Northern Grid Conference 2012: I’m coming Home

I am delighted to have been invited to present at the Northern Grid Conference for Learning and Technology 2012 in Newcastle. Twitter feed for the conference is here.

There will be lots of excellent teachers and educators presenting and sharing classroom practice. I will be talking about – and showing examples of – peer review.

It is very important to help prepare young people for online life as well as offline. My focus is going to be on using peer review as a good starting point for replying to online posts – blogposts, tweets, facebook statuses, videos, animations – by encouraging pupils to be purposeful in their approach to their peers when reviewing their work. By using online tools to peer review, we can learn how to write constructively and critically. Similarly to teaching, empty praise can be as unhelpful as heavy-handed critique. It is important to be kind, be specific and be helpful (phrases *borrowed* from Ron Berger’s three public critique rules as cited on this excellent blogpost by Tait Coles).

The drive of my talk is that writing blogposts and tweeting – and the like – are only the start of building an online profile. Online productivity only comes when you start commenting and talking to others and develop the conversation; you build knowledge together and build invaluable connections. For me, it is this conversation that is authentically redefining learning. It is the source of motivation, engagement, and ultimately ignition into outer-classroom-space.



The links for my presentation are: I will link to my presentation once it is complete.

I hope all/some people in the audience take away three things:

  1. an idea of transformation (SAMR)
  1. confidence in peer review
  1. inspiration to try this tool or similar

I’m looking forward to meeting many new faces on Friday – back in the Toon where I lived for three formative years until I was ten. It will also be a great pleasure to catch up with familiar faces. Mines a pint.

Y8 pupil video on top of Moodle peer review assignment

Going, Going, Gone: Google sells SketchUp

Y8 pupil video on top of Moodle peer review assignment

I’m a big fan and user of Google SketchUp 3D modelling software. You can build all sorts of things in SketchUp and then create an AVI movie and export it to showcase your work (image above shows this in action). It works very well in the classroom, engaging pupils beyond standard expectations, boys and girls alike – every year I introduce it to Y8 and am blown over by the amount of time the majority spend working on their creations. Also, we have started using it in GCSE Graphic Design course instead of ProDeskTop (blogpost about that here). But I’m not going to miss SketchUp because it is only changing ownership. See this official blogpost for more info. I’m mildly concerned about the future of SketchUp in schools. Google are good to education. Trimble are the new owners and they will be seeking revenue streams. But a grand don’t come for free.

This is also symptomatic of Google’s move away from products that do not sit comfortably and compliment their development to a fully online ecosystem via Google Apps, Google+ and the Google OS on chromebooks. I don’t think there’s a way SketchUp could work in the cloud and therefore no way it could be part of Googles online strategy. I’m making this up of course – I have no idea about Google’s strategy; it does seem logical that they are building an ecosystem. Other products have disappeared seemingly because they are built with the wrong code or do not somehow provide what Google are seeking to achieve – thinking WonderWheel and her friends.

Let us hope SketchUp continues to be free to educators and learners. It is truly an awesome product.

Nothing a kiss from a princess can’t fix

Frog calls it’s conference the ‘National Learning Platform Conference’. That is daft. There are many other learning platforms. Are there not rules against misrepresenting the facts in marketing material?

Me and my badges

If any Froggers are reading this, please do not despair at my critical tone. I am aiming to make Frog win at my school. To do this I will be it’s worst critic so I know where the pitfalls are. I’m not apologising. My tweets on the day were deliberately challenging Frog to show their teaching and learning credentials. I want to see the work; the value added to learning.

I am not going to go through the sessions one-by-one. My incomplete notes are here (I used simplynote on my iPad BTW – works well online or offline).

Frog are into the branding. You could buy hoodies, some with proceeds going to a charity. I received a frogbag, four badges, notepad, pen, beachball, conference guide, marketing leaflets and a pack of frog top trump cards (a fun and clever attempt to disseminate good frog practice).

Now, as Doug Belshaw pointed out on twitter, I thought I was at a practitioners conference, not a sales conference. Everyone I met had Frog in their school. I’m still uncertain.

doug's tweet

The welcome was loud music (Lenny Kravitz, Are you going to go my way?), dry ice and inspirational slogan images. I only danced a little bit.

Gareth Davies MD revealed an excellent tool whereby the user (in this case a school using Frog) adjusted sliders to five criteria on the maturity of their Frog platform. Then click a button to see a spider graph showing your progress against the average of all the other Frog schools who had used it. I liked this. But I would have loved it if I as a teacher was able to set the criteria for my pupils to self-assess their progress in a unit of work and then see how it compared to their peers. I was informed this was intended to be rolled out to the core platform in due course. They also showed the new Frog community groups, which are not dissimilar to Google Groups. These too were heading for the core platform (no dates were mentioned). This is good. And I think it is a plausible strategy to unleash new tools on the teaching community before putting them into the school community.

Gareth did a bit of a Steve Jobs at WWDC. Fair play. Jobs has done okay out of it after all.

Then we had a keynote from inspirational speaker David Pearl. He was not worth writing about. Bad call.

Four workshops followed. I attended all the *Transform* sessions in pursuit of pedagogical inspiration from the best Frog practitioners showcasing their work. In the four sessions I saw one course which a pupil would see. It looked good. An image with a tabbed box beneath it structuring the resources being used for learning. And that’s it. At no other point in the day did I see a pupil’s perspective on work, or learning. Lots of parental engagement stuff. Cramlington Learning Village showed off their Frog pimping skills:

1. an interactive class photo page where you could drag and drop the pupils into a seating plan;

2. a random name selector that automatically uses the names of your class; (free one here)

3. automatic class blogs attached to the class of pupils. (think that’s all, apologies if not)

These were cool tools. I asked them if they had found it necessary to pimp Frog to make it good. They answered that this is very much not the case. Frog is fabulous out of the box. I asked if their cool tools were going to be adopted into the core platform. The mic was passed to the Frog MD who said (I think, I’m not certain) that schools who developed widgets and tools they wanted to share with other Frog users, would be able to do so. This is a great idea but something sticks in my throat because, when developing Moodle tools you can give them to the world because Moodle is, at it’s base level, open source and free. The same can be said of developing pedagogy with any open source tool. Publish your trials, tribulations and triumphs and others will use them to develop their own practice. This is not the same for Frog. But still, you are helping schools and thereby helping children. This, in my opinion, is not a bad thing. However, I am not paid to help anyone outside my school so this is not a critical issue, just one I need to make peace with.

My colleague, Dr Brooks (now on twitter) said he saw some stuff I might like in another session. The videos from that session are on the link below. The one he thought I would like is the e-safety portal, near the end of the video where the ideapad (pictured below) allows pupils to anonymously vote for another pupils suggestion or enter their own. Quite cool. You can instantly feel the pedagogical shift that this tool presents. It’s a nifty teaching and learning tool.


I saw some great ideas about how to develop parental engagement. Not rocket science but good contextual work.

Phase 1. Delivering all homework via frog.

Phase 2. Developing independence.

Phase 3. Parents as learners.

Phase 4. Parents engaging with learning.

Using social media. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Family learning activities. Getting parents to content without logging in. Using the social media achieves this. Wifi cloud around the site. Students have free access.

The FDP (Frog Developers Platform) is building into a good community. It was launched last year but this year they were realising schools want to do everything inside Frog. So APIs are enabled via the whole new architecture behind the scenes which allows modern web development. Users can build stuff and share it as described earlier. They can use Frog data in anything via oAuth. You can even build a whole new front end to Frog which just calls in the data.

Through the day I spoke to a few folk. It is always fun seeing Kerry Turner and Martin Colliver (a Moodler looking to be wowed), and I met Paul Benson (a new frogger and long time twitter mate). However, the enlightening conversations were with other Froggers. A network manager who had used Frog for three years but not managed to get it rolled out much beyond the ICT Department. A Headteacher who was as disappointed as I was not to see some evidence of value added to learning at the conference. And a gentleman who had flown in from Switzerland because his school had bought Frog in November. Since the purchase the school had employed some people with Moodle experience who were bemused by how few teaching and learning tools Frog offers, but now they were “stuck with it” so had to make it work. I must mention that after one of the challenging questions I asked in the afternoon, a Frog employee tapped me on the shoulder and had the difficult conversation (props to him). He was quite open that Frog has not been developed from the pedagogical viewpoint. He acknowledged Frog needs to address this. It delivers information to people very very well. It delivers assignments to pupils and teachers very very well. It does some great things. But it does fall short pedagogically.

Visuals. User interface. User experience. These things are important. Some may say they are vital. My approach to education technology is not to force it down everyones throats – especially busy teachers who are working very hard and getting great results. I love the teachers at my school. They sidle up to me and discuss an idea they have had involving a new tool they have found. I bite. I hope I deliver by helping them bring it to the classroom. I do not tell them to use the tools on my agenda.

The ICT Teaching & Learning committee are Frog fans. They might be right. Frog might be right for our school right here and right now. If we want all our teachers to be employing the VLE as part of their workflow, it might just be that Frog convinces those who have not taken to Moodle to do so. Context is king. We use MoodleDo at the moment and it is not the best Moodle company. WebAnywhere provide a better Moodle service than that we presently have. Tabbed sections within a course. SIMS integration including writing back for registers and reports. But at the end of the presentations to our committee, eight out of ten members were convinced Frog was right. Better tool. Better presentation. When I asked what they do not like about Moodle, one replied “all of it”.

At a strategy meeting I was asked if I would be happy leading Frog development at my school. It was hard to answer. But the answer has to be yes. 676 pupils out of 733 logged into our Moodle in the last 30 days (exam revision lists). I have changed the culture of our pupils. They expect to find material they need on our VLE. But this is not enough. What we need is strategic school deployment. I have worked hard to get senior managers invested in the rich use of technology in teaching and learning. Now I think they are. When Frog gets the green light in the next few days, we will develop a strategy that will hopefully incorporate all teachers, pupils, parents, technicians, administrators and senior management. This is what it takes to distribute education technology in a school. The VLE is not the silver bullet to 21C education. Anyone who knows my work will know how much I believe it is about creativity, innovation, collaboration and learning. Ask the pupils I teach. My hope is that those that adopt the VLE will shortly understand its limitations and want more. The more will be web2.0 tools. Google Apps maybe (Frog fully integrates with GAFE). Therein lies the win.

Leap-frogging Moodle

The ICT Teaching and Learning committee at my school are reviewing the VLE and were so impressed with the Frog presentation that they want it to replace our current Moodle, affectionately called Bernard after the late Father Bernard Orchard who was twice Headteacher of the Senior School.

So, for me this means I need to lead Frog. Today I am going to the Frogtrade conference to discover some work that actually impresses me beyond the shiny visuals Frog delivers better than Moodle. Aiming to be brief, here is what I know so far:

1. Frog allows a teacher to quick set assignments allocated to particular pupils without having a course or website set up. Moodle doesn’t.

2. Moodle does stuff Frog doesn’t. Peer review assessments. Glossaries. I asked the sales rep from Frog to show me how these might be achieved in her demo site. The glossary she put together looked ok – tabbed alphabetically, pupils creating terms – but it did not register the creators name or allow them to comment on or rate each others entries. This might seem small but, if you think about it, is important in developing the classroom beyond it’s walls. Equally with peer assessment, Frog do not have an alternative yet, or a roadmap. They do plan to have a roadmap for it though.

3. The Moodle company we saw – webanywhere – have the ability to write back to SIMS. This means you can do your registers and reports via Moodle. Or on your smart phone. Frog does not have permission to write back to SIMS yet.

4. Moodle is open source and drives a community of wonderful developers and teachers sharing good practice across the world. This means if the company we employ goes down we can move our stuff to another Moodle host.

5. Frog is a one stop shop. School to company. No middle man company. They develop everything and are therefore responsible and accountable in a more urgent fashion.

6. Frog has a mac-like toolbar that can be customised to specific links inside or outside the VLE. School delivers a set but users can choose their own too.

7. Frog has some nifty tools like room bookings, internet controls and other stuff like that. My colleague, Dr Brooks, tells me it’s very draggy-droppy. Frog bricks allow teachers to drag and drop content around which makes it intuitive.

To summarise, my trip today is to find good pedagogical practice in Frog. As a school we are leap-frogging moodle. Moodle is built with pedagogy at it’s heart. Frog is not. So my real question today is can Frog beat, or even equal, Moodle. As a teacher I love the tools that transform learning. Frog puts it all online, but does it transform anything?

I just asked the good doctor how he has got on test driving the demo site. He created a webpage easily enough but got stuck on creating a quiz. The ICT T&L committee have a meeting in a week or so to decide whether or not we go Froggy. I fear it’s a done deal. Pedagogical arguments don’t seem to hold water. Ready, steady, jump….

I’ll report back on my findings in the next few days.

glossary error

Moodle training day: the feedback

Moodle INSET

We organised an INSET morning for our VLE, Moodle.

As with most schools, the VLE is slow to catch on. This is only the second training session in our third year. First time around I made the huge mistake of focussing on creating courses and uploading files. This was a bad idea because if the user doesn’t understand how Moodle works, they might create a course for every lesson etc. Yes, of course I explained it at the time, but similar to normal lessons the learners do not retain everything you say. Needless to say, this session was much, much better and staff were mainly very positive about their hands on training. See the way the INSET was organised here.

glossary error

When this happened, I had no idea what to do! @MoodleDan to the rescue.

Some things went wrong. One of the six rooms was left without a facilitator due to an email mix-up. This was resolved after the break.

A few teachers found the guides confusing. And a few more felt out of their depth. It might have been a good idea to have a room for the self-declared unconfident.

The majority of teachers enthused about the new tools. Quizzes and glossaries may rain down on the pupils after the half-term holiday.

The overall aim of the day

The motivation for the day was to improve everybody’s knowledge of a VLE. What it is and how you can use it. With this improved collective knowledge, staff will be able to give informed comment as we review our VLE. They will now be in a much better position to answer such questions as:

  1. Do you want a VLE?
  2. What do you want the VLE to be able to do?
  3. Which VLE do you prefer?

We may go with Frog or Fronter or Moodle (another host or the same one). However, whatever the school decides to do, we can be more sure that staff will be part of the selection process. This more transparent and open decision making process may well lead to investment and commitment from the key players – the teachers that create the content and connect the pupils to the learning online.

Many thanks to all the room facilitators who had to work very hard on the day. And also to those who might be reading this who reviewed the guides and critiqued my preparations.

BTW, there was another guide for creating courses.