Compromise: how often do you do it with technology in schools?

I ask this question because it sheds light on the current state of my attempts to bring about more use of multimedia in my school. This previous blog post provided a commentary on the difficulties I was having in trying to use external websites to begin a process of encouraging other teachers to use innovative, emerging multimedia.

So the title of this post is compromise. I knew that the failures with the wikis no longer working on our schools systems could easily be repeated if I choose to continue with the approach of using the kind of external websites. This was further confirmed by one of my most valued websites, diigo.com, suddenly being blocked when I returned after half-term (eventually I managed to get it unblocked with help).

This didn’t leave me with very many options. I knew I wanted to continue to push the use of podcasting in the school but the reality of knowing that there is a definite and sometimes steep learning curve involved in using this meant that I wasn’t sure it would sit with people who were sceptical / didn’t think they could use new multimedia . This ‘group’ of staff represents the point of the project I am doing – I have found it relatively straightforward and rewarding to collaborate with members of staff already proficient in using multimedia, as might be expected – what I need to do is try and encourage those who want to be proficient but don’t know how to be. On this I think the merit and point of my project stands and falls.

I found that I was struggling where to turn to know what to do next – some kind of compromise with the multimedia tools I was using needed to be made.

The VLE

For those not familiar with the terminology, a VLE is a virtual learning environment or school portal, through which students and teachers share a space where they collaborate and share resources. In principle its great – mainly because it neatly dodges all those issues associated with e-safety – the space is enclosed and only teachers, students (and parents) have access.

For me though, the VLE, or at least what existed of it for my school (we run the version by RM) a year ago was, in my own words clunky. There seemed very little in the way of ‘web 2.0’ tools – I could find no blogging facilities, for example. The thing was slow and when I tried using it with my Year 11 class last year, it frequently crashed. I dismissed it as something that was not analogus with what I wanted to achieve with the use of multimedia – I resolved not to use it as one of the tools for advocating my use of multmedia.

The RM VLE - and the 'space' that the year 11's had to revise - containing podcasts they had made for revision in class - they could then access this from home.

Present day

To give credit where credit is due, RM have made a lot of improvements to the VLE in the past year. I always kept half an eye on it – continuing to use it with Year 11 last year as they entered the exam. There were successes as well as failures – details of which you can see in this short video. What I noticed was that gradually features such as blogs, wikis and discussion forums were being added (to be fair they may have been there from the start, but I found them neither easy to find, or easy to set up).

Then, for me, recently came the neatest innovation – every time you created a course for a group that you teach, a learning space was automatically created for it as well. What this means is that the resources are there and easily accessible, but you are also given a fully customisable page for each group you are teaching. On this page you can add a number of customisable features easily – including blogs, wikis, forums, RSS feeds and document libraries – all things associated with user-generated content. At this point I began to realise that I had made an error in being so dismissive of the VLE – and actually it appeared to be coming into its own just as I was facing problems using the external websites I had been advocating in school.

This half term has therefore seen me trying to throw all my efforts into using the VLE as a tool for helping me work with other colleagues. Responses so far have been positive and currently I am working with colleagues by:

  • Using the VLE to collaborate with one teacher in setting up a blogging facility on classes learning spaces – allowing them to reflect on their learning as well as access course materials.
  • Posting homeworks that English teachers in one year group can access and set to their students.
  • Helping one teacher to set up a discussion forum for her high-ability GCSE group to encourage discussions related to exam texts in the run up to the mock exam.

Conclusions

I feel like I am getting to the stage now where I have developed meaningful collaborations with colleagues. I don’t intend to stop this process beyond the scope of this project – indeed, this blog will hopefully provide a way with me to continue collaborating with colleagues who are perhaps not even in my school. What a focus of mine must be now though, is in collecting the thoughts of my colleagues on whether they now feel more confident in using and collaborating with innovative, engaging forms of multimedia.

So in this case, compromise seems to have worked, although it is too early to tell whether the project has resulted in significant differences in colleagues’ practice. How do others feel about this issue of compromising in the use of technology in school?

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