The right tools (Full Marks)

I was at the SSAT conference on embedding learning last week, and it really fired my imagination, and one thing in particular has been rolling around my brain, the issue of ‘having the right tools’.  If you have met me at an event you’ll probably know that I’m a passionate believer in good software, that well made tools can not only make work easier, but inspire people to new things.  I’ve never been in agreement with BECTA’s proposition that ‘platforms don’t matter’ – that all that matters is what you do with them.  BECTA might not be able to bring itself to recommend one platform or another, and I think it might have done more harm than good with its infamous ‘approved’ but not really ‘approved’ list of VLEs, but I certainly have strong views.

What I’m less hung up on now is how awful the platform is that we have at school.  It’s soooo bad that it is frankly an irrelevance, its use is restricted to page creation for hardy souls that don’t mind links randomly breaking, or working without version control.  As I said, I’m not so hung up about this imposition from the LEA, its ad-hoc, creaky and un-intuitive technology and its huuuuge cost (I think, I can’t actually find out how much it costs my school)…. Anyhoo.

Some of the people I heard talk on Wednesday last at The SSAT conference are making me think that the VLE is not the foundation stone of e-learning in a school (though a decent one would make things a LOT easier thanks).  I’m coming around to the idea that we can afford to ignore it (apart, as I say, from the cost).  I’ve already posted about Mark Richardson from www.filmsforlearning.org and his conviction that most children have access to technologies that will allow them to make films, without extra cost.  Two other marks, Mark Toombs from Woolmer Hill Technology College, and Mark Clarkson, Egglescliffe School took me further down this road during that day.

Mark Clarkson spoke persuasively about free and very cheap ways of innovating teaching and learning using ICT, using technology such as refurbished handhelds, free tools such as etherpad and voicethread (thanks to an amazing example by Ant Heald), Mark also used a wiki to collate student work as well as his own thinking.  I’ll say more about the particular insights that Mark brought in a later post.

Mark Toombes also discussed homework and mobile phones.  His philosophy was certainly one of ‘bringing in the outside world’, and of using pieces of technology to meet communication needs in his school.  During the day I talked with delegates about the excellent www.yacapaca.com and bubbl.us.  At school we’ve been using 21classes.com and google docs to distribute information, but also experimenting with creative ways of closing the feedback loops between school, pupils, parents and teachers.

Of course, it would be great to have a flexible, powerful, easy to use VLE, hub or clearing house, which managed identities, pushed out information and could act as a virtual gathering place for the whole learning community, wouldn’t it.  The point is that it’s not a necessary condition for moving forward.

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