for Service Providers in e-learning. We are a British Computer Society Qualifications Approved Centre, accredited providers for the Framework for IT Technical Support (FITS) and employ ICTMark accredited assessors as well as accredited trainers for CEOP.

If you are planning to set up your own academies or free schools and would like to engage our services in ICT and e-Learning or indeed join us as partners then please visit www.ucst.org.uk for further details.


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