Tag-Archive for ◊ 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.


The VLE is Dead!
Monday, January 23rd, 2012 | Author:

On Wednesday this week I am taking part in a debate with Steve Wheeler, Dughall McCormick and Drew Buddy to discuss our feelings around VLEs/Learning Platforms. This debate is entitled ‘The VLE is Dead’ and is being held at the Learning Without Frontiers conference in London.

I have my opinions but I wanted to gauge yours too, so I thought that the best way to do so was with a Google Form. If you can spare two minutes then please fill out the information in the boxes below.


I’ve discussed my use of Google Apps a few times and my children really enjoy using the various tools that Google has to offer. We started using it (properly) just 2 months ago and already we have had 180 children creating websites about their topics, staff moving all planning onto Google Docs and the Calendar in use on our school website. I see that we will continue to grow and grow with ways that we use it.

With this, others started asking how to do this or how to do that, so I thought I’d make a guide.the idea is that this guide will take you from nothing to being setup in a few hours (taken at a leisurely pace with a cup of tea and some biscuits).

Someone joked that this would be on www.undertenminutes.com but there is no way. It is a biggie. It has taken most of today to plan, write, screenshot and edit. I am very happy with it though. However it doesn’t even begin to discuss how to use any of the tools, that can be for the second edition!

So here it is. Thanks to @kvnmcl and @primarypete_ for checking it and thanks to all of the people on the last page for helping me along the way. I really hope that this is useful and it starts you on the journey to using Google in your school.

If you do have any questions, please email them to me or comment below. I will add updates to a later edition of the guide.

The guide is embedded (and downloadable) below or can be found at http://www.bit.ly/googleappsguide



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?

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.

What’s in a website?
Monday, July 12th, 2010 | Author:

Along with many other jobs, redesigning the school website is one of my tasks over the next few weeks and months. I aim to make a start now, then adapt and amend as I discuss it with parents, children and staff once I start at school in September. Can I design a website without knowing much about the school beforehand? I think it is possible. I know what I want to achieve with it, so I can lay the foundations at least.

The hardest part for me is deciding where everything goes. Do school newsletters go on the website or the VLE? What about photos from that trip we’ve been on? What goes on both? Who manages the website? As much as possible, I want to type/post once and for it to appear in several places. Linking via embeddable features and RSS feeds will help to reduce this. For example, if we post on our blog, it will appear automatically on Twitter and via RSS feed to our website and VLE.

I set up the website at my old school (www.hulbertjunior.co.uk) a few years back and I was very pleased with it. It did the job, it promoted our school. In the area are a number of similar schools and we wanted to stand out and it worked as a few children came to look at our school as a result of the website. We used Joomla and I will probably do so again, partly because of ease of use. I have considered WordPress but I see that more as a blogging tool than a whole website.

So what do I need?

The ‘boring/important stuff’ – I need prospectus-type information. I want to have details of the school uniform, homework and information about the lunch menu. Exciting? Not really, but it’s the kind of stuff that parents need to be able to get hold of, so that’s going on there.I might try and jazz it up a bit, but it’s needed.

Newsletters – I’d love to move towards a reduced-paper school. We won’t get paper-free for a few years yet, but putting newsletters, policies and other such documents online will be easy to do. There will always be someone that forgets to download it or doesn’t have internet access so paper is needed sometimes, but I bet we can reduce it by 90%. Hopefully this can be updated by office staff too and once they see how easy this is to do, there shouldn’t be an issue. Children’s homework/spelling sheets can go online, probably on the VLE as they’ll be next to links and activities.

Pictures – The VLE will have pictures. Tonnes of them. With comment boxes. I don’t think I want comments on the website, I’m happy for some photos to go on there to showcase our adventures and experiences, but we don’t need comments too. Putting pictures on the website gives it a friendly appeal and we are a friendly, welcoming school. Yes I will be using pictures of children and yes, I’ll be following our rules about that too. Maybe we can include photos of staff too although it’ll probably end up with drawings instead as quite often adults don’t like their photo being online, except on Facebook of course!

Learning – I want to showcase some work on the website, not everything like on the VLE, but great examples that we can show to others that do not have access to the VLE.

Blogs – We’ll be blogging and tweeting from September, so these will be fed to the website in a number of ways to help link together our ideas and experiences. We’ll get a twitter plguin too so that can feed directly to the website as well.

Useful Links – These will be in the VLE too as I want to make them useful and relevant to the learning, but the general links that are useful to everyone such as e-safety, will be on the website too. Maybe embedded so it looks fancier, who knows.

Other bits – We’re going to have a google map so people can find us and a visitor count to see if people have found us. A CEOP panic button is always useful to ensure children are safe online too.

So what do you think are the essentials for a good school website? What does yours look like? Would you change it if you could?

Wanna share?
Thursday, July 08th, 2010 | Author:

This post is aimed at Hampshire people, but feel free to read it and give your opinions!

Ok, so we have a county-wide VLE, Wizkid/Studywiz. How much do we share across the county? A little bit, we have some schools discussing transition with their feeder schools or working in a cluster, we have a county-wide group for us to publicise information and documents, but I want to think BIG.

We currently have 410(ish) primary schools on Wizkid. How many of them teach the Seaside? or Victorians? or Plants? Ok ok so some of them are creative, child-led or dynamic, but still, they need some help and inspiration don’t they?

So let’s plan together. As of this week, every member of the Hampshire Shared Resources Group will have full teacher access. This is 900 teachers. You can come into this area, see what people have done already and export the folder into your class/year group. Nothing wrong with taking this and using it, but wouldn’t you rather be a sharer?

To be a sharer, why not add an activity to a folder? Why not add a useful website? Why not create a new folder? Why not upload your planning? Imagine if we could get 2 or 3 teachers helping you to plan that seaside topic. Imagine if we could get 20 or 30. Exciting innit?

How about you plan with someone else and then communicate with them during your topic? You could message them, email them, video conference with them…what are their children doing? What are yours doing?

So go and take a look, if you’re not a member of the group go and join it (Tools>Group Membership>Search) and then follow the instructions once inside. If you get stuck, give me a shout. There’s a help video in there under ‘Info’. I look forward to planning with you all!

PS: I have to say a massive thankyou to @simonhaughton, the man is a genius and we have stolen borrowed, lots of links from his school Parkfield’s Delicious account. Do thank him if you get chance.

To VLE or not to VLE
Monday, June 28th, 2010 | Author:

I’m finally going to post this as I’ve had it sitting in draft for a few weeks. James Clay blogged about VLEs today, so it seemed like a good idea to share my thoughts too.

So…VLEs, Learning Platforms…what’s the point? Surely you can get it better elsewhere? for free? Is this the best it can be? It’s all empty!Aren’t we only doing it to meet some target?

As you may know, I have spent the past two years of my life training primary school teachers in using our VLE, Studywiz. It’s had ups and it’s had downs, but the VLE is a very useful tool. I am a regular on Twitter and I speak to excellent ICT teachers all of the time, but how many of them have bothered with a VLE? Not many. Why? Maybe it doesn’t do what they want it to, maybe it isn’t customisable enough, maybe they were already doing it beforehand.

For the techy teachers out there, I can understand why they might want to sidestep the VLE issue. They’re already blogging with their class so why do they need a paid-for system to do it? They can go get free versions of 4 or 5 different tools that will be better than the VLE, so why bother? But how many teachers are VERY confident with ICT and can manage this?

In my experience, having everything under one roof is a great starting point for many teachers. 95% of the people I train have never thought about learning online, I know 1 school and a couple of random teachers that were blogging here in Hampshire. This is rising slowly, but VLE training has helped to show these teachers what is possible. Many of them are just starting to put links online so that their children can access websites and resources. How would you do that without a VLE? Use a website that only 1 person can update? A delicious account maybe? What about for the 5 year olds? The VLE is great for younger children as you can include sound and/or tools like Voki to give them clues and directions of what to click on and why. From using sound and microphones in training, teachers have seen how easy it is and now they’re off to record it with their class. Fantastic. Very basic for most people, but for some, it’s a breakthrough.¬† Even though general confidence in ICT is rising, there are still an awful lot of teachers out there who are not ICT confident! I have trained some recently who do not know how to access their email. One asked what I meant when I said ‘Google it’. These people will be taking my words and ideas and cascading it back to the rest of their staff.

One thing the VLE gets used for, is as a launchpad to other things. Children start at the VLE and from there they can watch te embedded video from BBC, discuss it in the forum and then go off and create a Prezi which can be embedded so others can assess it. I’m not sure about other VLEs, but our one is fantastic at embedding HTML and other content whether it is a Google Streetview, a Voki, a wordsearch or Animoto. This is the bit that people get excited about. The VLE itself has some basic tools which work well, but being able to drop in a Google Form or a Bubbl.Us mindmap is a real winner.

We’ve focussed on the learning bit a lot here in Hampshire and we try to show as many ways of using it for learning as we can. There’s no point showing a tool without good reasoning about why to use it. After all, we’re not meeting a target, we’re showcasing our children’s learning! Quite often people say that they haven’t started using the VLE yet due to Ofsted being just around the corner (aren’t they always?). Why not be pro-active and celebrate your achievements online instead? Don’t shy away from them, push them in the inspectors faces and let them be amazed that your children are writing online and creating content for others.

What about benefits for teachers? We’ve been sharing ‘finished’ resources for a few months now here in Hampshire, but the next step is to try and get some teachers to plan and collaborate together from the start. So many teachers are doing the same thing and planning the same topic, it would be great if they could work together! This should be happening more and we hope to have something in place to enable this soon.

The potential is there, VLE or not, but using a VLE is a good starting point for many teachers who had never had the chance or inclination to do this type of learning before. Some teachers are now enthused about the potential and come to training buzzing about what they will find out next!

So what do you think of VLEs? Do you have one? If you do, why? Was it to meet a target? Was it because learning is made easier?

If you don’t? Why? Is it because of money? Are you doing it all already?

I’d be interested to hear from people outside of Hampshire to see what they think about using VLEs in primary schools.

Update – Here are some Becta case studies