Measuring student usage of the Learning Gateways

During this week we have been covering the development of our learning platform and exploring the reasons for high user adoption. Having worked hard with our students to ask their views on our Learning Gateways we are now reflecting on its use. One of the most important and perhaps least thought through aspects of building a learning platform is how do we know if our students are using it? With SharePoint there is a basic user interface which gives day to day unique users. Does this tell you enough about your student usage of the learning environment? On Monday 2nd February with the school closed due to snow we checked the statsistics for usage of the Learning Gateway and found that half of the students logged in to learn.

The question that follows this is what did they do while they were online? Which parts of our Learning Gateway are popular and which arent being used? Using SharePoint we can tell where students went from the home page but we would have to go to each site to measure usage beyond this. As a result we have recently installed a powerful tool called ControlPoint which is made by Axceler. The software has many applications but predominantly covers usage and permissions analysis. Dave Coleman and Chris Mckinley installed the software on Tuesday and got to work looking at the snow day usage to see what we could find out.

Snow day usage by student

Snow day usage by student- click to view

The image above shows two students’ usage of the Learning Gateways. One student was completing Music homework using a range of podcasts. The second student is completing extension work in Maths as part of our move to challenge the more able to be independent and extend their own learning. What does this analysis show us? Using ControlPoint we can start to look at Year Group, Tutor Group, Class Level and Subject analysis of the Learning Gateways. This will work alongside the feedback we get from various groups including our Student Voice Technology Group so that we can constantly reflect on what is working well and what we need to improve. I think the biggest mistake that is made with learning environments is the big push to get content on the sites and then it is left alone. To fully engage and challenge students a learning environment should be updated often and evolving regularly.

Student Collaboration in SharePoint forums

February 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Learning Gateways, SharePoint, Twynham School 

During this week I have been talking about how to set up SharePoint sites for high user adoption with students. We started our sites without web 2.0 features which was partly due to some limitations in SharePoint but more importantly to keep the project simple. We had 3 weeks to set up a Revision Gateway and therefore needed to build the sites from the centre. When we had the sites up and running and knew what students wanted we started to turn our attention to allowing students to interact both with their teachers and more importantly with their peers. The obvious place to start seemed to be forums.

One big early message we missed was the idea of forum etiquette. Do students know how to use forums appropriately? In our case the answer was no and given that we put no training or restrictions on the forums we learned a very difficult lesson. Clearly when a student does not realise that anything they say will have their name next to it they feel comfortable saying anything! Is the technology at fault here? The real lesson here is if we want to encourage students to interact we need to support them with training on how to use the technology and what they can and cannot say.

We came back to forums in September 2008 and this time with the lessons we learned from our first attempt we enjoyed more success. Year 7 (11 year olds) were working on a start up project studying the History of Christchurch (their town). Their History home page looks like this. Click on the image for a better view.

Hitory Gateway Year 7

Hitory Gateway Year 7 click to enlarge

At the bottom of the page is a forum to discuss the independent research students are completing. The key here is students are researching independently but this process also involves inter-dependance. When students click on the History forum they can select a topic which they view as follows. Again click on the image

History Forum- click to enlarge

Looking at the forum discussion above, nothing that the students are saying is profound. This was actually the first interaction between students on the forum and two students are telling the other to get of the computer and visit the site! Over time students have developed increasing sophistication in how they interact and share information. Although the forums were started by teachers they have increasingly been able to withdraw from the discussions or join at key moments. The vast majority of discussion are taking place between students and this form of collaboration is growing through SharePoint forums.

Using SharePoint to engage teens without web 2.0

Back in March 2007 we started developing SharePoint beyond our use with staff at Twynham School in order to support students in their preparation for GCSEs. Students had a ‘Student Gateway’ page before this which was used for notices and key information but at this time we had not ventured into providing significant content. How did we go about engaging students back in 2007 when web 2.0 was an emerging term (in our world)? With our 2 year anniversary nearly here our work has enjoyed significant success with 50% of students using or online resources on a recent snow day without direction.

When we started to think about making content available our first question was ‘how do students use the internet?’ We did our research then and I have repeated this today which shows the same trends but with new ideas emerging.

  1. Teenagers spend 31 hours online a week- Top 3 activities are messenger (50% of teens are using MSN messenger in the UK at last count), You Tube (instead of TV) and then homework.
  2. Teenagers main driving influence online are music and gaming.
  3. Teenagers are increasingly moving away from email as a form of communication.

This information left us daunted as we considered how we might compete (or at least co-exist) with the influences on a teenager’s social life. Our next decision was perhaps the most important in engaging teenagers- we decided not to compete or be compared with a teenagers web 2.0 world until we had the right resources available. The key to this decision was student voice and in particular interviews we ran with students. They told us that they didnt want or need us to replicate their web 2.0 world and school should be functional and not attempt to be cool. Most importantly we found a need that the internet did not fulfill- a clean and simple one stop shop to help students revise efficiently and effectively for all their GCSE exams. BBC bitesize and other sites are simply too generic, trying to cover all topics and exam boards.

What was really revealing is they way students approached the internet. One student gave this example saying, ‘Google is great but I spent 3 hours searching for a good Maths GCSE revision site and couldnt find one. There was just to many options’. What became clear is teenagers are not as good at searching the net as we think and evidence suggests they are less succesful than adults. Talking to students at length showed us that they wanted high quality resources, produced by their teachers (who they trusted) in an simple and easy to use interface. The result of all this preparation and talking to students was our Revision Gateway. Were we succesful? Within one month of building a site we had 70,000 visits from the 240 students in year 11. Below is an image of our Revision Gateway homepage and tomorrow I will explain how we built this relevant online learning resource for our teenagers which has gained such high user adoption.

Twynham School SharePoint presentation

February 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Learning Gateways, SharePoint, Twynham School 

Today is 1 month since I arrived at Microsoft’s pre-BETT preparation day at the Hand and Flower pub in London. It seems extraordinary that only 1 month has passed by given how busy it has been and how much we have packed in. I came across our BETT presentation online today as Ray Fleming from Microsoft has put it on to slide share. This is another great tool for online sharing in a web 2.0 environment and I know a number of our teachers use it to share their work.  

SharePoint could really do with some of this functionality to take it further into the mainstream of education and beyond the business environment. We are on the Office 14 ‘TAP’ programme and from what we have seen on blogs and wikis in Office 14 we will not be disappointed. I will report more on this in due course when we get further along playing with the new Office 14. If you didn’t get the chance to go to BETT and see myself and Dave Coleman presenting in the Microsoft Theatre have a look at the presentation below.

View more presentations from rayfl.

Twynham School Becta ICT Excellence Winner

February 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Learning Gateways, Online Learning 

As I mentioned in my first post this year, in November last year Twynham School won the BECTA ICT Excellence Awards. The achievement was for our work with Learning Beyond the Classroom. As part of the award a short film was made about the school and it was released this week. If you have a few minutes spare please have a look and let us know what you think.
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Snow days 1 and 2-What did our students do?

February 8, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Learning Gateways, Twynham School 

You know in England when the weather is genuinely bad- towns like Christchurch actually get snow. This is a very rare occasion as we are in one of the mildest parts of the country, by the coast and protected by the Isle of Wight. It was therefore a genuine shock to all of us at school last Monday morning to find we had to close the school for the first time in the last few decades. By Tuesday the conditions were even worse and we had to take the frustrating decision to close for a second day. Having sent the students off to enjoy a day of sledging and snow ball fighting our teachers spent the day at home working remotely from home. This is perfectly easy with SharePoint driving our Staff Gateway alongside Exchange which makes email our most used staff resource.

It was only on Tuesday afternoon when a member of staff posed a question to me by email that I started to think about student usage of our Learning Gateways. They had no access to school computers throughout the whole of Monday. Did any of them log in with so much snow fun to be had? A quick check of the stats showed that nearly 50% of students spent time on our Learning Gateways throughout Monday and this trend continued on Tuesday. One parent even called the local BBC radio station (Radio Solent) to thank the school and a particularly innovative Sociology teacher for providing such high quality resources online.

Snow....in Christchurch!

Snow....in Christchurch!

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