Teenagers can blog. So how do we harness it?

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Digital Era, Twynham School 

As many of you know I am a big fan of twitter (you can find me @mikeherrity) and wrote a post on the value of it for teachers a while back which you can find here- To Twitter or not to twitter?  Now the ultimate dilemma for me on twitter is the arrival of students I teach. I managed 3 blissful months before the first one followed me and now there are at least 20 in my followers, mainly from the 6th Form. In the end I have decided on a policy of not blocking but not following back to avoid being rude but at the same time not encouraging them! That is I do not follow students except one who is the topic of my blog today.

The one student I do follow is slightly different in that is mum is my boss! As Head of History she has tended to to bring her son on the Battlefields trip regularly and he has somewhat entered the realm of ‘responsible adult’ even though I have taught him GCSE History. A while back this young man started blogging and every so often I would check out what he is writing. I did ask for permission from mum and indeed the young man himself before blogging about him.

My own experience of encouraging Secondary School students to blog has been really poor and I am sure that they way I have set it up is in large part why it has been largely unsuccessful. At the same time I have looked around to see what teenagers write in their spare time and found very little, almost all of which is fairly limited. I have therefore come up with a standard line which is ‘students cant blog’ and use it regularly (probably in defence of my inability to encourage students to blog). Reading Stephen’s blog yesterday made me realise they can, just not in the way I expect or initially wanted them to. A warning before you go to the blog (if you wish to) that it does contain some profanity- not the point of my exercise but it shouldn’t stop me blogging about it.

Go to the blog here

Click to go to this blog site

The thing that strikes me is students are perfectly capable of expressing their opinions and this is where blogging would be really effective. I think it could particularly be used as a tool for Student Voice to find out what they are really thinking. I can also see a use in looking at contentious events in History and asking students to update their blog with an argument, supported by evidence. Stephen’s view on the ability to listen to music in lessons is one we have been grappling with in the Leadership Team and he makes a fairly robust argument on why we should let them.

The 5 biggest factors in successful SharePoint sites Planning for and ensuring high user adoption

March 2, 2009 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: SharePoint, Twynham School 

I have had lots of responses by email, twitter and comment about yesterdays post on models for gaining user adoption. I even had a member of staff who was discussing the need to push something through say, ‘maybe we need a bit of Stalin on this!’. The SharePoint man in Microsoft, Tom Rizzo, has even posted on the topic to which I am grateful for his link into the blog. Tom goes on in his blog to identify Microsoft’s own support tools for user adoption and having looked at them this evening I can see that they are genuinely useful. Take a look at Gear Up here for more details.

As promised yesterday in this blog post I would like to identify what I think are the 5 most important factors to consider for creating successful SharePoint sites which gain high user adoption in Education. In truth the advice acts as an outline road map for the process we went through when rolling out and developing out SharePoint set up. If you havent read my post from yesterday you might want to read this first here so that this post makes more sense.

1. Create your SharePoint site with your users in mind.

The most important reason behind setting up SharePoint is the needs of your end users. In the case of education this will be predominantly students and staff but may also incorporate your wider community. For staff, supporting them in being efficient and collaborative will be the main drivers. Can all staff users get to everything that they need quickly and make their resources available to the community in the same way? For students collaboration and efficiency will also be important but there are other factors to consider. By far the most important consideration is thinking through what resources and tools students need to help them to make most progress in their education. A major consideration here are the learning styles of your students and working through which resources will meet their need. How will you achieve all this? In education student voice is key to developing online learning so talking to your students in as many forums as possible is essential. 

2. Develop your taxonomy

Organising the information you get from users and understanding what you want to achieve with your SharePoint site should lead you to considering your taxonomy. How many sites will your SharePoint contain and what will be the relationship between these sites? Think really carefully about this first phase of organisation as you will live with what you build for a long time. This is often where people get stuck in education thinking the model through. As a top tip, consider a relatively flat structure with sites for staff, students and parents. Do not tie your subjects into any of these but run them alongside the sites and use permissions to prevent access to the staff site and staff sections on the subject sites by students and parents.

Top tabs can be useful for linking sites

Top tabs can be useful for organising and linking sites

3. Map your navigation

When you have clearly identified your SharePoint classification in terms of sites you need to consider the hierarchy of the individual sites and the ways in which they link. Again some significant time spent mapping this out will pay dividends. Your navigation should be clear and logical on all sites to avoid confusing your users. When I started working with websites I was advised that your users should be able to get anywhere in 3 clicks or your site has poor navigation. This is largely true although don’t get hung up on this issue too much. I normally encourage people to go and look at the BBC site as I think it is an excellent example of how to organise a massive site. In truth having just done the test you can drill down 4 clicks from the homepage  but this is a reflection of the complexity and volume of information on this site. 3 clicks is a good rule of thumb to stick with.

Breadcrumb trail can support navigation

Breadcrumb trail can support navigation

4. Share and review with your users

Once you have built your useful, carefully mapped and well organised sites share them with a group of students and get feedback. You may have spent a long time building your sites but you may not get them right first time. Don’t take any negative feedback as criticism but use it to review and amend your sites so that they will gain high user adoption.

5. Evolution not revolution

Once your site is launched, working and being used by the end users you are at the beginning and not the end of your SharePoint implementation. Most successful sites are almost constantly evolving with minor changes to site pages based on the feedback from end users. It should be rare if ever that you fully change your entire site as this will most likely confuse your end users and switch them off. It also suggests the site has not been kept up to date and needs a major overhaul.

Whilst the advice in this post is not rocket science I hope it will act as one suggestion on how you might go through an implementation and development of any online learning set up. It would be great to here from others on how they have gone through their set up and I would be happy to post any thoughts or examples on this site as a resource for schools. Let me know what you think.

Creating a revolution in SharePoint User Adoption. Which model works: Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin?

March 1, 2009 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: SharePoint, User Adoption 

Over the last 6 months when we have been visiting many schools I have had a lot of time to talk about learning environments. We discuss so many interesting aspects of this work but by far one topic is asked by people we meet so much more than any other. How do you get get people to use the stupid thing?!! As a result I thought I would run a blog post purely to discuss user adoption as it is a genuine ‘hot topic’  In our visits to different schools we see so much exceptional practice and at the same time on dozens of occasions I have talked to frustrated leaders of e-learning who have put a platform in place which is not being used.

My own view is that working out how to gain high user adoption amongst students and staff (as well as parents and the community) is the single biggest hurdle you will face in creating a successful online learning environment. The rewards of cracking this issue come in the form of happier and more efficient staff and the potential for students to make greater progress which can lead to higher exam results. So to my title- as a Historian I have gone for three models for revolutions, in this case based on Communism but hopefully the analogy is perfect for this topic.

The Lenin approach to gaining users.

Those of you who have ever studied the Bolshevik Revolution will know that Lenin followed the writings of Marx in believing the proletariat would rise up, aware of their oppression and gain power. In the same way one approach to setting up your learning environment is to appeal to the masses- the students! They represent the most powerful and vocal (as well as numerical) group in your institution and getting them on board can drive your user adoption. At the same time Lenin was aware that the masses could not effectively lead the revolution in the first phase and required a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. As a result you will need a strong but pragmatic leader to lead the vision and bring about an environment where the state ‘withers away’. Lets call this your Utopia where users are freely engaged in the betterment of society- or as we call it in our time web 2.0! In this model all users become active participants through empowerment, engagement and structure.


The Trotsky approach to gaining users

In the Trotsky model a Charismatic leader rallies the troops as in the Civil War in Russia from 1918-1921. They lead from the front and are seen as a brilliant tactician. In this model to gaining user adoption your learning environment is sold to the staff as a vehicle to deal with most of their frustrations. It will radically alter the teaching environment and make the students more successful (and may cure global disease!). In the same way Trotsky believed in the idea of ‘Permanent Revolution’ your advocate of the learning environment will be constantly looking for new opportunities to move the work on feeling that it most grow or it will die. Reflection on where you are may not happen or be infrequent and most energies are centred around the next big thing which will make the learning environment a killer app.


 The Stalin approach to gaining users

In the final model your learning environment will arrive in the school in the same way as Stalin’s ascent to power. Stalin was known as an administrator and ‘that dull grey blur’. In the same way your learning environment will appear without any knowledge or prior expectation. It will quickly assume a significant position above that of any other. From here Stalin, set on ultimate and unquestionable power, administering a ruthless dictatorship based on totally loyalty and brutal killing. No wish to overdo the analogy here but in this model the learning environment is forced upon the people (in this case the staff) by the Leadership Team and must be used. The reasons and merits of the new technology are not explained or rationalized but failure to support the new regime is brutally dealt with! This third model demonstrates the ‘Revolution from Above’ which is typical of many learning environment roll outs.

 So which model do I think is the best for rolling out a learning environment that gains high user adoption? The Stalin model can have some success but it is rarely deep rooted and lacks dynamism. Resources will be uploaded because they have to be and students will use it when they are told to but the learning environment rarely becomes organic in these circumstances. The Trotsky model is perhaps the best intentioned but most prone to failure. Rarely is it possible to achieve anything significant in schools through one person. Whilst the advocate will work very hard to win hearts and minds teachers are busy people and they need time over inspiration! At times some successful roll outs develop from a hybrid of these two models. A charismatic champion inspires the staff and with the support of the Leadership Team in terms of time and priority a successful learning environment emerges.

From the experience of Twynham School I would however recommend following a Lenin based model to your learning environment roll out. If you can create a structured environment which engages students you will quickly win the majority of the battle. Allow them (and indeed encourage them) to lead the development through student voice but recognise that they will often need to be lead themselves in the early stages. Of course at times a little Trotsky (to engage staff who are early adopters) and even a smattering of Stalin (to encourage staff who are reluctant!) may be necessary but for us it is Lenin all the way. More of how we did this tomorrow when I will outline 5 steps for successful user adoption.

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.

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