The Personal Learning Environment. Moving beyond the VLE and SharePoint Learning Platform.

Over the last decade we have seen an enormous growth in use of technology within education. From the use of laptops and digital projectors to smartboards and VLE’s all of which have been aimed at improving learning. As a relatively new teacher I was shown my first ever VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) in early 2004, a moodle system which we began to use at my second school. We often joked that as teachers we sat spellbound by a flash animation as the presenter seemed to promise us that the system would cure all educational problems and perhaps world famine at the same time. Previous blog posts have covered the features of a VLE and if you are unfamiliar with them you can catch up here and see the diagram below.

Since this time I have moved on to a third school and was involved in the original development of the SharePoint Learning Platform which has developed a significant reputation at Twynham School. You will notice the change in terminology and Tony Parkin once commented to me that over a number of years from 2007 the term VLE fell off the ICT Register tag cloud as the term Learning Platform rose to the top. Why did the idea of the VLE lose popularity? The original vision of a system which could assign track and grade assessment has proven largely elusive beyond predominantly simple ‘multiple choice’ and’true/false’ style questions to identify understanding. As a result educators have created a vision for a Learning Platform which contains a VLE but at the same time carries a wider range of other learning attributes which centre around the platform. The diagram showing a SharePoint Learning Platform can be seen below and has more detail about it is in the blog post here.

Amidst all this development and millions of pounds of investment within schools a key question is increasingly being asked. What has the impact been on learning? In the case of Twynham School we have certainly seen a positive impact through the Learning Platform. Students describe the availability of resources in an ‘anytime, anywhere’ environment as a real benefit to learning and especially revision. Our SharePoint 2010 Learning Platform also contains a rich range of features from streaming media and podcasting to rewards systems, performance tracking and integrated learning modules. Our work with the Learning Platform over the last 4 years has undoubtedly added value to our school community and supported learners with resources, input and guidance. Despite this over the last 18 months there has been an increasing view that it is time for us to move beyond this current work and begin a new adaptation of our online learning model with a renewed focus.

Having spent considerable time on this line of thinking a blog post popped up on the radar late last week which helped clarify our thinking. The post from big think reflected on the 2011 K-12 Horizon report and challenged the level of percieved progress we have made with our use of technology and its impact on learning. In the second half of the post it identifies something we know to be true: most of the investment in technology made in education has been in the area of ‘replicative technologies’. These are commonly technology tools which are teacher centric and replace traditional educational practice. The list of replicative technologies in the blog post is worth repeating here as it does bring the context into stark focus:

Replicative Technologies: from 'Big Think'

In the case of our Learning Platform we can certainly see elements of replicative behaviour as paper resources move to the file share and then to the subject gateways of the SharePoint Learning Platform. So is this all doom and gloom? As the post goes on to say the move to replicative technologies is an understandable first step for educators who move educational practice to technology in a way which is most familiar to them. The key challenge for us all at this moment is best summed up at the end of the post. In it the author rightly asserts that, ‘ The question is whether educator adoption of replicative technologies eventually will lead to more transformative, student-centered uses of digital learning tools or whether the current wave of educator tool usage simply will be replaced by whatever is the next generation of replicative technologies’.

Refelcting on these ideas it is clear to see that the best practive we currently identify by those at the cutting edge of technology use within education has one key attribute in common: it is student centric. It is for this reason that we should all ensure our VLE’s, MLE’s Learning Platforms, Learning Gateways and whatever it is we want to call them increasingly become one thing. A personal learning environment where students can add, edit, tag, comment, search, share and review their learning. This is surely the reason behind our use of technology within education: to promote independance and interdependance amongst learners and instant interaction and feedback with students and teachers to ensure we are engaging in meaningful learning.

The future of textbooks in schools is digital.

June 2, 2011 by · 27 Comments
Filed under: Digital Era, e-learning 

One of the most frustrating elements of working in education and being a technologist is the lack of progress with digital textbooks. A whole raft of new curriculum changes have led to hundreds of new textbooks in the last few years but all of these were in paper form. What about digital resources? Publishers continue to look to traditional methods and maintain their market share by producing cd roms and inserting them in the back of textbooks to encourage future sales.

Amidst all this disappointing lack of progress we have seen the tablet segment of the devices market explode in 2011. Surely these devices present a medium which is tailor-made for the creation of digital content within education. A recent TED video showcased a new publishing platform for the ipad which I believe offers educational publishers a route to producing compelling digital resources to support learning within schools. Push, pop, press are in the process of creating a publishing platform which they plan to license and which allows quick and easy creation of compelling interactive e-books. Take a look at the video to see what they have achieved with their production of Al Gore’s Our Choice.

It will be interesting to see how the publishers respond. Any future lack of progress should surely be a sign to those of us in education that we need to start publishing our own content. After all we used to pay people a lot of money to produce websites due to the specialist skills required. Then WordPress, Joomla et al came along and showed us that maybe it wasnt so difficult to do it ourselves.

Creating connected and collaborative learners. Where should their good ideas come from?

October 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Digital Era, e-learning 

Over the last few weeks everywhere I go I have been hearing a recurring theme about the nature of successful learning which resonates with my own long held view. The word which best sums this theme up is ‘collaboration’. It seems as a society we are at last increasingly realising that growing our young minds through interdependence is just as important if not more so as fostering independence. Whilst watching a video by Steve Johnson I was struck by how important it is that we have encourage our learners to be connected and collaborative for success. The video is called Where do good ideas come from? and it is well worth 5 minutes of your time to watch.

A number of things struck me within the piece including the premise that many great ideas are created from a number of different ‘hunches’ from a range of different people. Surely it is in this context that we should increasingly recognise the value of shared and creative learning which is not constrained by individual formal assessment? For me a quote at the end of the video sums this up.

‘That’s the real lesson of where good ideas come from, that chance favours the connected mind.’  Steve Johnson

Dell brings the Netbook and the Tablet together. Creating a perfect learning device with Dell Duo?

October 26, 2010 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Digital Era, e-learning, Netbooks 

As many of you will know I was (and still am) a big advocate of a the Netbook as an effective learning device for schools. Much of the fanfare around Netbooks has faded as the world has gone tablet crazy but Netbooks have not disappeared just yet.  Whilst I am also a big tablet fan and love the use of One Note in this format I still believe that the lack of a real keyboard will hold them back as devices in the educational market. There are of course flip tablets with a keyboard which can then lay fully flat in tablet mode. These hinges seem more susceptible to damage in a school environment as I found out on a recent visit to a school in the Midlands where 15% of all tablet pcs were being repaired at any one time.

Then I saw this very ingenious take on converting a Netbook into a tablet and it all started to make sense. Take a look at the video.

I love the simplicity and ease with which the tablet becomes a Netbook or ‘mobile computing device’ as Dell puts it. You will also notice that Netbook specs continue to rise and with a dual core atom processor on board and HD  this multi purpose device is more likely to be successful in meeting the needs of learners. Let me know your thoughts.

More thoughts on engaging the digital learner. Thinking at every desk.

October 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Digital Era, e-learning 

Earlier in the week I wrote a post on Bloom’s Taxonomy and the digital learner. At the same time I put out a call for responses and have had so many thoughtful comments by email and on the blog. I wanted to share one in particular from Greg Wheeler which has been sent in today. He challenges the validity of Bloom’s and suggests a different way forward in engaging our digital learners.

His comment is below in full:

Thanks for the post on Bloom’s Taxonomy. It’s an incredibly popular paradigm for teaching thinking skills. However, it’s also outdated. Yes, it’s been updated by a few researchers over the years, but these updates have only tweaked the model and have not accounted for cutting-edge research about teaching and learning. I recently wrote a short article for ASCD Express on the need to “upgrade” from Bloom’s:

As educators, we haven’t been clear in OUR thinking about what thinking is. I’ve had an opportunity to study under Dr. Derek Cabrera, an educational theorist who has studied thinking, knowledge, and how we build ideas for the past 20 years. His work has resulted in the DSRP Method, a way to teach thinking skills within the context of ANY lesson, with any student, in any grade. For teachers using the DSRP Method, it’s changing the way they teach and the way their students see the world.

I would encourage educators who are interested in thinking skills (hopefully all educators!) to check out the DSRP Method online at:

There’s also a free course about the research behind the theory available at:

Voisse brings podcasts and presentations alive? New tools for audio assessment of learners.

Over the summer I shared a series of reviews on tools I have been looking at to use with students for creating presentations. If you missed these you can look at them below.

  1. Prezi for engaging presentations which show overview and depth.
  2. PptPlex which allows you to produce linear presentations which have ‘prezi like’ functionality.
  3. Animoto for compelling videos on the fly.

Over the weekend I saw a new cloud based presentation site which flipped the primary focus from the visuals to the sound. The site is called Voisse and the best way to introduce it is the two minute presentation below.

For me what Voisse does that is different to the other presentation tools above is it allows students to create an audio feed which they can use to produce podcasts. The interface is really easy and there is very much an ‘on the fly’ feel which students can easily get used to without complicated podcast software.

 As well as this they can add key images to their audio to produce a presentation. Whilst there are many times you would want students to produce a visual presentation which they speak over as they present in lessons there are other time where you want to be able to review student work when not in the classroom. I have spent many hours drudging through homework PowerPoints which show little real insight into student understanding other than their capacity to find information on the Internet. If students submitted a Voisse presentation it would enable them to demonstrate their understanding of a topic through their presentation combined with audio. Teachers are always looking for ways to assess oral pieces from students and for me this tool fits the bill. I can think of dozens of times I could use this across the History curriculum and I suspect this is the case in most subjects.

BBC Click also reviewed Voisse this week and you can see their thoughts here

Next Page »