Inspirations and frustrations

On Friday I took part in a symposium run by BECTA on effective use of VLE technologies.  It was a truly inspirational day – really, and I don’t get inspired easy.  What inspired me was the level of committment and vision in the people I was talking to.  We didn’t talk much about platforms or software (I’ll come back to this), but instead concentrated on the key processes that seemed to be driving use of these technologies for learning. 

On our table (one out of six), we discussed our ‘stories’ with VLE technologies.  Througout, our perceptive and challenging facilitator Will Ellis encouraged, but also asked pertinent questions which forced us to focus on the gains for the school, and the process through which those gains were realised.  At the end of the process we decided our six key processes:

  1. Voluntary staff interest groups important in driving forward the agenda;
  2. Leadership and mangement team driving forward the LP implementation through a shared vision e.g. performance management targets;
  3. Partnerships / Collaboration with other schools and LAs to share suport and expertise;
  4. Engagement with parents (marketing); and
  5. Compelling reason for using E Learning tools supported by CPD and a user friendly platform.

 We then whittled these down to two:

  1. Leadership and mangement team driving forward the LP implementation through a shared vision e.g. performance management targets; and
  2. Compelling reason for using E Learning tools supported by CPD and a user friendly platform.

Which brings me to the frustration.  The frustration was not with the day, but with our VLE (I won’t mention names, but if you visit the school website you can probably work out which miss-spelled provider provides our’clc’) and the politics of change.  Interestingly BECTA wouldn’t talk about platforms at all.  Their mantra was that it was processes that matter, and not platforms.

To an extent I agree, and much of what we said at the symposium made this point eloquently.  However, platforms do matter – commercial confidence and government impartiality means that BECTA can’t get involved in that debate.  I think that many schools in our LEA are frustrated with the VLE, not with its functionality, but with it’s usability.  Many of them are experimenting with moodles and with sharepoint based technologies.  My frustrations go beyond this, (but I’m scared to mention them in a public arena in case it damages my own standing).

One of the most inspiring talks was from a chap called Ian Usher, who works as e-learning co-ordinator for Bucks County Council.   In one of the posts in his blog Ian says of his work:

I don’t often get excited by my day-to-day work, it’s not that amazing and in some ways what we’re doing isn’t that significant – hey, couldn’t any local authority stick a few Moodle servers in and get an E-Learning monkey like me to go around and evangelise / train / harangue schools into using them?

I think Ian has missed the point here, any LEA could, but many don’t.  Some go with a commercial provider, because it seems like a safe option, they copy documents from other LEAs without thought, and hold training meetings at which delegates are talked to for 40-60% of the time, rather than being asked anything.  Amazingly, the post from Ian’s blog that this excerpt is taken from was about the masters in E-learning pedagogy that Oxford Brookes is running with Ian’s help.  

Not content with evangelising / training / haranguing, Ian is thinking deeply about what it means to teach with these technologies, and he’s encouraging others to think deeply about them too.  Now that’s what an LEA should be doing to serve its schools. 

In conclusion, it seems leadership, platform and vision come together to create compelling e-learning opportunities and developments.  So, why isn’t it happening in our/your school?  Which one of the three is missing?

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