It’s not the tools..it’s the people

I’ve been supporting schools in the use of learning platforms for over 5 years and the benefits of platforms are clear and irrefutable.

Correction.

The benefits are clear to me.

They’re also clear to some teachers, in some schools. Not all teachers. Not all schools.

Finding a school where the platform is truly embedded within a whole learning community is somewhat more of a challenge.

I’ve been interested in the recent debates around ‘Is the VLE dead?’ see the good chaps @jamesclay and @timbuckteeth for more on the debates at recent conferences. So, before I start, I’ll lay down my understanding of what a learning platform is.

I’m not really interested in the semantics of MLE, VLE, Learning Platform, Portal – or even free open source versus commercial offerings. Here’s my definition, and as this is my blog, it’ll do for now.

A learning platform is a collection of communication tools with a repository for storage and sharing. It’s not really of any consequence whether these tools are provided by a sole supplier or a hybrid of free and commercial offerings. Resilience and fit for purpose should be the key considerations when choosing the elements that make up a suite of learning platform tools.

I could go further by saying that if a school is to use a platform for all data, assessment, management, planning, teaching materials and learners’ outputs then it requires sophisticated back up and storage. This means we’re talking about industry standard data storage facilities and not on a server in a school, which too often is the most burgled building in the community, often with a flat roof ready to let in the, not infrequent , downpours our country enjoys.

We should have zero tolerance for a learning platform that ‘goes down’ or is inaccessible for minutes, hours or days at a time. It is this quality of service and KPIs with financial penalties which explains to some degree the cost of commercial offerings procured by organisations such as the RBC for whom I work. It concerns me that individual schools may not show due diligence to this cost of ownership when agreeing terms of service and price with their platform provider. (It should also be noted that due diligence needs to be undertaken with reference to personal data and where and how service provider intends to store this.)

That said I’m by no means suggesting that schools must buy a commercial offering. If we agree that what we need is a secure repository with communication tools such as mail, forums, messaging, blogs, portfolios etc. then these can be home grown, ‘free’ web tools including Google or Microsoft’s free tools for schools. What is important though, is that a school can be confident that the tools they select are fit for purpose and accessible and fully functional at all times. This means equality of access before, during and after the school day, 365 days a year.

Now let’s crack on with the blog post..

I’ve delivered talks on effective use of platforms all over the place. You may have seen me at BETT, speaking for the Dept of Ed., Becta, NEN, commercial companies etc. and I have dozens of crackin’ examples of how teachers are excelling at using platform tools to enhance and extend learning. There’s the high school geography teacher who puts all the teaching materials on line so no child can say ‘I was absent so I didn’t get the homework’. She also shares clear explanations of the course and assignments online so parents know what was expected of their child, complete with calendar showing deadlines, exam dates and opportunities to contact the teacher directly via email or forum.

Then there’s the infant teacher who posted children’s successes throughout the day for parents and also a school in Romania. The year she won an award at our conference and it was on the platform for the parents and children to see before she’d left the conference venue – complete with her grinning proudly in a lovely pic, taken by us.

I also have examples of virtual teaching where teachers not only teach their own children via their platform but as we had a platform extending over 7 Local Authorities there was the opportunity for learners and teachers across the region to also participate and engage.

And yet, despite all the years of access to the platform, I struggle to find a school where the platform is being used to challenge and support across the entire learning community. We have pockets of adoption and where a headteacher has decided that there will be whole school adoption for online homework for example, we also see there are teachers who, to be harsh, pay lip service to this. For one such school I found myself required to scan hundreds of useless worksheets for an English department who seemed to have taken the view that they weren’t going to put any of the ‘good stuff’ online, that’s for proper teaching.

I’m in little doubt however that if you’re a teacher and reading this then I’m preaching to the converted. The teachers who use Twitter, read and write blogs already embrace and thrive on the challenge of transforming learning with the ‘new’ technologies and online tools. But what about the other teachers? The ones who, for so many reasons, seem unable to see technology and platforms as anything other than gadgets and gimmicks that have no place in their more traditional classrooms.

It’s over a year since Becta put out a call for learning platform practitioners to work on a learning platform adoption model. I was selected/approved/chosen (delete as appropriate) and with a group of LA colleagues, consultants and a headteacher, began to work on the adoption model originally developed by Wolverhampton LA and LP+ (a commercial platform provider).

The aim was to develop a 5 stage framework which would help schools identify where they are in terms of platform adoption and offer a structured path to full adoption. I have to say that at the outset I had some misgivings. I wasn’t that enamoured with the idea that this may be yet another ‘you must use a learning platform because it’s good for you’ – I’d already tried that and quickly realised that it was a pointless exercise. Training schools how to upload files, create calendars and forums simply left them disengaged, frustrated and de-motivated.

I was wrong (as I so often am – we learn from our mistakes though don’t we?). The learning platform adoption model is not about dragging teachers kicking and screaming through training modules for tools they have no intention of using. The model shows schools how a platform can, when deployed in a structured way, help a school achieve its priorities/targets/ambitions/aspirations  – chose your own word there.

The model shows how a platform will support effective management, policy and delivery, teaching and learning, communication within, and beyond, the school and nurture and support collaboration beyond the school gates locally, regional, nationally and internationally.


The model exists as an interactive pdf. But it is more than that. It is licensed under Creative Commons. This means any school, local authority or non commercial organisation can adapt and change some or all of the language to be a bespoke tool to support individual or groups of schools  wherever they are. In addition to this, there are also case studies in a range of formats including video, audio and text.

It was not without some sadness that just as I’m having the most positive Becta experience I’ve ever had – we learn that Becta is to close. I think we all felt the same way. All of these resources would no longer have an online home readily available for schools to access and so a decision was made – we would continue our work, with Becta’s blessing.

We knew we had an excellent resource on our hands and the opportunity to make it even better by developing more case studies and resources. What we needed was for real teachers and schools to become involved. For them to stand up and say ‘Yes we use a platform and we’ve had some success – and some challenges. We want to help other schools and it’d be great if someone could help us too’

It’s not helpful to talk about ‘Bad’ teachers. The inescapable truth is that there are many who do not demonstrate the same enthusiasm and commitment to improving their teaching – and their school that we see so clearly among the online community. I’ve attended several teachmeets over the last year and the excitement and thirst for ideas and willingness to share experiences is truly inspiring. I spoke at the Sunderland teachmeet last week and realised as I was driving home that I was proud to be involved and share my evening with such people. Compare this with the many twilights I’ve led over the decades where I’m greeted with a wall of folded arms and glum faces and we can see that we do indeed have a challenge on our hands.

And so, people, I give you the LPN. The Learning Platform Network. We are platform agnostic and this means we’re not interested in proving whose platform is the best – we want to share transferable ideas and experiences and it is our hope that all schools who currently use a platform to support learners will make themselves known.

What have we done so far?

The LPN is on Twitter. We want every school to follow @the_lpn. This is the easiest way for each school to make themselves known to each other.

 

There’s a Google map.

We encourage all schools to put their marker on the map. I’m hopeful that schools across the world will show us where they are. This will at its most basic level allow schools to see each other’s location and possibly form links – always good for a trip to somewhere sunny – or different!

There is an online presence

learningplatformnetwork.org

Thankyou for reading this far. What do you do now?

Encourage every teacher who sees the value of technology for our teachers and young people, to get involved. Make themselves known to us. Let’s build a community that is of real benefit to all of us who care about this stuff.

11 Responses to It’s not the tools..it’s the people

  1. simfin says:

    thankyou🙂

  2. Robin Ball says:

    Great post, Simon. I’ll make reference to it wherever I can to give the site extra publicity. Keep the faith!

  3. hcarver says:

    I’d love to look at your steps to adoption model Simon, however the link seems to only lead to the image not the pdf. Is it online anywhere else?
    Like your post – I am currently working as a trainer & coach – helping the roll out of a system wide VLM in Victoria. Aware of all the issues you raise. Would love some ideas on how to assist schools approach this in a positive and successful way.
    Cheers,

  4. simfin says:

    Apologies – link now fixed.It would be great if you could encourage your colleagues to follow @the_lpn and add their schools to the map – we’re hoping for an international community.

  5. carol Allen says:

    Excellent and as usual, clear and sensible thoughts …but you don’t mention the huge issues around inclusion and LP’s at all. Without recognising that accessibility, usability and accessible content are vital if all learners are to benefit, it is like overcooked pie that cannot be bitten into – looks great but lacks nutrition!

  6. simfin says:

    You’re right ofcourse Carol and the focus of the blog was not about the functionality (or lack of) but the approach to its use. I would be very happy to work with you to further raise the awareness of LP providers and school leaders of the importance of inclusion and equality of access for all. Hope all is good with you.

  7. […] Simfin’s blog on learning and IT- looks really interesting on British schools and the impact of a range of tools. Someone I shall try to connect with. […]

  8. Thanks for the link to the LM implementation plan. I teach writing full time and am technology coordinator. We have added Google Apps in Education, and the students love it. The plan has helped me see what needs to happen in order to move from an awareness phase for staff. Small steps. Small school. It’s not the tools; it’s always the people. Thank you for providing the document.

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