Developing the Learning Gateway

An exploration into the possible use of SharePoint Learning Kit to support teaching and learning across the whole school using Experiential eLearning

Introduction

The 2020 Vision that is sweeping the globe foresees a time according to Gilbert (2006) where religious diversity will be greater than social diversity with “further concentrations of minority ethnic groups in particular geographical areas”.  Young people will need to be better qualified to secure employment and “will be expected to take personal responsibility for their impact on the environment”.

It is the responsibility of schools to address the issues regarding the lack of prospects for minority ethnic groups ensuring that their achievement and attainment reduces the gap of social inequalities.  Helping each pupil achieve society’s aspirations that are outlined in the Every Child Matters framework.

To meet this challenge involves Personalised Learning (see appendixes), a highly structured and responsive approach focussing on the individual needs or each pupil.  This requires a greater collaboration between schools, learners and their caregivers to ensure the pupils’ achievement is successful.

With the rise and impact of Learning Management Systems and ICT within education “it is crucial that we engage with developments in digital technologies at the earliest stages” (Facer, 2006) however “there will need to be changes both to the way the education system operates and to the practice of many teachers” (Gilbert, 2006).

The aims of this proposal are:

  • To understand the school and local community
  • To critique the current delivery of resources and suggest a move towards a more constructivist method.
  • To explore the possible impact of Learning Objects
  • To develop the student tracking system by calculating students’ knowledge and retention at the beginning and end of a module.
  • To enhance the possibilities of personalised learning

 


Situation

Bradford, the “4th largest metropolitan district” in England, is politically split, between Labour’s 33 seats and Conservative’s 32, whilst also being culturally divided where inner city areas are ghettoised with minority ethnic groups.  The school sector is predominantly segregated according to Education Bradford (2005, cited in House of Commons, 2007) where pupils attend schools with a population comprising over 90% of one “single cultural or ethnic identity”.  X is one of those schools, predominantly Muslim, containing a high percentage of Pakistani pupils alongside other minority ethnic groups, Bangladeshi, Gypsy and Roma pupils, Travellers and Black pupils, who nationally “do not achieve well” according to the Commission for Race Equality.  Students’ attainment on entry is well below average and a higher than average numbers of students have learning difficulties and/or disabilities; nevertheless the school received Outstanding from Ofsted in 2007.   This diverse culture “is considered desirable and necessary for the development of secure ethnic identities and positive self-feelings” however diversity “is also challenged for being inequitable and a threat to social cohesion” (Verkuyten. 2006).

Situated in the heart of BD3, an inner city area undergoing regeneration, which Regen 2000 claim “was an area of high unemployment, poor housing, poor health, poor education and high levels of drug-related crime”, has received around £150 million from government and private investment during the period 2000 – 2008 to help develop “an economically active and self-generating area” (Bradford Economic Partnership).  Yet near one year on, after the target date for complete regeneration, this area still reflects social deprivation, where the streets are strewn with litter and crime still prevails embodying the disaffection and the break down in community cohesion (Chattoo et al, 2004).  West-Burnham (1997) describes, “Attitudes and `theories of practice’ are constructs derived from a prevailing culture and expressed, reinforced and elaborated into practice through language”.  To enable the community to develop we need to look at the heart, X, and readdress the disaffection through transforming the prevalent social misconceptions and poor attitude, developing a climate that shines like a beacon throughout the community.  As West-Burnham continues to explain “If schools are to respond to the fundamental changes that are taking place in social and economic terms then it is necessary to re-conceptualise leadership”.  The Commission for Race Equality insist, “All schools make clear what their contribution is to community cohesion”.

In a bid to change the surrounding area and community attitude, senior management have developed a scheme to “Tidy up X and BD3”.  This is currently coinciding with Phase 3 of the Building Schools of the Future (BSF) consultation with Bradford Council, which will contribute to the regeneration of BD3.

To become a School of the Future requires a major investment into learning technologies to help meet the required standards.  This venture in technology must be accompanied by a comparable investment by teachers and other employees to realise the full benefits of the technology.  However there tends to be a lack of ICT skills and experience within the school sector nationally to ensure the technologies used are to their full potential (Microsoft, 2007).  In spite of this the school received Specialist Status in Maths and Computing in 2006, sponsored by Microsoft, (a deal struck up with the DfES to help around 100 schools situated in poor areas which was “the subject of an Office of Fair Trading investigation” (Lettice, 2005)), and is well equipped with new technologies, whilst the sponsorship “will almost certainly become an extremely important device for acquiring additional resources“ (Bennet and Gabriel, 1999) in the future, Microsoft’s monopoly should be carefully considered as there are free open source applications readily available.

The school’s intranet is delivered by Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, which acts as the school’s Learning Gateway (LG) whose objectives are:

  • Achievement for all
  • Excellence in teaching
  • Improve learning

The school has prematurely launched the LG (without fully realising the capabilities) and numerous INSETS have taken place where faculty members across the school have been taught how to upload their resources, Word and PowerPoint files, from the existing Public (Y) drive, a large networked storage drive, to the LG (a system built on internet technologies which has great potential), “Reeves (2002 cited in Nichols, 2003) argues that, in the main, technology is not being used innovatively in education”.  Questions have been raised by staff as for the need to distribute the files through the LG and move away from the Public (Y) drive.  This decision has led to the LG becoming an over glorified file storage system where the course materials are delivered using the internet technologies which as Pan & Hawryszkiewycz (2004) describe does “not provide effective and efficient supports for using these materials to construct knowledge. As a result, learners only passively receive the presented materials”.

The resources uploaded “are designed to make the knowledge transmission easier”, which emphasises “the teacher’s control over what is learned and how it is to be learned” (Nichols, 2003).  This somewhat Behaviourist method “centres on students’ efforts to accumulate knowledge of the natural world and on teachers’ efforts to transmit it” (Murphy, 1997) which is comparative to the Objectivist learning theory where the learners’ goal is to receive knowledge whilst the teacher is to transmit.  The theory also implies that the learner will gain the same understanding from what is transmitted however as Pan & Hawryszkiewycz (2004) argue the resources “can hardly match to all individual learners”.  This stereotypical view of teaching does not cater for Personalised Learning (PL) where learning takes place through different methods to improve attainment.

Described earlier the pupils’ attainment on entry to the school is well below average, nevertheless the school pays particular focus to assessment for learning (AFL) to improve attainment.  Goal Tests, a recognised online assessment tool provided by Education Development International (EDI), are introduced at the beginning of each year within Key Stage 3, “identifying pupils’ strengths and weaknesses” which support “target setting and tracking pupils’ progress”.  Conversely the scores generally show pupils as having higher levels of attainment than the current National Curriculum (NC) level they are working at (according to the assessment records), which opens the debate whether teaching and learning is personalised in such a way that helps them to achieve (based on the snapshot taken by the Goal Tests) or could the online delivery method of the Goal Tests be the answer to improving attainment.

 

 

Proposal

Birbili (2005) has discovered that schools are finding it “increasingly difficult to motivate and keep the interest of their students”.  This is not exclusive to England, as Birbili discusses, how, the individual needs of students are not recognised by schools, resulting in the reportedly high figures of disaffection within the school sector.

During the expansion of the Internet and the development of Web 2.0 the online community has emerged.  Communities like Facebook and Myspace, offer the opportunity to develop online personas, individuality and friendship, for instance Wenger describes these as Communities of Practice (CoP) where “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2009) this for instance could be “a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school” (Wenger), creating an opportunity for the Digital Native (DN), a term coined by Prensky (2001) who are “a generation that has grown up with digital technology”, to be heard.   Developing an online digital community could promote community cohesion through blogging regarding the regeneration of the local, physical community as Smith (2003) describes “Members are involved in a set of relationships over time (Lave and Wenger 1991: 98) and communities develop around things that matter to people (Wenger, 1998)”.  Grace (2007) considers the opportunities of developing online communities alongside summer school and found that targeting both primary and secondary schools, helped “to catch and develop children before they’ve had a chance to become disaffected.”

X delivers a summer school program throughout summer for future attendees, namely year 6 pupils from surrounding primary schools.  During this time I propose using “the internet and technology in ways that speak their language” (Masters, 2009) by establishing future pupils’ online identity within the LG alongside developing a communal blog.  Referring to Salmon’s “The five-stage model of online learning”, stage one would be achieved by setting up their ‘My Site’ (a space where users can save and share work; add friends or colleagues for effective communication and collaboration, creating networks where specific users can be targeted with information), which scaffolds on the DN social networking experience.  Explaining that this is a safe online community exclusive to X that is not accessible by people outside should encourage the pupils to complete their profile.  Highlighting their likes / dislikes, building up a picture that teachers can use ‘to get to know’ the individual as “learning and teaching should be founded on an understanding of the learner” (Birbili, 2005).  This will help teachers to develop PL with Learning Objects (LO) appropriate to the individual.

The second stage of Salmon’s model is Socialisation where social conditioning, the understanding of what is right and wrong and what is acceptable in civilised society is reflected online.   Giddens (1986, pp. 8-11, cited in Cosio, 1998) states “We create society at the same time as we are created by it”.  Monty, (2005) describes certain aspects of netiquette, “Always acknowledging feelings and offering support. Allow the feelings of everyone involved in e-tivities to be surfaced, owned, expressed and respected”.  This can be achieved through establishing the communal blog where the pupils would create their online identities and interact with other members of the digital community.  Inviting the new members to participate by letting everybody know they have joined would break the ice.  As the blog develops the context becomes Social Constructivist where the users are invited to share their thoughts regarding BD3.  Initially introducing the concept of what they like, secondary what they don’t like.  This approach provides the links between social, cultural and learning environments, which “makes knowledge construction easier to achieve” (Monty, 2005).  The third task would be to reflect on what other users have written and respond appropriately.  As Smith (1999) describes, “It is learning that is achieved through reflection upon everyday experience and is the way that most of us do our learning”.  It has been uncovered that Muslim pupils “often lack competence in critical analysis and independent thinking” however “acquiring knowledge in Islam is not intended as an end but as a means to stimulate a more elevated moral and spiritual consciousness, leading to faith and righteous action” (Islam).

Once attending X, the NC Level 3 involves “Sharing and Exchanging Ideas” similar to stage three of Salmon’s model “Information Exchange”, which over the summer break the developed online community should have achieved.  Considering Salmon’s model, the DN introduced to a CoP (Lave and Wenger) at the age of 10 should in effect over seven years of future secondary schooling competently (Carver et al, 2007) reach stage 5.  This process scaffolds on their personal experience spent on the web, offering the opportunity to practice transferrable skills within the Constructivist curriculum.

Moallem (2001) highlights 5 areas of consideration for Constructivist teaching and learning:

  • Learning is embedded in a rich authentic problem-solving environment;
  • Authentic versus academic contexts for learning are provided;
  • Provisions for learner control are incorporated;
  • Errors are used as a mechanism to provide feedback on learners’ understanding; and
  • Learning is embedded in social experience.

It can be argued that the constructivist theories do not take into consideration members of ethnic minority groups especially with regard to the globalisation of constructivism in relation to Islam.  This debate needs further research especially in the context of inner city minority ethnic ghettoisation in conjunction with western ideology (Bowers, 2004, Bowers, 2005).  However Constructivist learning theories do provide an opportunity for the development of pupils with learning disabilities and special educational needs especially in a vocational context (Tennant, 1997: 92 cited in Smith, 2001).

Constructivism is the foundation of PL where pupils build upon their experiences and apply them to the larger social constructs they belong.   In a report highlighting the managers’, teachers’ and learners’ perceptions of PL, pupils had a tendency to confuse PL with individualism questioning the amount of freedom to choose, quite probably in a bid to do less work.  In the same report teachers and senior management recognised the impact personalisation could have on pupil voice and autonomy.  However their main agenda for PL was the improved result of student tracking alongside pupil feedback (Underwood and Banyard, 2007).

One of the main features of the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server is the SharePoint Learning Kit (SLK) (which has been installed but not yet able to be implemented).  SLK is an e-learning tool compliant with the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) “developed by the US Department of Defence” (Friesen), which makes it easy to deliver course materials containing both basic and interactive resources and offers this support.

This method of delivery requires the construction of SCORM reusable LOs that can be shared over the LG and should “provide learners with a wide range of services to assist and facilitate knowledge construction” (Pan & Hawryszkiewycz, 2004).

Constructivist in theory, this environment moves away from the imposed Objectivist distribution of ‘one size fits all’ resources.  To ensure successful delivery and flexibility, with the collaboration of all faculty members, the scheme of work should be broken down into simple, cohesive LOs that contain a variety of “hypertext / hypermedia” (Kurzel et al) to enable PL.  The correct format should be selected to ensure effective delivery of the learning object whilst also being student centred, helping them stay focused.

Once the LO is uploaded onto the LG it can then be allocated to the relevant pupils.  This method allows the teacher to select the correct hypermedia for the individual based on their established profile meeting the PL agenda more effectively.

The SLK includes various web parts that can be introduced into the individual unit sites.  ‘My Assignments’ is one of those, where both the pupils and teachers can review the designated materials.

As pupils log onto a site they will see that they have been assigned a LO which will include the date set and the date needed for completion.  Pupils therefore will have strict deadlines highlighting when they need to hand work in which will make the collaboration between schools and caregivers easier as they can check the ‘My Assignments’ part of their child’s personal space, engage in their learning and ensure their child is working to the best of their ability.

As the LOs are delivered over Internet technologies, accessible through the LG and being platform independent “encourages learning anytime, anyplace, anywhere” offering the opportunity for pupils to catch up.

For the teacher, they can see who has started the LO and when it has been completed.  From there they can retrieve the LO and assess the work, feeding back to the pupil immediately, offering advice for areas they need to develop, using “Assessment that promotes learning” (Gilbert, 2006).  Student tracking is made easier by the LO being accessible by all staff who can review the assignment results and feedback which could enable earlier intervention for pupils who are not yet achieving at their potential.

 

Influenced by the Goal Tests (EDI) approach, I propose pupils begin a unit in the form of assessment to establish current knowledge, which will act as a baseline to measure progress.  Using SLK the assessment is allocated to the pupils who work through the task using the Internet technologies.  Once completed the LO is submitted and stored in the LG database where the teacher can retrieve it.  The work can be immediately marked and sent back to the pupil improving the feedback process, “to enable them to make learning choices”.

From the results both teacher and pupil can discuss the possible targets and goal settings and common specific areas can be identified and addressed.  As the school has a high percentage of disaffected pupils and special educational needs Maher (2006) found in his research paper regarding behavioural problems that there was a  “greater degree of goal attainment and satisfaction with counselling for pupils who participated in goal setting”.  This approach could ensure the development of PL, minimising behavioural issues and reducing disaffection.

To recognise all learners’ abilities the unit could be delivered in the following ‘game like’ levels,

  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Expert

As pupils became more competent they could begin to self-assign modules, taking ownership of their learning by scaffolding on their experiences, allowing “the students to use particular content in different, albeit overlapping, contexts,” (Kurzel et al) developing autonomy and attainment.

When the unit has been completed, pupils will undergo a further assessment to review their progression and “attainment” (Ozga, 2003).  This will give clear indication of how the PL has impacted on teaching and learning, making tracking more effective.

 

Conclusion

Within this paper I have considered at a macro level the social implications of X and the surrounding BD3 community and the possible impact of ICT as a force for change.

Using the Social Constructivist approach through experiential learning, connecting social, cultural and moral experiences within learning I have highlighted how this could promote the development of pupil autonomy alongside community cohesion.  Cosio (1998) recognises the influence of institutions outlining the responsibility to condition the behavioural norms shared by society.  However this socialisation faces a series of obstacles and should be approached sensitively considering the predominance of the Muslim community who have developed their own social and cultural norms that do not fit within western ideology conversely Modood, T. & Ahmad(2007) quite poignantly states “ it is clear that there is much overlap between the two, with some creative tension and enough scope for dialogue and negotiation, contrary to the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis”.

The concept and method of teaching is changing, shifting away from the didactic Objectivist transmission model to the more collaborative Constructivist facilitator, who manages learning by moving between groups, “helping, suggesting, encouraging and learning along with the learners”(Ntombovuyo, 2006).

Understanding that not only does the approach to the LG need to be readdressed but also the Behaviourist pedagogy needs to move forward to accommodate the DN learners with rich experiences akin to those outside the school environment.  I have offered ideas for faculties to collaborate more effectively using the technology.  The investment in technology requires the future intentions to be clearly defined to ensure the successful harnessing of its potential to enhance teaching and learning.  This will require teachers to rethink their methods of delivery and relearn how to use the technology innovatively, which will involve encouragement and investment.  However I predict a resistance to change considering some of the negative attitudes entrenched within the profession.

Retrospectively I believe the system should have been fully realised before its launch.  This would have minimised error and the distrust that staff and students alike have began to feel towards the technology.

In conclusion, I have only scraped the surface of the future possibilities yet I firmly believe this approach could not only support social cohesion but also cross-curricular cohesion, the collaboration between departments and home environments developing into a whole community school policy which would require further research.

 

Appendixes

Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group

Together, schools, local and national government need to work towards a society in which:

  • a child’s chances of success are not related to his or her socio-economic background, gender or ethnicity
  • education services are designed around the needs of each child, with the expectation that all learners achieve high standards
  • all children and young people leave school with functional skills in English and mathematics, understanding how to learn, think creatively, take risks and handle change
  • teachers use their skills and knowledge to engage children and young people as partners in learning, acting quickly to adjust their teaching in response to pupils’ learning2
  • schools draw in parents as their child’s co-educators, engaging them and increasing their capacity to support their child’s learning.

We believe that personalising learning and teaching must play a central role in transforming England’s education service to achieve these aims between now and 2020.

 

J. Underwood and P. Banyard

Personalisation: a political aspiration

The political aspiration for personalisation is that it will be a strategy for ensuring over time that:

  • · every pupil experiences success appropriate to their age and ability;
  • · all pupils are engaged and excited by learning;
  • · every pupil will have high aspirations for their work;
  • · every pupil feels supported in making progress;
  • · pupils know that they are valued;
  • · parents know that their child is valued.

Personalisation: objectives for education

As applied to schools this will offer learning which:

  • · reflects the most appropriate ways of learning;
  • · takes account of any past performance or prior learning;
  • · is presented in a way which is engaging and effective for that individual;
  • · encourages learning anytime, anyplace, anywhere;
  • · facilitates more ways to learn;
  • · recognises the learner’s short-term needs and longer term aspirations;
  • · encourages the learner to reflect on and self-regulate their learning;
  • · helps the learner to achieve recognition for their achievements that enables them to progress within the wider community.

Personalisation: a set of operational measures

Our experts agreed that personalisation can be observed in schools when they carry out some or all of the following activities:

  • agree targets with pupils;
  • help pupils to understand their own learning;
  • give pupils appropriate responsibility for their own learning;
  • allow the learner voice to be heard;
  • relate learning to pupils’ out-of-school experience;
  • relate learning to contexts unfamiliar to pupils;
  • provide ‘enrichment’ activities beyond the core curriculum;
  • give appropriate feedback to pupils to enable them to make learning choices;
  • are flexible in the way teachers present the curriculum in order to meet pupils’ individual needs;
  • get to know their pupils well as individuals;
  • offer their pupils pastoral care;
  • accommodate pupils’ individual learning needs appropriate to their age and ability.

“The five-stage model of online learning” by Gilly Salmon

 

 

 


Community Cohesion Framework 2007 – 2010

A cohesive community is defined as a place where:

  • There is a common vision and a sense of belonging to the local community;
  • The diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated;
  • Those from different backgrounds have equal opportunities; and
  • Strong and positive relationships have been developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and in neighbourhoods.

 

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