A humiliating climbdown?

stash-1-506c57f6608a6Well, the education establishment has greeted Gove’s news of the abandonment of the English Baccalaureate with delight. And, I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised it has been abandonned, nor am I surprised about the delight with which the news was greeted today.  The plans were always ill-conceived, reactionary and would not have been implemented within the timescale set. Labour hailed the news as a ‘humiliating climbdown’. What an extraordinary phrase to use. How about ‘a good piece of common sense thinking at last’?

It was on the 17th September that the announcement of the E-Bacc arrived and as more and more details have been revealed, the condemnation has grown. Michael Rosen in his ‘Letter from a curious parent’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/feb/04/michael-rosen-letter-from-curious-parent) puts forward an argument that the government sees failure is a necessary part of our society.

There was a part of the E-Bacc proposal which did seem to make sense: choosing just 1 exam board for each subject. When I was at school, it was well known that the ‘bright’ kids sat the Cambridge board, whereas those who were less likely to succeed sat ‘London’. I remember thinking it odd even then that we all ended up with an ‘O’ level although we had done quite different work for it. Surely if we are all running the same race, we should have the same course and the same end-point. It seems strange that there can be different courses, run over different terrains, all ending at the same point. But that does assume that one is looking at all the runners as being equal………

I was part of a very small number of people who sat ‘O’ levels and GCSEs. Most of my qualifications are ‘O’ levels, but I did sit one GCSE. It was in German in my lower sixth year. What was interesting was that I had sat French the year before. I got an ‘A’ in my French. When I sat the German exams, I felt my language was nowhere near the level of my French and mentally awarded myself a ‘C’ grade. When the results came out, I was surprised to find that I had obtained another ‘A’. In the selective school I was in, many of the pupils got ‘straight As’. Nowadays, in the same school, many of the pupils get straight A*s. It certainly felt as if there was a ‘grade slip’ – what was previously a B became an A, a C became a B etc.

Then I became a teacher. I quickly came to  realise that the GCSE was a very different beast to the ‘O’ level. It tested different skills. Whilst most of my eduacation had been about learning and regurgitating large amounts of material, the GCSE actually asked pupils  to do something with the information. I actually became fond of the GCSE in some ways because I could see practical applications. As a modern languages teacher, my rote-learning of ‘The little boy is soaked to the skin’ in French had been of little use when I went to work in a pizza restaurant in Paris. The GCSE would have stood me in far better stead.

A final examination places immense stress on pupils – and is a very unrealistic part of the world that we now live in. For my ‘A’ levels (in 1989), I had to write several 3-hour papers. I still have a strange lump on one finger from the pressure of my pen on that finger. And yet, I have never again had to write with that intensity or by hand since I left school. In fact, I can scarcely remember the last time I had to write by hand. My work now is all on a computer, tablet or phone.

Gove has said today that the GCSE must have ‘fewer bite-sized and overly structured questions and a reduced role for coursework’. This takes us backwards rather than forwards. In the research work I am doing, pupils are using mobile devices (whether allowed in school or not) to complete much of their work. Many pupils are telling me that they use videos or audio to record their work; they enjoy problem-solving; they thrive on collaborative learning. Where does this all fit in with the notion of a single, end-of-course exam?

  • Why can’t exams be done on computers, so pupils can draft and redraft their work?
  • Could pupils answer questions orally or submit video evidence for their exam? (I have done for my Masters.)
  • Why can’t pupils make use of the Internet during an examination?
  • Why can’t teacher assessment make up part of the final grade? Teachers have a far better knowledge of their pupils’ abilities than any examiner.

Do we want to educate our pupils for the future? For a digital world of work, where even those in manual trades now find they use technology all the time? For a world where people work together as a part of a team, even one that is dispersed nationally or globally?

I would love to see some schools have the courage to pull out of the exam system, to educate children to be the best they can be and not to just jump through artificial, outdated hoops. I wonder which colleges and universities would have the nerve to accept young people who had been educated but who had not taken exams? Pupils who could be interviewed and assessed by their digital portfolio and recommendations from their teachers?

Until Gove starts to look at the world that our pupils live in and the world they will be entering and assesses whether they are ready for that, then I will still have to award Gove and the coalition an F grade: F for Fail.

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MOOChing around in eduspace……

In just over a week, I shall be joining a MOOC. For those who do not already know, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. This will be the first time I have tried participating in such a group and I am both excited and terrified. I am excited by the prospect of learning something new. The course I have chosen is being offered by Coursera  (a group of Universities and colleges offering free, online education) and is called E-learning and Digital Cultures, so it ties in directly with my work, and to some extent my Masters. I am nervous because I already find I have limited time for my work, my family, my leisure. The course tutors say that the course will take 3-5 hours per week, which will be fine. However, there has been a flurry of pre-course activity and rumours of 2,500 course participants. With everyone blogging, tweeting, sharing their insights via Facebook and Google+, I imagine the possibilities for ways to spend time could extend to months. I was recently part of a course where I worked online with about 20 students and I found the volume of messages generated very difficult to follow. I know there is theory that indicates learning outcomes can be improved by peer collaboration, but my question is: How many peers? How much collaboration? And what quality of the interactions?

I also have some wider MOOC questions. I think it is fantastic that the elite preserve of Higher Education is opening its doors to all comers but where does this lead us? Do Universities offer this in the hope of enrolling more students to their courses? In times where Universities are already struggling for finances, how are the tutors that support such courses paid? Will people bother with degrees in the future or just immerse themselves in a series of MOOC courses? A pupil I interviewed the other day told me that he loves to follow courses from Universities on You Tube and iTunesU (he was 15 years old). It also looks like there will be more organisations offering MOOCs in the future: An organisation called FutureLearn has already been set up in the UK, due to deliver courses in the near future.

As the course develops I will be blogging and sharing my experiences of being a MOOC participant. I will also be keeping an eye on the ‘mobile learning’ side of the experience as I am keen to see how much I am able to do on my mobile devices and how much this influences my learning. I am also keen to see whether this an experience that could be used by schools. Imagine a situation where, for example, Biology GCSE is offered by MOOC. Would there be takers? Would it suit school pupils? Some of my evidence from my research is already suggesting that pupils are increasingly relying on finding their own information online after a stimulus in school.

Couting down to launch date: 28th January 2013……..#edcmooc

How pupils use their mobile devices….

…is the title of my Masters dissertation. Over the last few months I have spent time in two schools – one where all pupils have a mobile device for their schoolwork and one where pupils are officially ‘banned’ from having mobile devices. Anecdotal evidence had told me that pupils were using their devices irrespective of the ban. The research took the form of a questionnaire and I focussed on pupils in Years 10 & 11 (aged 14-16 years old). I wanted to look at this age group as they are still classed as ‘children’ and most research done to date has looked at adults and the HE context. The questionnaire was followed up with lesson observations, pupil diaries and interviews with 8 pupils. The findings are fascinating and I shall be publishing in full shortly. You can see some of the initial findings at the BETT show on Saturday 2nd February 2013 when I will be speaking in the NAACE live theatre.

Let teachers tweet

Would you have let someone teach you to drive who had never learned to drive themselves? Would you have followed a recipe with just the ingredients but no instructions on how they were best combined and cooked?

I’ve been looking into mobile and handheld learning seriously for the last year. Most of the literature to date focuses on Higher Education (the University sector) and much of the discussion is about how students can access course materials and build learning networks. However, I work in an organisation which works with schools – primary through to 18-year olds. The discussion is really starting to get going in this area and through the work and conversations I have had with schools, there is a great deal of interest in pupils using mobile devices in the classroom.

However, there are some serious hurdles to overcome and I had a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment last week. Whatever the problems in schools with infrastructure, wifi, e-safety, financing devies and so on may be, there is one big bridge to cross: the teachers need to be engaged and if the teachers are to be engaged, they need to have a proper understanding not just of what it means to facilitate m-learning for their pupils, but what it means to be an m-learner. 

 In the last year, my Masters in E-learning with the University of  Huddersfield has given me a real flavour of what being an m-learner can feel like. I’ve had to blog (and now even enjoy it!), taken part in and eventually ran a webinar, kept in contact with course participants through social networking (or professional networking as I prefer to call it). m-learning has meant that I am learning literally ‘any time, any place, any where’ – and I’ve loved it.

With this in mind, I’ve written a course called Twitter for Teachers (a name unashamedly pinched from the lovely video about Personal Learning Networks by @PB_H ) which will aim to activate a form of m-learning. I suspect that quite a few teachers are already using Twitter and other social networks but I hope this course will open up the possibility to a greater number of teachers, especially if they are supported whilst they do it.  The course itself is just a starting point. Once a person starts to receive tweets, they form a springboard to many other m-learning opportunities.  Sharing good classroom practice, keeping up with subject associations, exam boards, academics, governments – the sort of thing that it is hard, nay impossible, to do in face-to-face contact time. The learning may be informal, unstructured and ‘chaotic’, but it can begin to give a flavour of what m-learning can feel like. (Of course, a teacher may choose to do it all at a computer, not using mobile devices and not being geographically mobile, but the connectedness is rapidly becoming a part of the m-learning culture.) Twitter is just a small part of what can be termed m-learning, but its a stepping stone and one which I hope will lead to us taking to the waters of the river beneath. (See imagery from the video mentioned above).

The concept of ‘tweeting teachers’ is not new – teachers have tweeted since Twitter was invented – but the networks are now building and becoming increasingly useful. We have moved beyond early adopters and into the mainstream. A new word has emerged: a tweacher (a teacher who uses Twitter) and I know of a group of MFL teachers who tweet regularly who have become the MFL Twitterati.

In her article on the use of m-learning in Teacher Training in 2009, Jocelyn Wishart found mixed results about the way that trainee teachers became m-learners. This will almost certainly be true on this course as well, but it will be interesting to see how many teachers take to it and what impact this has on their work. I am really looking forward to working alongside our teachers to see if they enjoy the course and what benefits the networking may bring.

I’ll let you know how it goes! ( @RosWalker)

Which apps should I buy?

Working as an e-learning adviser, it may be expected that I should be asked ‘Which apps should I buy?’ A perfectly reasonable question coming from someone new to mobile technology to someone who has been researching and working with it for some time. However, the question takes me back to my earliest days as an adviser, when I was working with modern languages teachers. The phone would ring and a teacher would say “Hello, I’m from XYZ school in Never Never land – We’ve got a budget to buy software and I’m just wondering what we should buy?” I can’t blame the teacher for asking the question – it came from the days of e-learning credits where schools had money thrown at them and just wanted to be able to buy software. However, it rarely came with any thinking about what was the purpose of the software. I would probe for an answer: which languages are you working with? Which age group? Which skills are you looking to help pupils with? How does your curriculum work – when and how do pupils have access to computers? (The inquisition continued until I was able to find something for the school to spend their money on…and I was reminded of my dad saying ‘That money’s burning a hole in your pocket’.)

So, back to the ‘app’ question. Which apps should you buy? Well, what are you teaching? What are the pupils learning? Is an app the cover-all pill that a pupil can take to digest this chunk of learning? Will you be using the app for the whole class or is this something that the pupils will use on their own / in groups? ….

I don’t want to knock apps completely – there are some very good ones, some which pupils enjoy and no doubt will learn from effectively, but until we have a clear idea about what we are teaching and what pupils are learning and how, buying an app as a sticking plaster isn’t going to work.

After sharing this post with Joe Dale, he suggested the following sites which give tools for evaluating apps:

You may want to add a link to Silvia Tolisano’s app evaluation blog post – http://langwitches.org/blog/2012/05/27/evaluating-apps-with-transformative-use-of-the-ipad-in-mind and Tony Vincent’s http://learninginhand.com/blog/ways-to-evaluate-educational-apps.htm

Both very useful, adding some substance to the ‘Which app?’ debate.

Mobile Learning Technologies

This article looks at learning with Mobile Technologies. Whilst it is possible to create a list of mobile devices, they are changing every day and it is better to look at their characteristics. Typically, they are small, portable, connect wirelessly to the internet, capable of managing multimedia (audio and video) and may have additional functionality, such as a camera or the ability to run ‘applications’. However, Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler (2007) point out that simply looking at the devices is ‘constraining and technocentric’. The key thing to examine is ‘the underlying learner experience and …how mobile learning differs from other forms of education’. (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2007, p. 181)

Secondary schools are taking a keen interest in the use of mobile technologies as pilot studies have indicated that there may be ‘considerable pedagogic potential’ (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2007, p. 181). Indeed, a term that has emerged in the last couple of years is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), defined as ‘bringing [one’s] own mobile devices… into the workplace for use and connectivity’ (Webopedia, 2011) Increasingly, schools are realising that the technology held in their pupils’ hands can be of benefit rather than being disruptive. Some schools are encouraging and even supplying the technology. But why?

The reason must lay with the functionality of these devices. ‘These technologies offer unique possibilities to design for learning that are unlike any afforded by other e-learning technologies’ explain Kukulska-Hulme and Traxler (2007, p.183) They go on to say that they are capable of supporting designs for learning which are ‘personalized, situated and authentic’. Let us explore these further.

Learning that is personalised ‘delivers learning to each learner when and where they want it’ (p.184). There may be a misconception that learning with mobile devices is about learning on the move but the more important understanding is that the device is with the learner – whilst in the classroom, on the bus or at home. It is fully accessible at all times, with the content that the learner wants to use.

Learning that is ‘situated’ delivers learning in a context that is directly relevant to the learner. There are some very useful applications in the Secondary school. Pupils can collect data and information from outside the classroom. For example, pupils can video and replay action for Sport, collect digital photos of realia for Art, record real interviews from people for History or English.

This leads neatly to the third area which is that learning should be ‘authentic’, that it ‘involves real-world problems and projects that are relevant and interesting to the learner’.  (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2007, p. 185)  School can seem to be removed from the real world but the increasing connection pupils can have with the outside world through mobile devices can bring a validity to work which may otherwise seem dry and irrelevant.

In researching this piece of work, I have realised the full scope of what will become a revolution in the way we teach and learn. Whilst predicting the future is rarely possible, it is almost certain that learners will make increasing use of mobile technologies and, ‘in the future, the success of learning and teaching with mobile technologies will be measured by how seamlessly it weaves itself into our daily lives, with the greatest success paradoxically occurring at the point where we don’t recognise it as learning at all.’ (Futurelab, 2004).

REFERENCES

Futurelab. (2004). Report 11: Literature Review in Mobile Technologies and Learning. Birmingham: Futurelab.

Kukulska-Hulme, A., & Traxler, J. (2007). Designing for Mobile and Wireless Learning. In H. Beetham, & R. Sharpe, Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age (pp. 180-192). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Webopedia. (2011, December 17). BYOD – Bring your own Device. Retrieved December 17, 2011, from Webopedia: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/B/BYOD.html

Classroom Response Systems

The article by Draper and Brown was written for Higher Education in 2004. This task summarises the article, highlighting how practice differs in Secondary Schools in 2011.

Draper and Brown discuss the devices used and the technical support provided. As with any technology, it must work efficiently to gain staff confidence. In 2004, wireless devices were a relatively new concept, based on infrared signals. In 2011, devices designed for the classroom use radio technology and reliability has improved dramatically. However, two points made by Draper and Brown are very valid. Portability allows for the technology to be shared easily and used flexibly. Many secondary classrooms now have devices in portable boxes. Technical support remains as crucial as ever, allowing the teachers to ‘concentrate on their job’.  (Draper & Brown, 2004, p. 84)

So, what is their job? Using technology has to address an identified problem and in HE, this is the ‘inadequacy of the lecture format…..the lack of interactivity’. (Draper & Brown, 2004, p. 82)  Secondary classrooms may not suffer from this as greatly as in HE but there can be a tendency for a teacher to dominate a classroom, following the ‘sage on a stage’ model. Research has shown that the more pupils are engaged, the better they learn. Indeed, Bruner (1960, p.80) stated that ‘motives for learning must be kept from going passive… they must be based as much as possible upon the arousal of interest in what there is be learned’. Draper and Brown cite research from Crouch and Mazur (2001) which shows that ‘a voting system, when used as part of a particular pedagogical method, produces large and statistically significant improvements in standardised test results.’ This leads us to focus on the ‘pedagogical method’.

The tutors in the article were early adopters. Use in Secondary schools today varies from schools with sets of devices in every classroom to schools with just one shared set. Whoever is using the devices, one fact remains clear. They enable students to interact fully with the teacher. In Draper and Brown’s article, three clear areas are given in which the devices make a difference: feedback, interactivity and anonymity. In Robert Powell’s book ‘The Response Revolution’ he states that ‘Dylan Wiliam’s research suggests that the quicker the intervention, the more likely the student is to learn’. (Powell, 2011, p. 12) Draper and Brown discuss how this can lead to ‘contingent teaching’ – changing the teaching based on the students’ responses. Secondary classrooms have been slow to adopt this idea, partly due to a fear of lesson plans becoming redundant as discussion moves away from the focus of the teaching. Interactivity, however, is key- and devices now allow for more varied input than simple multiple-choice questions. Anonymity is useful in some contexts, but in general it is more useful if the devices can be associated with a user. This enables for more coherent support and facilitates classroom discussion.

In summary, whilst there are some differences between the 2004 article and the current approach in Secondary education, the most important message is that ‘success depended on putting pedagogy first, technology second….’ (Draper & Brown, 2004, p. 93) is still appropriate.

Bibliography

Bruner, J. (1960) The Process of Education. Harvard.

Draper, S., & Brown, M. (2004). Increasing interactivity in lectures using an electronic voting system. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20, 81-94.

Powell, R. (2011). The Response Revolution. Robert Powell Publications.

E-portfolios

‘At some point, the electronic portfolio, or e-Portfolio, will become a fully implemented, successful tool’ is the bold claim of Ali Jafari (2004). However, in the eight years since the article was written, it is not yet clear when this time will come. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is not a clear definition of what is meant by the term e-portfolio. ‘The term e-portfolio is not fixed’ ( Roberts & al., 2005)…and this is probably because different groups of people in education ‘each perceive a different set of functional requirements for the e-Portfolio’.  (Jafari ,2004) Let us look at who those users may be and what they require from an e-portfolio.

At its most basic level, the definition given by Wikipedia is perfectly adaquate: ‘An electronic portfolio, also known as an e-portfolio or digital portfolio, is a collection of electronic evidence assembled and managed by a user, usually on the Web.’ This is backed up by Richardson & Ward (2005): ‘The term portfolio…generally describes a collection of reflective writing and associated evidence, which documents learning and which a learner may draw upon to present his/her learning achievements.’ Many VLEs at Secondary level include an e-portfolio area for pupils to save and access their work. However, these definitions were written six years ago and time has brought changes to the e-portfolio.

E-portfolios are now frequently managed by an e-portfolio system, which brings additional functionality. ‘An e-portfolio system is a collection of tools that allows various operations to be performed with e-portfolio items, for example: uploading products to a file store, entering reflective statements, and making presentations’.  (Roberts & al., 2005, p. 6) Increasingly, teachers are keen for pupils not only to collect evidence of their achievements but to reflect on their work and maintain their portfolios over a period of time. ‘Building a lifelong e-Portfolio system promotes additional incentives for users to create and maintain their e-Portfolios, [allowing a student to] continue using his e-Portfolio, still accessing all of the documents and artifacts [sic] created during his college life.’ (Jafari, 2004)

Increasingly, there is another consumer group interested in e-portfolios – employers. ‘The web serves as an ideal home for electronic portfolios to be shared with all different kinds of audiences.’ (Wikipedia, 2012) With more pupil work now being completed electronically, the e-portfolio can become a show-case for the pupil’s achievements. The JISC InfoNet website states that currently ‘employer engagement with e-portfolios and perceived benefits are areas not fully known and require further research and investigation.’ Some research was conducted by Ward & Moser (2008), which found that seventy-five percent of HR managers in companies were not familiar with e-portfolios.  However, fifty-six per cent of all respondents said that they planned to use them in the future.

The future of e-portfolios is still uncertain, still evolving. There are issues over institutional provision, interoperability, desirable content, target audience and longevity. Let us leave the final, inconclusive words with Stefani, Pegler, & Mason (2007) ‘e-Portfolios might evolve into something unrecognisable today or they might become yesterday’s unsuccessful idea’.

Bibliography

Jafari, A. (2004 (Jul / Aug) ). The “Sticky” ePortfolio System. Educause Review, 38-49.

JISC InfoNet. (3, January 2012). E-Portfolios. Retrieved January 3, 2012, from JISC InfoNet: http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/infokits/e-portfolios/employer

Richardson, H., & Ward, R. (2005). Developing and Implementing a Methodology for Reviewing E-portfolio Products. Wigan: The Centre for Recording Achievement.

Roberts, G., & al., e. (2005). Reflective learning, future thinking: digital repositories, e-portfolios, informal learning and ubiquitous computing. ALT/SURF/ILTA Spring Conference Research Seminar. Dublin: ALT/SURF/ILTA.

Stefani, L., Pegler, C., & Mason, R. (2007). The educational potential of e-Portfolios: supporting personal development and reflective learning. Abingdon: Routledge.

Ward, C., & Moser, C. (2008). E-Portfolios as a Hiring Tool: Do Employers Really Care? Educause Quarterly (Oct-Dec), 13-14.

Wikipedia. (2012, January 4). Electronic Portfolio. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_portfolio

The Future of VLEs

The second mini-assignment was on The Future of VLEs. This was very timely as my colleague, Albin Wallace, had just completed and published some work looking at the way the VLE was being adopted across our schools. The following article highlights the findings and the areas we are looking to develop.

The impact of the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) within the United Church Schools Trust / United Learning Trust, highlighting key areas for development. The future of the VLE is a topic high on the priority list for my organisation, ( UCST / ULT). Whilst there is debate over the requirement for a school to have a VLE (Edugeek Discussion Forum, 2010) and over the format that a VLE may take (OFSTED, 2009, p. 8), this assignment is written from the standpoint that our schools are provided with a ‘managed learning platform’. “We needed a learning platform that could help our teachers do more in the time they have. It had to give teachers and students access to the curriculum outside school hours and also give our students a virtual space where they could personalise and extend their learning,” explains Dr. Albin Wallace, Group Director of ICT and e-Learning at UCST. (Its Learning, 2011) A VLE may carry out varying functions, depending on the software selected and the way that it is managed. It is beyond the scope of this assignment to look at the full range of affordances. Our VLE provides course areas, a calendar, a pupil portfolio area, a project area for collaborative working and access to SCORM content. As an organisation, we have recently carried out research, examining the way the VLE is currently being used which gives us some direction for the future. This was disseminated via a webinar, delivered on 1st November 2011 (Wallace, 2011). There is a great deal to discuss in the research, so I have drawn out only the areas for future attention. More pupils used the VLE in year nine than in any other year. This is in contrast to the report by OFSTED (2009), which found that ‘In Secondary schools, the effective use of VLEs increased with the age of the students.’ In the future, we need to examine why there is little use in the upper years. Almost half those who answered used the VLE once a week and this tended to be at school. This finding is the same as that stated in OFSTED (2009) which reported that ‘the main use of a VLE by students was on site, albeit out of lessons’. There are issues to address here about accessibility of the VLE from home and also how pupils can use the VLE on mobile devices. Seventy-two per cent of pupils used the VLE for ICT – twice as many as for any other school subject. This usage is consistent with the findings of OFSTED (2009) which stated that ‘the main factor behind a successful VLE was the enthusiasm of individual teachers or trainers and often linked with their good use of technology to improve learning in the classroom’. There is a need to break down the concept that the VLE is ‘IT’ and it would be useful to conduct further analysis to find out how to support other subject areas. Finally, a key area for development is the use of a VLE by a parent or carer. It was found that parents were not routinely involved in the way pupils engaged with the VLE. This is a complex area, as discussed in Selwyn, Banaji, Hadjithoma-Garstka & Clark (2011). It has not been possible to link the impact of the VLE with learning outcomes, although grades have improved in all schools where the VLE has been implemented. This may be an area for further research.

References

Its Learning. (2011, December 22). United Church Schools Trust / United Learning Trust. Retrieved December 22, 2011, from Its Learning: http://www.itslearning.eu/UCST OFSTED. (2009).

Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings. London: OFSTED.

Selwyn, N., Banaji, S., Hadjithoma-Garstka, C., & Clark, W. (2011). Providing a platform for parents? Exploring the nature of parental engagement with school Learning Platforms. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 314-323.

Various. (2010, June 10). Now BECTA has gone, do we NEED to have a VLE? Retrieved Dec 28, 2011, from Edugeek: http://www.edugeek.net/forums/virtual-learning-platforms/57713-now-becta-has-gone-do-we-need-have-vle-remote-desktop-services-instead.html

Wallace, A. (2011, November 1). How to succeed with learning platforms – new research into the student’s perspective. Retrieved December 25, 2011, from its learning: http://www.itslearning.eu/free-webinar-albin-wallace

Historical and Strategic Context

The first task was to look at the ‘Historical and Strategic Context’ in which our work is carried out. The most interesting thing for me here was to discover the massive change that has taken place as government has changed. Whilst I was aware that the Coalition goverment was making drastic changes, I was still rather surprised by the total lack of guidance and the fact that we are now seeking this guidance from other sources. I’m still making up my mind whether the lack of central direction is a good or bad thing……what do you think?

The Mini-Project:

I work for an organisation called the United Church Schools Trust, a charity which manages eleven independent schools in England. A subsidiary of this charity is the United Learning Trust, the largest sponsor of City Academies in the UK. These are defined as being “state-maintained but independently-run schools… set up with the help of outside sponsors” (Shimmon, 2010). I will focus on the provision that we make at Secondary level for this task.

The Labour government (1997-2010) was hugely committed to the provision of ICT in schools. It supported schools in three key areas: the numbers of computers in school, Internet connectivity and support issues. This support was coupled with large amounts of funding and policy documents – from central government, from BECTA (British Educational Technology Agency) and at Local Authority level. The Government’s Harnessing Technology report stated that “We want every child to achieve their full potential by ensuring that every school in England makes full use of ICT for learning and teaching,” (Department for Education and Skills, 2005, p. 41) This led to some significant advances in the years that Labour was in power, but some would argue, that it also led to wasted funding. (See Alan Day’s statement in Hitchcock, 2011).

In May 2010, England gained a new coalition government. This brought with it two key changes in direction. The Importance of Teaching, the governement’s White Paper for Schools (2010) sets out the “decisive action to free our teachers from constraint and improve their professional status and authority”. There is no mention of any policy related to e-learning on the Department for Education’s website. Indeed, Valerie Thompson, CEO of the e-Learning Foundation, speaking to the Guardian said “I think if you ask education ministers for their views on ICT policy in schools, for the most part they will tell you they don’t have one.”  (Hitchcock, 2011)

The second change is related to the Spending Review brought on by the financial crisis. This led to the liquidation of BECTA (April 2011), the removal of the funding for the Harnessing Technology strategy and the cancellation of many projects under the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) banner. These are all having a significant impact on many schools.

Within the United Church Schools Trust, the commitment to ICT and E-learning remains strong. Budgets are lower, thereby imposing some constraints on spending. However, “Central Office works continually to ensure that the latest, best quality resources are in place, regularly updated and new resources and applications reviewed so that we can deliver….improved teaching and learning.”  (United Learning Trust, 2011) Within this context, the organisation works independently and with key organisations (such as NAACE) and individuals, to develop strategic policy. Important areas for development at present include: the ICT mark (an accreditation for schools who have reached nationally agreed level), e-safety, training on interactive whiteboards, with a particular emphasis on interactivity, hand-held response devices, VLE development and the Digital skills curriculum for staff and pupils (Photoshop, digital audio and digital video).

In summary, the current context for our schools is that we work to develop e-learning, which we believe to be of significant benefit to learning, freed from government constraints, but without the substantial financial support and guidance provided by the previous Labour government.

Bibliography

Department for Education & Skills (2005). Harnessing Technology. Nottingham:
DfES Publications.

Department for Education (2010). The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Hitchcock, G. (2011, April 5). What Future for ICT in Education? Retrieved November 8, 2011, from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/government-computing-network/2011/apr/05/it-schools-england-future

Shimmon, K. (2010, May 26). What is an Academy? . Retrieved November 15, 2011, from The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/may/26/what-is-an-academy

Trust, U. L. (2011). Principles for Principals. Oundle: United Learning Trust .