Archive for the Category ◊ Learning Platforms ◊

A VLE Alternative
Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 | Author:

**This isn’t all finished yet, but I’ve been asked to post my progress so far – it also gives chance for feedback!**

This post was started because many schools in Hampshire are looking for ways in which they can remove their VLE and use an alternative. So I thought I would put together a post based on the common tools within a VLE, particularly the one used in Hampshire, and then give some ideas of alternatives. Many of these alternatives will be Google Apps-based or blog-based, but there are also others too.

The main thing to remember is that choosing a variety of tools is going to take more work than buying a VLE with all of the tools built-in. However, the obvious benefit to using other tools will be cost. Many of the tools used will be free but there is the obvious cost of time in setting up some of these tools and configuring them to meet your needs. Over the coming weeks, these pages will get updated to include how-to guides and videos.

The plan is that this post will develop into something I can share with schools if they decide to drop their VLE and are looking for alternatives.

For help with blogging or Google Apps, feel free to contact me for further advice. To setup Google Apps yourself, use the guide here or just get an overview here.

Some common tasks and VLE tools:

If you have any tools that could be added to these pages, please let me know so that I can add them on.


What is Google Apps?
Friday, March 02nd, 2012 | Author:

With all the talk of the Google Teacher Academy and Google Apps bouncing around recently, many people have been very excited. However many others have been left confused by how Google Apps can help in their school or what it even is! So in association with Vital, I will be holding two webinars to discuss how we have been using Google Apps within our school and to show some of the features.

These webinars will be held at 7pm on Tuesday 6th March and Tuesday 20th March. They will last around an hour, are completely free and will also be recorded. I will put the links on here an hour before we start. To attend you simply click the link and the chatroom will open. If you want to join the discussion then please have a microphone plugged in too.

If you have any questions about Google Apps, then please do contact me or leave a comment in the box below.

So, I look forward to seeing you (virtually) on either the 6th or 20th of March.


Here is my Google Apps video tour on Under Ten Minutes.

For an alternative, follow @kvnmcl on Twitter and he’ll tweet details nearer the time. He is organising a Google hangout on Saturday 3rd March 10am – 1pm.


Edit: The recording of my session is here

Google Apps – Week 2 #gct
Friday, March 11th, 2011 | Author:

Now I am not planning on writing a weekly diary on our Google Apps life at all, but I think week 2 (and possibly 3) will be a key milestone in our experience.

So, Monday we managed to get Mail working. It was my fault as I had some settings wrong in the Control Panel on our domain, but the excellent Carl at @csnewmedia ( sorted it out. Mail worked. Now to check it properly.

I am busy making sites with the children this week so no time for ‘proper’ email lessons, so for now, children will have the ability to email each other but not anyone else. Makes it much safer. So I lauched Chrome, Firefox and IE and logged in with different accounts and began testing.

Firstly, could I email from one account to another? (Yes)

Could I email to an account outside of the school?(no)

Could I email into the school? (no)

Perfect. The settings were there. Children can only send emails to people from which is what I want for now. Later on, after consultation with parents and proper email/esafety lessons, we will possibly open email up for Year 5/6. For now, email works as a notification system letting you know when someone has shared a document or a website with you.

So this week, in all 6 classes the lesson was the same. Here is the email system, here’s 10minutes on how it works and then let’s crack on and make a website.

Children love the email. I mean absolutely love it. It’s perfect because it auto-fills in the child’s name so you only need to know a few letters. I taught all of the children how to forward messages to me if they received an inappropriate message and then we were away. I have checked my mail at home, but Gmail is so quick it only takes a few minutes. I have had about 15messages all week. 10 or so saying ‘hi’ and another few asking how to do things like add calendar events and attach files to emails.

The weird thing is getting the message across that this is internal messaging only. The children can’t message outside of the school domain so in that way, it is exactly the same as a VLE, but it will let me give external access to teachers for example.Let’s hope parents see it as a useful tool too.

Once we got the email playing out of the way, we talked about how to use Sites. Now some had played a bit last week and at home too. One has made a cookery website, another a games-based website and one about football. Scary but exciting. So we made a bit of a plan and showed them how to create the basic site. The key is that one person makes the site, then shares ownership with their group (and their teacher). Then they crack on and add text, pictures and whatever they want really. With Year 5/6 I have used this as a chance to talk to them about copyright and providing a link back to the site they have taken information or pictures from. Some get this, some don’t. The sites are starting to come together and I think with another few sessions, we’ll be able to share them. I am looking forward to seeing what the Year 3/4 come up with when they make their local area websites! It’s been a fantastic week.

Oh and this afternoon, two weeks in, we included the first mention of the system on our weekly newsletter. A parent meeting will follow after Easter, but there really is no need at the moment. It’s all lovely and safe.

I will try and put together a guide of how to a school can get started in the next week or so as I know others want to play and try it, it really is a simple thing to use!

Next week? Showing it to the management team on Monday and then planning the Inset training for the end of March plus showing children how to include videos on to their sites… I will also be amending my new ICT policy to ensure it sits well with the Google Apps stuff I’m doing. I think it will, but I may need to make some amendments.

Also, I have had contact with photopeach who have now provided accounts for every child in my school so I will be sharing that soon. Not sure when yet though.

If you want to see what children do when let loose, give them Google Apps with some key tools turned on. I haven’t even started on Aviary, Picasa, Blogger, News, Books or Groups yet!

Category: blogposts, Learning Platforms  | Tags:  | 7 Comments
Google Apps – one week in #GCT
Thursday, March 03rd, 2011 | Author:

So we launched our VLE cloudy thing this week and I thought I had better write about what I’ve done and how we’ve done it.

The proper how-to bit will come later, I know that sounds silly but I want to document it properly to give to other schools who want to start their Google Apps setup so that isn’t ready yet. I’ve been too busy playing (and feeling ill) to write down the boring technical bits.

But I will give a quick run through of setting up. First I got some domain hosting, being called St John the Baptist meant that we were limited on our choice of web name so I settled for St Johns Apps which seemed to be fine. Google apps plus others in one place. You then run through the Google Apps setup, prove you’re a real school and voila…Google Apps for Education. It starts as this behemoth with Docs, sites, Reader, Video, Chat, Groups…what do you want? What do you turn off? I start with the safe ones like doc, mail, sites and calendar. The idea is that  I’ll gradually turn others on as I get round to it and as I’ve played with them a bit more. The children see a site that looks like this when they log in.

Not very inspiring at all. I wanted something more icon-y and colourful. I spoke to the very helpful Mark Allen (@edintheclouds) and he sent me the icons which helped a lot. So I made the slightly better:


This is the third version we have had in 4 days. I added Education City and Google Reader yesterday and Classpet this evening. The vision is that I will keep adding tools and will maybe categorise them soon too if it gets too much. Ed City and Brainpop are auto-logins as the children need to login before they see this page. I will add Purple Mash and J2E on here soon too. The next step is putting tools like Zooburst, Photopeach, Voki etc on here as well. I think.

So, Monday started with showing the head teacher what it was going to do. I am very lucky in that I have a head teacher who will let me try things as long as he knows a little bit about it. He didn’t want to know any of the technical bits and trusts me with getting it right, so there wasn’t much convincing. I showed him how to log in and a bit of the calendar. He didn’t need to see more and was impressed that this was free. We’re currently paying just under £1,000 for a VLE and not using it yet this Google one does so much more for the price of a web address (about £6 a year)

The next step was to launch it with children. Now the sensible considered approach would be to try something with one class for a few weeks and see how they get on. Then maybe extend this trial to other classes and so on. I am not usually sensible and considered. So this week we launched it to 180 children across 6 classes in Key Stage 2 (7-11year olds).

There is a sort-of plan to this madness. Year 3-4 will be making websites based on their local area. This will cover photos, videos, sound and information about the village and the facilities available. While planning this, I thought that maybe Year 5-6 could do a similar thing on their topic, the human body.

Now I am not advocating teaching the same stuff to the 4 year groups at once, but it seemed like a sensible thing to do in this case. Along the way we’d look at other tools too and the children could explore and see what they come up with. For example using google spreadsheets to measure and collect data.

The first session involved calendar though. This was because it was nice and simple but also because lesson 1 involved typing in two Captcha codes, something the children did find tricky. However, we logged on as a whole class in anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes. Not bad for two captcha codes and a new login box. I emphasised working together, checking the Captcha text before pressing OK and generally it went well.

Then we played with calendar. I say ‘played’ because we really did mess about with it. From adding birthdays to sport fixtures to UK holidays to phases of the moon. Then I shared calendars and they loved it. They liked being able to see their friend’s birthdays. Simple, but effective.

This was generally enough for the year 3-4 children to deal with in one lesson. One child loved it so much they said ‘Oh my god, calendars rock’, which I liked!

Year 5-6 managed to have a bit of a play with Google Sites. This was a bit trickier and I think I was too keen to let them make a site without planning. They were happy sharing their site, but were too busy finding information to think about the referencing/copyright aspect. We will cover that more next week. They also found it difficult to work with a number of windows open at once and to know where to find information. We have covered this before, but I think it was a lot to do at once. They definitely got better as the lesson went on though.

We have found a few other uses for the cloud already. We have put some digital e-books into a shared document folder, the children can all see these but not edit them. This means they have a constant library available to them.

My head teacher uploaded a powerpoint and converted it to a Google presentation (well, I did that for him). He then went and presented at a head’s meeting. When asked if he needed to plug his memory stick in, he simply said, “I don’t need to, we have the cloud”. He then had to answer loads of questions about what it was, how much it cost and what it could do…I know that will lead to other schools contacting us to set them up too, but I’ll ignore that for now.

My favourite parts of the week have been the children though. We launched a pupil newsletter recently and this consisted of three girls using Publisher in school and trying to email stuff from home to school and vice versa. They would get 15minutes one lunchtime a week to work on it. Today they moved this newspaper to google docs and all worked on it together. This will then go live and be emailed to all students when it is ready and I will download it as a doc and embed it on the blog for the public to see.

Another highlight was a conversation with a boy this morning. He was talking to me and he asked me if I’d heard about ‘the cloud’. He said you could save work there and anyone could access it. His face was a picture when I said “heard about it? you’re going to be using it in an hour’s time”. I think he was impressed.

So what have been the downsides?

Mail still doesn’t work. I think this is me getting some settings wrong. I have checked them again and if it’s still not working tomorrow I’ll speak to our hosting company to get them sorted.

I mentioned moving to an online diary. Not instead of a paper one because I know people hold that dear to their heart, but as a backup. It could replace a paper agenda we have in school but I know this will be a hard fight to win and I am happy to let staff use the cloud thing in the way they want to. We will definitely be putting dates on for the children though as they seem so keen to use it.

And…er…that’s it so far. We have yet to mention it to parents, I am very much a believer of doing something and then telling people about it rather than telling parents what you are going to do. We will have staff training in a few weeks time and will run a parent session after Easter.

It’s been a fun week and I can’t wait til next week when the year 3-4 will start making their websites too…

Category: blogposts, Learning Platforms  | Tags:  | 4 Comments
The Cloud – My Vision
Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 | Author:

I’m at the stage I need to make a decision. Admittedly, it’s not just my decision and will be shared with the rest of the staff and yes, children will have a say too, but primarily it is my decision.

The decision is where to go with our online learning. Currently we have a range of online tools (also known as a VLE in Becta language) and these include Purple Mash, J2E and Brainpop amongst others. I wrote about the decision to choose between Google and Live@edu here and I still haven’t started either. I have installed Google but just for the calendar. I have spent a term-and-a-half swaying between Google and Live. On one side I have many people on Twitter using Google and loving it, on the other I have Hampshire about to start their Live solution. It was due in October but there have been a few delays in getting it right but full credit to Hampshire for delaying it until it’s ready.

Then there’s also the VLE that I spent two years sharing with teachers, Studywiz, that we could use as well. So I have options. Lots of options. For those unsure about VLEs, I wrote about whether to VLE or Not to VLE here

As I wrote earlier, a VLE is a collection of online tools. I have that. But what I don’t have, is somewhere to put them all under one umbrella. I want to make it simple to access them all. So I thought I’d jot down what I want to achieve and then see where I end up…after this waffling about where we are so far.

So what would my VLE have in it? (I’m calling it VLE, you could call it online space, cloud, magical land of stuff, whatever)


I want control over logins. I want it simple e.g. firstname.lastname. I want full control over what can and can’t be published. For example, children shouldn’t publish live unless I let them have that access right. When I say ‘I want power’ I mean the school has the control of course. I would like control over the tools available, so year 6 see more than year 1 for example.

Also, I want one login. They login once and it’s there. All of it. Just simple and easy. If they have to login again to access a certain tool, fine, but it needs to have the same structure as the other logins. Typing firstname.lastname twice is possible, I can live with that.


I want to have emails for all staff and children. I’d want to be able to control who sends what, meaning that youger children, say up to year 3 can only send internal messages but older children can use this as an external system too. I’d also want the ability to archive messages and to keep them after children had gone. For example, if a child wanted to, they could still use parts of it in Year 7/8 whatever. Maybe. But I want that potential. I obviously want all messages to be stored and to be able to search and check them.

Discussion forums should be included too, this is a key thing in Studywiz and I would love to have discussion forums in certain areas of the cloud thing.


I want children to be able to make websites and/or blogs. The blog could be used as a learning journal as they progress through the school and the sites could be used for personal use as well as for certain projects. We have a project in year 3/4 where children will be looking at the local area and the teacher talked about videos and a travel documentary. It’d be great to have a website containing embedded video, photo galleries, hyperlinks and good old writing too.Yes, we have blogs in our school, but the children don’t really use them yet and I think teachers would prefer it if children had their own separate ones.


I would love an area like Picasa or Flickr where the children can upload pictures and share them with their friends. This could be photos of them out and about, playing football or scanned in pics of work. Then they could make an e-portfolio type thingy too.This should also include some kind of embedding (maybe on the sites mentioned above) that allows children to use animoto/photopeach/vimeo etc to embed their content.

Writing tools/docs

They should have access to Google docs/Office online as well as J2e-type tools that let them type, publish, make presentations, spreadsheets and all of those sorts of tools they’ll find useful to complete homework and to share their learning.

These would also be used for staff to share documents, reports, policies etc to make it easier for us to work collaboratively. You all know how amazing Google docs are, I want that functionality. Simple and easy sharing from an address book. I want to click a couple of times and the whole of Year 3 have the document or all staff etc.


I’d love a video sharing area. J2E has a great new animation tool that would be part of the package, so I wonder if they could create their video (or upload one) and save it into a video area online. A self-contained, personal (safe) youtube. They could send links to their friends and share their work.


This includes picture creation using some of the amazing Purple Mash tools and music creation using something like Aviary. These should be available to the children when they log in too. These tools should make it simple to create a piece of magic and then share it with others either by uploading it to a gallery or by sending a link to others.

Sharing/Giving work

Teachers should be able to create a page and share work/homework very easily. This could be a link to a document or a video or a discussion forum. They should be able to easily include hyperlinks and embed web2.0 tech as well. Similar to the blog, but private to just the children in their class/year group.


Apart from the extra bits like Brainpop or Mash, I’d like this to be as free as possible.

What have I missed? I look at the list above and it is a little biased towards things that I know are possible. I know that I can pretty much design that myself using Google tools and some clever people at 2Simple and J2e to help me make this work. But I’d love to know what else was possible.My current time scale is to get something in place by Easter, then spend the Summer playing with it and sharing it with some staff before launching it in September.

So please share your ideas, I really would love to hear them…

**Edit** It has been pointed out that this will just be a serious of tools under one umbrella, and that’s true, but what tools should be included?

Google Apps or Live@Edu?
Friday, July 30th, 2010 | Author:

I’m writing this on the train on the way back from #gtauk – the Google Teacher Academy. It’s 9pm and I’m shattered but buzzing. There are so many different things that I could blog about, and I will, but for now it’s the toughest one.

NOTE – Although written on the way home, I sent this to a colleague at the LA to check through for me and to make sure I wasn’t saying anything inappropriate. Hence the delay in posting. Just for the record, although it was checked, it is being posted without any changes. This is 100% my blog post from the train home.

Let’s start by saying I don’t see myself as important, however I know that I have some influence. I have spent two years training teachers throughout Hampshire and I’ve been the full-time face of our Learning Platform. I’ve met hundreds of teachers and shared ideas with them. I know some of them read my blog, and will read this, so I do have some influence. This means I do have to be careful, well a bit careful, but I also want to be honest. I think my honesty is something that some people like and some people hate about me, but it’s who I am.

In Hampshire, we will soon be launching our cloud computing solution. This originally started as an email project to replace our outdated email solution. This soon became a cloud computing solution looking at Google or Live@edu from Microsoft. I’m a big fan of Google and we used it as part of the Learning Platform training, but the panel chose Live@edu. I was part of this panel, so why was the decision made?

Cost played a part. To tailor it to what we wanted, there was a large difference between the two. There was also the roadmap. Google famously don’t share their roadmap with anyone, apparently even with their staff. Is this a bad thing? I know lots of people love the love the fact Google move at 100mph and constantly add new features. We decided this would be a bad thing for most teachers as they would get used to one tool and then it would change the next day. This happened today with some of the lead learners and I heard ‘this wasn’t like this last week’ four or five times today. Would this be a nightmare for staff and for training? Possibly. So Live@edu was chosen and I duly signed up to be a pilot school starting in October. Then the GTA came along.

Like I said, I’m a fan of Google and I know what it can do, or at least I thought I did. I learnt so much today that next week I will be installing it in my school. That’s where the dilemma comes in. Do I need both? What would Live@edu bring to the table that I couldn’t do in Google? In Live@edu I can store and edit documents, albeit one user at a time. I would have email and I would have calendar. All of this is possible with Google though. With Live@edu, the accounts would be created by the LA and linked with other schools, this is a benefit, but is it a good enough reason for me to run both systems?

So why am I worried about the cloud? I know some people reading this would have dismissed Live@edu out-of-hand and I spoke to a few people today and they couldn’t see why I was even contemplating using it when Google is so much better. But like I said, if I do something differently, will it affect other schools and their usage? Am I thinking I have more influence than I actually do and they’ll all be fine? Surely there’s a need for both as a colleague has Google in his school and is also signing up for the Live@edu pilot.

There’s a lot of thought that needs to go into it, 9:30pm after two crazy days (yesterday I was at Naace) is not the ideal time to be thinking of these things. I’m going to a school that hasn’t been thinking of working online yet. I have the potential to change it completely, but I need to get it right. I have a tough decision ahead. I don’t want to go against the authority, but I also need to do what’s right for my school.

PS – A huge thanks to @dfearnley for double checking this. As I said, I haven’t edited it at all, but we are lucky to have a guy like Daniel in charge in Hampshire.

An idea that grew and grew
Saturday, July 24th, 2010 | Author:

I blogged a couple of weeks back about my new vision for our VLE. This has been implemented across 400+ primary schools here in Hampshire and I have been working away on the shared area recently trying to populate it with content and useful resources. One thing that has worked really well is the use of Delicious.

Now as you may know, Delicious is a great way of storing websites for use anywhere, it certainly beats the old way of just storing them on your browser on your home PC. I started a county-wide account a few months back, and this has gone down very well with people I’ve shown it to. The next step is to share it with a wider audience. That’s where the RSS feed comes in.

I started by using the RSS reader in Studywiz to ‘collect’ all websites that were tagged with a certain word and put this RSS feed into that area in the shared group. For example, has all of our websites that are tagged with ‘football’. This page has an RSS feed and our VLE can take this and display a list of the sites. Nice 🙂

One problem is that I don’t have many websites on the county Delicious account yet, I need more. I know that Parkfield have LOADS of websites, so I start doing the same for those. Very nice indeed 🙂

I was content to leave it at that until I saw a tweet from @primarypete_ where he mentioned networks.

He said: (I’m) changing way I use Delicious. Out with google reader of new links. In with big network of educator users to search:

This got me thinking. Could I build a network of teachers too? Obviously I’d borrow some that Pete had, so I did. Within a few minutes I had a few responses to my tweet asking for help and then via Delicious I found more. I now have a network of 10 within about 2 minutes. That’s 10 schools/people that are sharing websites with me. So now back to the VLE, I’m now collecting the RSS feeds of my network’s websites instead of individual schools. This should make it much easier for teachers to find useful websites!

Couple of downsides though. When you are searching through your network’s tags, it doesn’t show them as a drop-down menu. So I need to check food_chains, food-chains and foodchains to make sure I have them all.

Also, I’ve found that lots of people neglect the comment/description box. So I have a list of websites but you have to visit some to understand what they are.

So what started as a way of sharing websites, has now grown into a massive library of websites found by teachers and shared with others. Fantastic!

Our network can be found here:

So, does your VLE have an RSS reader? Could you share your links with staff that way?

A little smile
Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 | Author:

A very quick post today. I was having a very quick chat with @gideonwilliams at his (secondary) school and collecting my webcam that he borrowed and I was talking about a few things and happened to mention Wizkid, our county-wide VLE. From behind us, a young girl of about 6 was with her mum and she shouted ‘I use Wizkid, I know how to log on and I love it’.

It made me smile and made me think the past two years have been worth it when a child tells her mum how great it is. I mentioned I had trained lots of teachers in how to use it and that little comments like her daughter’s made it worthwhile.

Very happy end indeed.