What’s ACE about your LA?

In my recent post, Why I am bothering with Safer Internet Day I mentioned obliquely that I had come to realise how lucky I am to work in Brimingham. I want to say it more directly now.


I’ve spent a good part of today travelling to two schools, one in Worcestershire, one in Herefordshire. The purpose was so that their students and my students could blog together during a project we’re about to start. The project itself has nothing to do with blogging, but we thought it would be a great way for the children who are engaged in the project to keep up with what each other is doing. You can find out more at scalextric.posterous.com


In Worcestershire, the learning platform (Uniservity) has been mastered heroically by the staff and students of this particularly school, but its complexities made today’s activities tricky. With the children already having two layers of logins to remember, I didn’t want them to have to remember a third login for a separate blog platform, so I chose to use Posterous as the blog platform – that way the children could e-mail directly from their learning platform into the blog. However something funny with how their e-mail works means that they receive e-mail at one address, but send from a completely different address. And the address is really quite complicated, including an alpha-numeric code at the start and a site with 6 parts joined with 2 hyphens and 3 dots. Not only that, but when they send, Worcestershire attaches a 6 line disclaimer, including a phone number and e-mail address – each blog entry ends up with that added on to the content.


In Herefordshire, they have no county-wide learning platform, but instead the particular school uses Windows Live supplied and managed by their local secondary school. For free. What a great arrangement! When I was there the teacher rang up the tech guy at the secondary who fixed a problem within 5 minutes. Brilliant. However Herfordshire County Council so lock everything down, that even thought he children could e-mail to the blog, they couldn’t actually see it – it was blocked by the firewall. And not only that, but Youtube and Google Image Search were also blocked. The teacher explained how when he wanted to use video he either had to rely on the BBC or find what he wanted and spend considerable time downloaded it so that he could bring in the specific video he wanted as a learning resource.


But I’m not going to pass judgement on all that, because I’m sure there are some great reasons for all of the above. The support and service for schools is probably fantastic. Or something.


Instead I want to thank the authorities in Birmingham for freeing up Youtube and Google Image Search so that we have great teaching resources at our fingertips. Thanks for allowing us access to all the main blogging platforms so that our children can collaborate and learn together. Thanks for freeing up Twitter so that I can keep in touch with my PLN while at school. Thanks for giving us freedom to choose our own learning platforms and not imposing a single e-mail solution on all schools. And maybe with the new ASA online advertising rules we may even get Facebook in the future… who knows? Anyway, thanks Brum.


Are you pleased with your local setup? Come on there must be something good about it… Let me know what’s ACE about your LA.

A growing argument for Google Apps in schools instead of LA-imposed VLEs.

At one point I thought there was only reason why Google Apps would make a better VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) in my school over the LA-imposed one.


It just worked.


The teachers got it straight away. Within half an hour of using it, they had produced something collectively of value in the school. The children got it straight away too. In my first lesson with Google Apps, the children learnt a knew skill, created something relevant to the curriculum and shared their work with me within the Google Apps domain. It took 45 minutes, without any painful file management, reminding children exactly where on the server they should save their work. Some of the children followed up at the weekend by continuing their work and sharing improvements with me. Google Apps was, in short, a great learning resource. It still is. As my friend Mark Allen (@edintheclouds) says, it is the iphone of the internet.


Since then, I have started to find that there are other arguments. For a start, most VLEs started in universities where they a repository for online learning and knowledge. They are designed to keep the knowledge secure for that university and for that course – that’s how universities make their money. State primary education is completely different. The knowledge should be shared. Children of course need to be kept safe (which Google Apps does as well as any other VLE), but we can’t withhold essential elementary skills and knowledge from our communities.


But I’m not the only one who believes that ‘locked-down’ learning is dangerous for children in the long term. The Ofsted report, Safe use of new technologies says:


Although the 13 schools which used ‘locked down’ systems kept their pupils safe while in school, such systems were less effective in helping them to learn how to use 

new technologies safely. These pupils were therefore more vulnerable overall. This was a particular concern when pupils were educated away from their main school, for example, in work-based learning.”


Worryingly, it seems that  some LAs aren’t engaged in best practice in terms of developing VLEs in their schools. An old report from Becta states:


We consider that, if unchecked, such arrangements for interoperability have the potential to impede competition and choice not only in the provision of MIS solutions but also in the market for Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and Managed Learning Environments (MLEs), and hinder the effective delivery of wider policy objectives in relation to personal learning spaces.


They have certainly been unchecked in some LAs.


Agent4Change.net has a link to the new MIS BECTA report (september 2010) with the conclusion: The new Becta MIS report, after all, concludes that the market for MIS now, compared with the position at time of the 2005 Report, remains just as uncompetitive.


So while it’s great to have all the defensive arguments about e-safety, it may also be valuable to have some counter-arguments about how ineffective LAs have been at educating children for the 21st century and how they have failed to prepare schools likewise.


I’m also struck by this 2009 report about school VLE use, which states (on page 8) that successful VLE use is characterised by:
  • Schools having developed a tradition of effective procurement and implementation of innovative use of ICT
  • Schools having underpinned the implementation of the learning platform with a coordinated, positive and enthusiastic strategic approach by senior leaders and managers.
Comparing this with the MIS report from BECTA (September 2009), it seems that LAs are tarred with a brush of ineffective procurement, yet Becta have found that schools with effective procurement have effective VLEs. In addition the second point would indicate that VLEs that are foisted upon schools by LAs don’t work, but schools that have ownership of their VLE through their senior leaders have VLEs that are making a difference for their learners.


Just like we’re finding with Google Apps.


Finally, while I’ve been writing this, someone tweeted a link to this warning about the dangers of not teaching about the world we actually live in.


Seems to me like schools need ownership of this stuff so that they can prepare their communities for the future. As a senior leader in my school, I have ownership of our Google Apps and know where I’m going with it. There may be better stuff out there but I don’t have ownership of it.


So if you lead a school or are part of the leadership, take ownership of the offline and the online. Google Apps might even help you.