At one point I thought there was only reason why Google Apps would make a better VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) in my school over the LA-imposed one.
It just worked.
The teachers got it straight away. Within half an hour of using it, they had produced something collectively of value in the school. The children got it straight away too. In my first lesson with Google Apps, the children learnt a knew skill, created something relevant to the curriculum and shared their work with me within the Google Apps domain. It took 45 minutes, without any painful file management, reminding children exactly where on the server they should save their work. Some of the children followed up at the weekend by continuing their work and sharing improvements with me. Google Apps was, in short, a great learning resource. It still is. As my friend Mark Allen (@edintheclouds) says, it is the iphone of the internet.
Since then, I have started to find that there are other arguments. For a start, most VLEs started in universities where they a repository for online learning and knowledge. They are designed to keep the knowledge secure for that university and for that course - that's how universities make their money. State primary education is completely different. The knowledge should be shared. Children of course need to be kept safe (which Google Apps does as well as any other VLE), but we can't withhold essential elementary skills and knowledge from our communities.
Worryingly, it seems that some LAs aren't engaged in best practice in terms of developing VLEs in their schools. An old report from Becta states:
We consider that, if unchecked, such arrangements for interoperability have the potential to impede competition and choice not only in the provision of MIS solutions but also in the market for Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and Managed Learning Environments (MLEs), and hinder the effective delivery of wider policy objectives in relation to personal learning spaces.
They have certainly been unchecked in some LAs.
Agent4Change.net has a link to the new MIS BECTA report (september 2010) with the conclusion: The new Becta MIS report, after all, concludes that the market for MIS now, compared with the position at time of the 2005 Report, remains just as uncompetitive.
So while it's great to have all the defensive arguments about e-safety, it may also be valuable to have some counter-arguments about how ineffective LAs have been at educating children for the 21st century and how they have failed to prepare schools likewise.
I'm also struck by this 2009 report about school VLE use, which states (on page 8) that successful VLE use is characterised by:
- Schools having developed a tradition of effective procurement and implementation of innovative use of ICT
- Schools having underpinned the implementation of the learning platform with a coordinated, positive and enthusiastic strategic approach by senior leaders and managers.
Comparing this with the MIS report from BECTA (September 2009), it seems that LAs are tarred with a brush of ineffective procurement, yet Becta have found that schools with effective procurement have effective VLEs. In addition the second point would indicate that VLEs that are foisted upon schools by LAs don't work, but schools that have ownership of their VLE through their senior leaders have VLEs that are making a difference for their learners.
Just like we're finding with Google Apps.
Finally, while I've been writing this, someone tweeted a link to this warning about the dangers of not teaching about the world we actually live in.
Seems to me like schools need ownership of this stuff so that they can prepare their communities for the future. As a senior leader in my school, I have ownership of our Google Apps and know where I'm going with it. There may be better stuff out there but I don't have ownership of it.
So if you lead a school or are part of the leadership, take ownership of the offline and the online. Google Apps might even help you.