Getting value for money from your learning platform can be difficult to achieve. What starts off being an exciting opportunity to enhance learning can all too often end in disappointment.
The 2012 International Learning Platforms Conference recaptured delegates’ initial enthusiasm for learning platforms – workshops were run by schools, focusing on how platforms can be used to meet institutional and student needs.
Whether you have a commercial platform or have built your own using Moodle, the challenges remain the same. There is potential for schools to end up with a very expensive resources repository if their learning platform remains undeveloped. Here are some top tips for getting the most out of your learning platform.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Once you have made that purchase it is really important that you start at the beginning. What do you hope your learning platform can deliver? If you are not sure then visit YouTube for some inspiration. It is possible for learning to be transformed, but only with some hard work and a sprinkling of inspiration.
As a staff body, decide upon the features you will use, and those which are less useful. Some schools at the conference have used their learning platform to deliver a flipped learning approach, where students complete most of their learning prior to the lesson. Others create self-marking quizzes or embed revision and assessment software packages so that students can measure their own progress. They then use forms within their learning platform or embedded Google forms for students to reflect on their learning.
Make sure the SLT is driving the project
Let’s face it, teachers already have a large workload. Prioritisation is the name of the game for many of us; the urgency with which a task is completed is often linked to the person who asks us to complete it.
In the early days of learning platform adoption, it is important that a member of the senior leadership team takes responsibility for it and, furthermore, is seen to be extolling its virtues (like a proud parent on speech day).
Senior leaders at the conference tended to couple staff training to boost confidence with the requirement to set a learning platform-related performance management objective. In the short run this may be necessary to get the changes off the ground and to maintain momentum.
There’s no ‘I’ in team
Build a small team of enthusiastic staff volunteers and inspire them to cascade their knowledge and skills to others. Call these people “champions”. They can make all the difference in the early stages of a learning platform roll out. Give them sufficient training and let them pilot the system.
The learning platform movement is focused on collaboration; colleagues at the conference were keen to share best practice relating to development of the platform, achieving classroom success and going mobile. Workshop presenters were able to demonstrate measurable success which in turn means they have achieved value for money from their platform.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Examples from the conference showed that sufficient time needs to be allocated to the planning process so that confidence in the product can be established. Don’t try to be “all things to all men” immediately.
One school I spoke to had recruited its “champions” between September 2010 and January 2011. Training began in February 2011 and a student pilot took place between March and the end of the summer term.
During this time staff received feedback, and then the platform was rolled out to all students in September 2011. Other schools had a tighter turnaround but achieved results because the implementation was well planned.
Provide quick wins
Make your learning platform indispensable to your staff. Use it to display cover, staff notices and share teaching resources. Provide CPD that focuses on time-saving features and the enhancement of learning. Ensure that they cannot fail to be impressed with the convenience. That way, more of your colleagues will sign up to additional training.
Try not to be too prescriptive when asking for student involvement. Give some basic training and see what happens.
One school I heard about allowed two students to develop a SmartPhone app to facilitate wider interaction with their learning platform. These students have now formed a company and are selling their product to other schools. Allowing them the creative freedom to do this has generated greater interest in the learning platform from other students, staff and the outside community.
Some schools allow their student interface to include a social networking element which students moderate. Many schools allow students to develop departmental websites. If you can keep up-to-date with the technology your students are using you are more likely to hold their interest.
Spread the word
Use clubs, societies, posters and assemblies to get the word out about your learning platform. Don’t forget to train students to use the features efficiently, and get them to share their successes with their parents. If using a parent portal, ensure that parents know how to use it, and evaluate usage statistics regularly. Get feedback from your users on what you can do to improve, and act on them. Consider sharing your successes with others at the International Learning Platforms Conference or other events.
Don’t stop at homework
Your learning platform should not be one dimensional. Why not allow students to film their learning and then display on the platform for peer assessment?
If your students do not have computer access in all lessons, integrate the learning platform with an interactive whiteboard to actively show progress being made at various checkpoints during lessons.
Commercially developed platforms allow integration with management information systems, providing an interface for teachers, students and parents to see and act on personalised data such as attainment or attendance statistics. Greater student involvement can free up teachers’ time to develop more creative uses. Remember you are not on your own. Use social media or visit YouTube for inspiration.
Do not re-invent the wheel
If you co-ordinate the learning platform in your school, catch up with your staff regularly to make sure they are not creating unnecessary work for themselves. Subject websites can be copied and then adapted for different areas.
In addition, if the funding exists, check to see if there is a commercially available product that will save you time and integrate with your learning platform. Students benefit from a single sign on and naturally make more use of the learning platform as they access these resources from their home page.
Don’t stop moving!
A learning platform provides an immense opportunity for a school to develop a resource which entirely fits its audiences’ needs. Whichever learning platform is chosen, it is clear that they have the capability to grow with their users. Teachers and managers should constantly be looking to the future and analysing how their learning platform can continue to develop.
Further informationThe International Learning Platforms Conference is run by Frog and takes place in the summer term. Visit www.frogtrade.com/conference
Rachael Howarth is head of ICT at Bradford Girls Grammar School.