The problem with new institutions is that they need a lot of stuff doing, and pretty quickly, regardless of the scale of other things going on.
Thus I find myself trying to keep a frighteningly large number of plates spinning at once, all of them large, fragile and with deceptively complex centres of gravity…
The two building programmes my Federation is undergoing are at different but equally vital stages, as I’ve probably said at least 10 times in recent posts. The period Jan-May 2012 is pretty make or break in this respect and requires most of my capacity and more capability than I possess. Luckily I have some very good people around me with complementary strengths (hello Mark and Pip!)
Anyway, to business; whilst this is going on, the also-very-important-and-too-expensive-to-fail project running concurrently is the successful (I’m using the athlete’s trick of envisioning victory here!) launch of our new amphibian-themed Learning Platform.
Looking through the Academies’ ICT Visions, it’s hard to exaggerate the importance of a truly embedded LP for the 2 schools. In fact, there are 35 statements about what the LP will help achieve. Some might say that number speaks to the ridiculous loquacity of the document but in my defence, Becta’s review process never made brevity easy. Anyway, here’s a sample of the impact we hope the LP will have;
The ‘stage not age’ approach to learning will be supported by access to resources, teaching and qualifications through the Learning Platform, allowing students to progress their learning beyond the constraints of traditional structures.
The Academy’s ePortfolio solution permits students to share its content with selected others and allows invitees (e.g. parents, grandparents, older siblings) to comment on pieces of work and to submit evidence of learning/ capability from beyond the student’s school experience.
The Learning Platform provides a familiar environment for multi-site learning and, through forums, wikis, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and hosted exemplar videos, allows teachers to share content and spread good practice beyond the Academy. This is supported by virtual input from Sponsors, who form part of practitioners’ PLNs.
The Learning Platform provides communication tools allowing learners to seek support from teachers, older mentors and friends and to develop work collectively or individually. Access to after-hours support via forums, email or instant messaging could involve teachers and older student mentors. eMentoring via the LP could take the form of email, instant messaging, SMS or a video connection to support specific individuals.
Social web technologies (such as blogs, forums, friends networks and wikis), carefully integrated into a secure Learning Platform, will transform communication and collaboration between students and are extendable to exciting contexts beyond the Academy (e.g. international links) which add value to all subjects.
Now, I know what you’re going to say – all this could be accomplished by an range of free, online tools skillfully brought together in one place, which is totally undeniable. I am hoping simply that a single LP with all this stuff (and much more besides) integrated within it will make the process of cultural shift among teachers and students just that little bit simpler. I view the LP as a remover of barriers to the effective use of the best bits of the web, which otherwise would remain the preserve of the clued up and non-risk averse.
Anyone who’s every tried to implement a LP/ VLE/ MLE/ Whatever will tell you that it’s a complex and savage animal. Thus we have formulated A Plan with dates and names and colour-coding and everything, and these are the first few steps;
1. Two faculties have been chosen to pilot the LP and we’ve narrowed our focus down to about 8 teachers across the Academies, perhaps making use of a couple of classes each. The faculties match across the two Academies, so there’s scope for mutual support. We’ve gone for Globality (yes, I know it’s not a word) and Discovery, which encompass Science, ICT, Humanities and MFL
2. I’ve made an area in the LP for sharing, with a blog by me keeping people updated and spreading examples of good practice that I see as things accelerate. There’s also a forum divided in to subject specialisms/ Tech support/ Q&A etc and a chat room to support collaboration. This is especially important as the 10+ people involved work in 2 schools spread across 3 sites and separated by miles of former-Victorian resort town
3. We are lucky enough to benefit from a fantastic internal ICT Services team (which is made more affordable by its work with numerous local primaries) including both a web designer and graphics bod who will be instrumental in supporting teachers through training, design guidance and drop-in sessions. This is one of the true strengths of federation in education
4. Use is being made of a couple of our Tuesday Training slots (disaggregated Baker days and directed time for CPD, usually in short supply due to the plethora of Very Important Things we all need training in, but commandeered for the LP with the help of the Director of CPD and the Principals) to give people time to work together, to share what they’re doing and to develop materials. We’re also looking at intelligent use of Cover Supervisors to join up teachers’ free periods into more solid chunks of development time
5. By June there should be enough great things going on to provide some classroom practice/ talking heads video footage for the Launch Event with the whole staff at both Academies, which is where the hard work really begins
If you’ve done all this before, I’d really appreciate your comments, particularly with respect to effective ways of embedding use across the a whole staff.