We’re six months into our virtual learning environment (VLE) journey with FrogLearn, and this week I shared my reflections on six months growing our VLE with the Frog Community at their ‘Meet, Share and Learn’ event in Halifax…it’s sort of like a TeachMeet for Froggers. This gave me a good opportunity to reflect on approaches to VLE development and engagement that have worked for us. What I really wanted to show, and to share with you now, is that a soft approach to pushing and developing a VLE can, and does work. I’m also fully convinced that, for us, this approach was better than a hard VLE launch.
Just to clarify, this post isn’t designed purely for Frog users, nor is it designed to present the only approach to VLE development and growth. It’s just a way to share my reflections on an approach to VLE development, and meaningful staff engagement, that is working for us.
How will staff perceive a VLE on launch?
Below is how, from teaching myself and talking to teachers, teachers perceive VLEs on launch. The circle represents the day-to-day priorities of staff that have to be dealt with, and that they are accountable for. The ideas on the outside of the circle represent things that staff may attach value to, but they’re seen as “nice to haves”. Unfortunately, they’re not essential unless they can be dragged inside the circle.
Now, with this in mind, I don’t think a hard launch has the potential to do much good if you launch a blank VLE. Staff are expected to contribute, but without lots and lots of support they’re not going to understand what they should contribute and design. Those staff who use the VLE use it as an experiment, which could fail, or as a meaningless dumping ground of resources which isn’t going to enhance or transform learning (see the SAMR model).
It’s really important to appreciate the nature of the day-to-day priorities of teachers before launching a VLE. The VLE must be linked to the day-to-day priorities of staff to make it successful. This, ultimately, is ensuring that it provides an effective learning environment for students.
How can you ‘prime the pump’?
So to get staff into a VLE you need to develop something that meets the needs of staff to get them involved. For us, this was developing a revision centre that would provide Year 11 students with the past exam papers, for all of their subjects, and provide students with a wealth of revision resources for their subjects. It was a fair amount of work to design but it:
1) Gave all staff an opportunity to contribute (even if staff just wanted to e-mail resources and not even login)
2) Gave the VLE a clear purpose
3) Did not force anyone to contribute, who might resist, or question the purpose of the VLE
This soft launch made everyone aware of the VLE, and it aligned with the priorities of staff (revision, results, intervention etc.) but it wasn’t intrusive or something for staff to resent.
Show to students first
Before you launch the finished revision centre to staff, show it to students first. I talked to Year 11 in every English lesson for ten minutes to demonstrate it to them. Inevitably some staff missed the first e-mail asking for contributions, or overlooked it. However, getting the buzz going with students allows you to spread the VLE around the school very quickly. Keen students, who no staff member wants to let down, now ask staff “will it be on the VLE?” when they’re shown something useful in lessons. It’s hard for staff to ignore this.
Let the interest grow
I found that staff interest in the revision centre quickly grew. They were asking for Frog training, and asking how they could contribute. Many had ideas for growth and development that they wouldn’t have expressed before. It’s very powerful for staff when they see students independently accessing an educational resource.
If anything, I think this is more powerful as you’re not constantly forcing the VLE down the throats of staff. Show them in briefing, and bring it up in conversation, but don’t become overbearing. Staff will now gravitate towards the VLE because it serves a useful purpose for students – and students are telling them about it.
Suggest other uses for the VLE
Now that you have staff familiar with the VLE suggest more creative approaches for its use. For example, uploading videos for peer assessment in PE, building Knowledge Building Centres (based on the excellent work of Dr David Loertscher) and creating interactive resources to enhance feedback in the classroom. This is much easier when staff have had a feel for the potential of a VLE.
A final warning: get to know what students’ internet access is like at home
Now, this is all well and good, but then again with any VLE launch you need to know what home internet access looks like for your students. Especially if you’re pushing a resource to get students working on a VLE in their own time.
49% of my school’s student population are disadvantaged (pupil premium). So with this in mind you might think that internet access would be patchy and weak. It’s certainly what I was told by people before I started surveying students to assess their access.
Shockingly, what we discovered through a long survey of all students was that, only 27 students lacked internet access at home, and 11 of these had mobile internet access on their phone. Without this data you can make some really dodgy assumptions about the access that students have at home, either overestimating or underestimating by huge margins. In fact, the real issue for our students is sharing devices between family members, but students still describe their access as very good.
I suspect that you’ll find similar results in a lot of schools today.
So, from our experience, we’ve got monthly student logins of around 1.5 thousand in about 6 months, but what matters to us is that it is growing.
For us, the approach is working, prime the pump by getting some good content up first, link a quality resource to the priorities of staff and get students to drive demand for more contributions. It provides a nice launch pad, and it gives you a lot of room to move forward!by