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#FELTAG – Considerations if not buying off the shelf resources

This is the 3rd post in a series on “FELTAG – To buy or not to buy resources“. In my last post, I looked at the advantages and disadvantages of buying off the shelf resources. In this post we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of not buying.

From a simplistic perspective, not buying resources is an easy option, as management can just ask teachers to do the extra work in their own time, at no extra cost to the organisation. Although this may seem a simple and convenient solution in this financially difficult time – the result will be low quality teaching and learning, teachers being off work ill, and many good teachers leaving the profession – none of which are good for the organisation long term.

Image of teachers creating resources

Teachers creating resources

If teachers are being expected to create new content, then some time or financial reward for them will need to be found for this to be truly successful – so we shouldn’t look at the ‘Not buying resources’ option as a cheaper solution (as it probably won’t be) – we should make the decision based on the quality aspects and strategic benefits.

Strategically – working with teachers to develop resources, is a very important element of upskilling them to being competent digitally capable practitioners. So any cost invested in the development of resources with or by teachers – isn’t just creating resources but is forming part of the CPD requirement for those staff – if we think about this issue from this perspective alone, financially this becomes much more attractive.

Other benefits are:

  1. Resources will be developed in line with your existing systems, infrastructure, house styles etc. so will ultimately become more embedded than buying off the shelf resources.
  2. Resources will be easier to adapt in line with changes to curricula, subject knowledge, or changes to the devices being used to consume the content.
  3. Resources won’t be as locked down, so will be easier to make more accessible, and adapt easier if required.
  4. Resources can be tailored to the specific location of the organisation – e.g. an organisation teaching catering, can make reference to their own training kitchen. Organisations teaching travel and tourism that are based near the sea, can use resources based on local resorts – this can make a huge difference to learners as they make the transition from fully face to face learning, to blended learning.
  5. With the right amount of support from learning technologists, and high quality staff development – it is possible for a good teacher with average levels of IT ability and a bit of time to generate adequate quality resources that would be comparable or even better than the commercial options (Many of the resources that I have developed with or for organisations are significantly better than the purchasable options).
  6. There are loads of free learning resources or assets out there in terms of OER (Open Education Resources), Creative Commons images, YouTube videos, iTunes courses etc. so creating resources, is not about building everything from scratch – it is about locating, and evaluating existing content – then bringing this together in a sensible way that supports the learner through the journey. If a teacher is creating their own content, I would argue that they should only be creating a maximum of 25% – the other 75% should be free external resources, or adaptations of existing resources used in classroom sessions.
  7. FELTAG is about a whole organisation approach to this area of work. By going down this route, the organisation as a whole will learn and develop and adapt as part of the journey.

Some of the disadvantages are:

  1. For this to be successful this needs to be effectively managed and resourced, which may mean organisations taking a long and hard look at themselves and deciding if they have the management ability to do this – and if they don’t, how do they change the personnel so they can.
  2. Developing resources takes time. When organisations were looking down the barrel of the gun trying to get things done by September 2015, time wasn’t a luxury at their disposal – the dropping of the 10% online being mandatory has given organisations more time (which I think is good) – but they still need to plan carefully, how and when and what order to develop courses. One option is for teachers to be given up front time to develop online resources/activities etc. before the course starts – another option is for the teacher to be given time as the course is running, and as long as they stay ahead of the students will be OK. Either way, you don’t often get things completely right the first time – you need to create something, use it with the learners, evaluate how it went, adapt accordingly etc. I believe that it takes about 3 iterations of this cycle before online elements of courses get to a really good standard.
  3. Some teachers don’t have the skills required, and never will – this then creates a problem for management – do they allow those staff to go to pastures new? or do they carry on putting a greater workload on the teachers that can?
  4. Creating resources in house requires an effective support team. Many organisations at the moment don’t have this (or enough staff in these teams) – and especially for smaller organisations, bringing in staff with the right range of skills can be challenging.

If organisations choose to create resources in house, they can help themselves by thinking of the procedure up front. e.g. who will do the work? If support teams are required, how are they managed and their time charged to the individual teams? What quality assurance procedures or processes will be in place, and most importantly who will manage the process for each different team or course?

Whereas I welcome comments on my blog posts, please don’t use this blog post as a way to either promote or criticise any particular companies or products. Any such comments I will delete.

The next and final blog post in this series, will be summarising the considerations covered in the previous 3 posts.

Image Source: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/875771

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#FELTAG – Considerations when buying off the shelf resources

In my previous post, I introduced the idea of ‘to buy or not to buy resources’. In this post I will be looking at considerations if you choose to buy resources. The next post will look at the considerations for not buying.

There are certainly potential advantages to buying resources, but I have experienced a lot of places wasting a lot of money on the wrong resources, or buying them for the wrong reasons – I hope that this series of posts will help organisations to make a more informed decision before deciding one way or another.

There are two very strong arguments in favour of buying in resources:

  1. The quality of resources should be of a much higher quality than what an average teacher could produce as part of their average working week.
  2. It doesn’t make financial sense for every teacher in the UK (and beyond) to produce what are in essence the same resources to cover the same criteria, for the same qualifications. Pooling resources and letting a content creation company produce these for all providers, and people then pay for what they need, on the surface seems to make financial sense. If we look at the non-technology analogy, each teacher doesn’t go and write their own text book, we buy a selection of core texts from publishers, and fill our libraries with them, the teacher then uses their skills to signpost to students the key pages and activities at the appropriate time during the course.

From a practical point, some organisations simply don’t have the skills and support mechanisms in house to support teachers to create the standards expected. Or if you have a teaching team that is very small, there may not be the capacity or skill within that team to develop the online elements, and in these cases buying in may become more attractive.

So, if an organisation chooses to purchase off the shelf resources, there are generally two options:

  1. Buy the resources outright with a single payment, and then own them forever.
  2. Pay an annual fee for the right to use the resources.
Image of a book case with lots of different coloured books

Resources

Method 1, is akin to buying books upfront, and is the easiest to account for and plan ahead (there are no unexpected increases in price in the future), however at some point in the future the resources will become out of date, either due to qualification changes, changes to the topic, or the technology used becoming defunct (e.g. Resources produced in Flash). This then requires further purchases down the line.

Method 2, will benefit from resources being constantly updated, but financially once you have used the resources for a few years, the provider will be able to increase the annual fee, so difficult to plan ahead, and overall the cost long term will become significant. Usually with the annual fee model, the resources will sit on their server, which means users either need different login details to their usual logins, or the resources need to come with an integration mechanism into the organisation VLE, (which some provide) however these are sometimes not as straight forward as you would expect, and the ways that the resources can be used may be restricted by this mechanism. Another problem is that quite often they will only work when online, which again isn’t ideal for teaching rooms that aren’t connected, or students wanting to work in an offline environment.

If an organisation is thinking of buying off the shelf packages, there are some considerations or questions to ask:

  1. Ask to see a sample of the resources before buying. Each provider of resources will have demo units or similar available, but these will be the best quality ones they have to offer. Ask to see a unit of your choosing, and make your judgement from that – you will be very surprised how much difference there is between the two at times. If they refuse to give you access to a unit of your choice, walk away – they are obviously embarrassed by the quality of that unit.
  2. If you are going for the annual licence option, check where the resources are actually stored, and what would happen if the publishing company went bust next week. The ideal scenario is for the resources to be hosted by a specialist hosting company, and one which has been paid for at least 12 months in advance. This way if the publishing company goes bust, you still have access to the resources for the duration of the contract.
  3. Check the accessibility of the resources – many of the resources being produced are sadly very poor accessibility wise, and because the resources will be ‘locked’ by the seller it will be almost impossible to adapt them – resulting in the teacher having to recreate all the resources again, which defeats the purpose of buying the resources in the first place.
  4. Check what format the resources are in. Any resources that are produced in flash or with flash elements are not going to work on iPhones, iPads, many Android devices and in the future possibly other devices, so flash based resources should be avoided altogether. If resources include other file types such as Word or PowerPoint these should also be provided in alternate formats (e.g. PDF, Open Office etc.) and if videos are included, these need to be tested on multiple device types and shouldn’t be excessively large.
  5. Check the subject accuracy of the resources. I recently reviewed some anatomy resources for the teaching of sport, and was horrified by the number of errors the resources contained even though the resources had been proof-read by teachers and endorsed by one of the major awarding bodies. I wasn’t specifically looking for errors, but these jumped out at me, so I expect there must have been many less obvious mistakes as well.

One disadvantage (which many don’t consider) of using the entire courses or units that can be purchased off the shelf, is you actually make it very hard to ever become ‘outstanding’ – as the term outstanding means ‘standing out’ from the rest. If you have bought such a course or unit, you are unlikely to stand out from all the other people who have bought the same course or unit. Obviously there are things that the teachers could do to enhance or enrich the use of these courses, to get up to outstanding level, but reality is that the attraction of these purchases, is managers can then reduce the amount of money spent on teachers time, and even if teachers have the desired amounts of time, many will find it very hard to enhance or enrich an already ‘complete’ unit or course.

And finally – make sure the right people in the organisations are making the decisions – e.g. the teachers need to be involved to make sure they are appropriate academicaly, technical people need to be involved to ensure they will fit into organisations systems/VLEs etc. and strategically the budget holder has to make the decision as to not just the initial purchase, but on going maintenance, updates, CPD requirements etc.

The next post in this series, will look at the considerations of not buying in external resources.

Whereas I welcome comments on my blog posts, please don’t use this blog post as a way to either promote or criticise any particular companies or products. Any such comments I will delete.

Image source: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/925347

Why I don’t like ‘pet names’ for VLEs

Most educational organisations have a Virtual Learning Environment or VLE. If an FE college most likely Moodle, if a University probably either Blackboard or Moodle. If a school, it could one of many possibilities including Moodle, Frog, Fronter, and the list goes on.

Some organisations call their VLE by their proper name, e.g. they call it Moodle, or Blackboard of Frog etc., but other organisations decide to give their VLE what I call a ‘Pet name’ – things like LearnSpace, Myzone, LearningStuff, TheZone, Rex, Ginger, (OK maybe not the last 2), but basically an alternate name for the VLE. Now I don’t like this (in fact it is a pet hate of mine) for a couple of reasons.

Firstly when you do have an alternative name, invariably there will be confusion within the organisation as some people will call it one thing and others will at times call it the other, and if someone works at more than one organisation they will definitely get confused (and confuse other people) as they forget which name to use.

Secondly (and more importantly), when I work with staff I try to encourage people to try to find answers to problems themselves – e.g. ask Google the question and see what comes back. The problem with giving your VLE a pet name, is people will include that pet name in such a search (rather than the VLEs proper name) – and not suprisingly they don’t get much sense back. This is something that I have witnessed on many occassions, and frustratingly replacing the pet name with the real VLE name in the search criteria, has yielded the information they wanted. Another situation that I witnessed that saddened me, was a student was accessing the VLE and got stuck with something, so they used the inbuilt help tools within the VLE. However when they started reading the information because it used the VLE’s proper name rather than the pet one, they didn’t think it was referring to what they wanted so closed it down, even though the help function would have helped their query.

So if we want teaching staff and students to start taking responsibility for their own support, then can we please stop this obsession with calling our VLE by an irrelevant pet name, and call it what it is. Otherwise we are denying our users (both staff and students) the wonderful support mechanism that is the web and its many contributors.

Unless anyone can present a better argument for having these pet names….?

What does Whole Organisation Approach to eCPD look like?

Last week I was involved with the LSIS eCPD programme event in Birmingham, and one of the activities was asking the delegates about Whole Organisation Approaches, and what would it look like if they were successful in creating a whole organisation approach to eCPD.

We put the answers on post-it notes and then stuck them onto a flipchart, a photo of which I have uploaded to Flickr, and then used the ‘notes’ feature within Flickr to label the notes. (You will need to click on the image to see this effect).

As much as anything I want to show here how I have made use of simple technologies to create a learning object. I have used post-it notes, pens and a flipchart (which won’t scare any anti-technology teachers) – I have then photographed the output using a basic compact camera (again a anti-technology teacher could get a learner to do this if necessary), and finally I have uploaded it to Flickr and added the notes – which is quite easy and free to do.

The output can then embedded into a blog (like here) or a VLE area, it can start a discussion, be used for reflection etc.