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.

The power of SharePoint Surveys with students

February 19, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Online Learning, SharePoint, Twynham School 

Over the last two days we have been talking about producing online content to support and engage students. Having produced a working GCSE Revision Gateway and spent time talking with 30+ students about design was this enough to ensure success? At this stage we needed to identify if students were using the sites we set up and what they thought about them. One of the best ways to find out what students think about absolutely anything is to set up a SharePoint Survey. In SharePoint 2007 there is a great survey function which we use extensively to get feedback from staff and students at Twynham School. I will not spend any time going through how you make a survey as this has been done elsewhere. As a reference take a look at the brilliant blog piece by S.S. Ahmed here which gives an excellent step by step of the process. Microsoft also produce a guide here which is really useful.

What I want to focus on here is what we wanted to find out and what our students told us? We focused on 6 areas as follows:

  1. Internet and broadband access
  2. Computer access (shared or own, desktop or laptop)
  3. Usage and navigation
  4. Preference of Gateways over Public Drives (being used at the time)
  5. What other things would the like to add to the sites?
  6. What would prevent them using the Revision Gateway?

Here is a slide deck I used with staff to show them the results of the survey.

View more presentations from mikeherrity. (tags: www.sharepointineducatio… school)

From the survey (in case you don’t want to read the slide deck!) we found out that almost all our students had broadband and access to a computer. Many had their own laptop (the stats now are even higher- one of the biggest purchases for a student starting their GCSEs). Navigation was simple and easy and students wanted their own area for revision resources. As a result we are now implementing ‘My Site’ as an online portfolio.

We have run a number of surveys with students and found them an exceptional tool in moving beyond those students who are already engaged and feeding back to us and reaching the quieter or more reluctant students. As a school we wanted to end study leave and ask the students to come into school during their final exams to keep studying with their teachers. Another example of the results from a student survey is shown below.

SharePoint as on Online Learning tool for teens

February 19, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Online Learning, SharePoint, Twynham School 

Yesterday I spoke about our first venture into designing an online learning environment for our students (see here). Having spoken to our students at length we decided creating a feature rich web 2.0 environment was beyond us as a first project. More importantly our students were not demanding this- so what did they want? A second round of student voice interviews identified some key themes. Students often disliked school based sites with each subject laid out differently, making it difficult to navigate. They wanted a functional site with everything laid out in the same place on each subject site. For our students revision was something they wanted to be productive and useful and the online learning site needed to reflect this. Below is long scroll of one of our sites- The History GCSE Revision site.

We originally set out with only 7 areas on each of the sites which were decided by our students. These were:

  1. Student Notices
  2. Key websites (links- students insisted we restrict to 5 only)
  3. Syllabus Guide (use their languaue- What you need to revise)
  4. Exam Technique Guide (all the students own ideas- student friendly language)
  5. Revision Resources
  6. Video and Audio links
  7. Past Papers and Model Answers

note- over time we reduced the restriction on staff so the site above has evolved with additional areas but the initial restrictions were essential to success.

The key to all of this development was not the technology- it was talking to the students about design (and by design I mean structure and organisation!). When we showed students the result above they were delighted and in their own terms saw it as ‘a one stop shop to support their revision’. I sometimes talk about this development and find teachers who say ‘your students are well behaved and want to learn’ and this is then followed up by ‘it wouldnt engage our students- they want games!’. Last summer we started supporting a school in very challenging circumstances and as a quick start measure we gave them our Revision Gateway. What was interesting was their students use of the Revision Gateway was actually higher than ours! The key to engaging learners is not always how much interactive technology we provide it is far more important to think about the pedagogy contained within the resources and listening to students so that we understand their needs.

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.

Office 14 and improved search in SharePoint

February 17, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Online Learning, SharePoint, Twynham School 

Whenever I speak to Twynham’s Network Manager Dave Coleman about our development of SharePoint we often get on to the topic of our move from SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007. This was the point at which we could both genuinely see the creation of a powerful, robust and flexible Learning Platform through SharePoint. We were asked a more interesting question at BETT by a colleague from a different school who wondered, ‘what was the key change from 2003 to 2007?’ At this point Dave and I agree on our top 5 but not our number 1 change.

For me the most fundamental improvement in SharePoint 2007 was navigation and in particular hierarchy. SharePoint 2003 was flat which made the creation of our Revision Gateway (I will cover this topic tomorrow) a nightmare. We wanted a homepage with sub sites but this was not possible and so we had to manually link all the sites together. SharePoint 2007 was a massive leap forward in this area with a more ‘web like’ experience which as a result was more intuitive for our students. When you ask Dave about the change to SharePoint 2007 he disagrees and sees the emergence of search as the liberating influence. The ability to search from one site to the whole of SharePoint and from titles to the content of documents was indeed a real step forward in SharePoint 2007. My concern is that search never really gives me an experience as powerful as on the web and I sometimes find it is stumped by my query.

The good news from Microsoft is they have planned major improvements in search for Office 14. Having acquired enterprise developer FAST search last year they announced integration will arrive in the next version of Office. Bringing together such a widely used platform as SharePoint with high end search functionality can only make Microsoft’s next offering a significant step forward. Whilst the main driver for Microsoft is business efficiency and therefore potential cost savings in the enterprise market the gains will extend beyond this. For educationalists efficiency will undoubtedly play a part but I am sure that the major gain as a result will be the overall end user experience. In the education market user adoption and rich content are king but buy in is not mandatory as it is in business. Students and staff being able to find what they need when they need it will undoubtedly ensure they keep coming back for more content more often.

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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