The challenge of getting started
When the water is icy cold and you have no choice but to wade on through, some say its best to dip your toe then get in just up to your waist, and this is how 3 years ago Bedfordshire County Council grew their elearning strategy. By closely evaluating several small scale school elearning pilots across the county and finally taking the plunge with a 3 year contract for a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Neil Turner found himself responsible for implementing elearning in 221 schools in Bedfordshire as the ICT Advisor for the authority. The county has since gone through major change as Bedfordshire has now split into two unitary Authorities with Neil now the Schools ICT Team Manager for 137 schools.
The rate of change in ICT in education is incredibly fast, which left many innovative Bedfordshire schools with a VLE not entirely fit for purpose and demanding better, next generation tools for their schools and students.
A meeting with itslearning helped Neil realise the huge potential his schools had in adopting itslearning as their next generation learning platform. However, having spent nearly 2 years trying to make it work with their legacy learning platform, he knew there were huge challenges ahead - especially for those reticent to change and new technology in the classroom. Some of the lower and middle schools were firmly clutching to familiarity of their old learning platform, and were simply too scared to make the change to a new platform.
Ready to take the plunge proper, Neil gave his schools’ board a choice: Migrate everything and everyone at once, Do Nothing or take a gradual approach. But with the new UK coalition government severe budget cuts in place, Neil’s team was suddenly reduced from seven people to just one and also coping with a 50% cut in Harnessing Technology funding.
What about Implementation?
With implementation of their legacy VLE, Bedfordshire had 2 full time dedicated trainers and 7 E-learning champions each working 1 day a week to help implement the VLE across all schools. Neil sees implementation as utterly crucial for success. “It is not just about going on the web to do various tasks; it has to be recognized as a complete mindset change for teachers, administrators and school leaders. For a lot of staff that is a huge challenge.” Because of the funding cuts, this is one challenge that Neil has faced solely with the support of itslearning. Despite this he continues to drive all schools to use itslearning across all Key Stages.
Schools that have made the change now have lots of resources available to learners across the region and beyond (with connections to Norfolk County council) and their response has been enormously positive. School staff in every area of Bedfordshire have embraced the change with an attitude of “let’s give it everything we’ve got”
Inclusion for all through blended learning
The Pupil Referral Unit, Greys Education Centre have instilled itslearning at the heart of their blended learning strategy with students completing 20% of their courses at home one day a week through itslearning. There has been an overwhelming response from the staff especially as all professional development is carried out in itslearning for study, reflection and evaluation of each inset day which allows the Headteacher to know how to alter or improve future training based on the feedback received in itslearning.
What does the future hold for Bedfordshire?
Many schools found the previous VLE difficult to use but did try hard. Neil is convinced that the staff have already climbed the arduous hill of e-learning and are in the most part now ready to embrace a richer and easier system. With the migration of users and content complete, Neil now turns to integration of other systems, keeping itslearning at the core of his strategy for school success. Integrated in to itslearning are a multitude of vendor online content packages such as Britannica Online and Purplemash.com which schools are falling over each other to sign up to.
"Not every school is going to take part." laments Neil during a recent workshop, “For those that don’t, this will be hugely detrimental to the achievement of pupils in those schools”
With over seventy percent of schools in Bedfordshire choosing to use itslearning, and yet more joining each week, the path to elearning success for their schools is assured.