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While we were sleeping

In his book ‘The World in Flat’ Thomas Friedman observes how the internet revolution
has caught us unawares and changed the way we communicate, share information and do
business. The same may well be true of education where 25 years of much heralded
change has made us a little cynical about technology but, all of a sudden, we are
surrounded by a new vocabulary which become the catch words for seminars and
workshops - Web 2.0, Learning 2.0, Social Software, Netgen’ers, Digital Natives even
Wikinomics.
News Corp buys My Space and Google buys You Tube for record sums and we sit up and
take note. In education we have often lagged behind in our use of technology, delayed by
agonizing debates about added value and worries about the capacity of our teachers to
cope with all the changes. In the meantime a whole new generation of students has
appeared who never knew of a world without the internet, where they can search for
information, images, graphics or videos at will. There are an estimated 2.7 million
searches on Google very month – who was answering those questions BG ( before
Google)?. As Rod Paige the US Secretary of Education “Education is the only business
still debating the usefulness of technology. Schools remain unchanged for the most part,
despite numerous reforms and increased investments in computers and networks.”

The launch of our learning platform in April 2005 is now something we look back to as
the moment when we suddenly became aware of what the new technology could do for
the way we teach and the way our students learn. Since then it has been a steep learning
curve and the purpose of this article is to share some of those experiences and lessons.
Learning Platforms and Personal Learning Spaces are about to be mandated in the UK
( 2008), Hong Kong (2009) and Australia ( 2008) and, rightly so , teachers want to know
what this all means. I hope this article will shed some light on those questions and also
help readers ask the right questions.

The English Schools Foundation Learning Platform


The Connected Learning Community or CLC as it is more commonly referred by
students and teachers, was deployed across all sixteen education centres in the ESF, made
up of ten primary, five secondary and one special school, in August 2005. The CLC
serves a population of approximately 13,000 students and 2000 teachers and support
staff. It draws information about users from a district wide data base and connects all
schools and all the learning communities in those schools with each other. See Diagram 1

Diagram 1
Secondary

Special School
Primary

South Island
CLC
Sarah Roe Sha Tin
CLC CLC

Interconnected Central Data Base Interconnected


CLC Hubs for all ESF schools CLC Hubs

Secondary Primary
Primary

West Island Quarry Bay


CLC CLC
Clearwater Bay
CLC

A learning community can be anything from a group of students working on a project – a


class or a whole year group (including visiting experts). The CLC knows who you are,
who you teach and who teaches you, so each user profiles is unique and reflects the
communities they are either members of, owners of or editors of – not too different from
the way Wiki’s are set up. This gives it a personal touch and means it behaves very
differently from a website and more like a Web 2.0 environment. The connectivity of the
CLC means that communities can link up and share resources and participate in the same
learning activities. For example a Year 3 community in one Primary school used the
CLC to link up with a school in Melbourne as part of their inquiry into Water. The
students shared Forums for discussion and were able to share their presentations.
The CLC supports learning by giving users access to a range of scaffolds – Forums for
discussions and knowledge sharing; Surveys for finding out what people know and Home
Page ( think of them as Bulletin Boards) for publishing and broadcasting. There are other
scaffolds including an e portfolio, but for the purpose of this article, the focus will be on
how teachers and students used Forums, Surveys and Home Pages to do creative and
imaginative things. For readers who want to take a look for themselves, there is a guest
account with username gueste1 and password as guest. The URL for visiting guests is:
http://clc.esf.edu.hk/GroupHomepage.asp?GroupId=1
The Primary and Secondary Tours may well be of interest.
For more information on Learning Networksi and Social Softwareii read the Futurelab
reports
Positioning a Learning Community
The CLC is not a Virtual Learning Environment or a Managed Learning Environment; it
is not a replacement for classroom teaching. It is best perceived as an open learning
platform which extends and distributes the learning zone beyond the physical boundaries
of the classroom, and serves as a bridge between the public social and learning networks
in which our students actively participate. This concept is illustrated in Diagram 2.

Diagram 2

Extended The world of


curriculum Learning Networks
Web 2.0 and
You social
Second life
Tube networks
skype L
Bebo
Furl
The Physical
C Learning C
wikis xanga
environment
msm
The new
democracy, flickr RSS
L
where time, blogs
place and Garage band
Face yackpack
access is Book
determined by Informal
the learner curriculum

The CLC provides a bridge between the analogue learning world of the classroom and the
digital networks of the digital natives. The Demos reportiii on Their Space gives an
excellent overview of how young people are using the new emerging technologies.
Unlike Web 2.0 applications where membership is unbounded, membership of the CLC is
managed by the teacher but the process are similar. Consequently students have few
problems understanding or engaging with the CLC, in fact they are often more fluent and
competent than their teachers which can be an issue. In practice the CLC provides
teachers and students with scaffolds which extend the learning that begins in the
classroom and which also work in reverse by capturing the learning of students when
they are not in class eg field trips and homeworks etc. Because the CLC supports Open
Source applications it is possible for users ( students especially!) to embed Web 2.0
applications like Flickriv, Del.icio.usv, YouTubevi or Zohovii solutions into the CLC Home
Pages.

What is learning when it’s on a Learning Platform


Learning platforms can mean many different things to different people, so before we
discuss the examples it maybe useful to describe the principles which underpin the kind
of learning outcomes the CLC supports. One teacher described the CLC as her Digital
Village where students learnt from each other and from invited experts, parents and other
useful adults. James Lemkeviii describes a similar concept when he writes about Natural
Learning, where the emphasis is on creative collaboration and constructive
communication – what some authors refer to c learning. This probably represents much
better how the CLC works than any notions about e learning.

The evidence from educational research papers is increasingly making the case for a new
understanding of the learning process which acknowledges the value of connected
learning. The writings of Jim Hewittix, Wim Veen G Salmon and others all comment on
the potential of on line communities for not just the co construction of knowledge but
also the collectivization of knowledge. Scardamalia and Bereiter’s ( 2003)x work on the
Knowledge Forum #2 showed the huge potential of this type of medium to support
collaborative learning and creative problem solving. Castells argues that the network is
the fundamental underpinning structure of social organization. Oliver and Herrington
(2003)xi paper on technology mediated environments stress the ‘importance of planning
learning settings based on meaningful and relevant activities and tasks which are
supported in deliberate and proactive ways by the tutor’. The paper goes on to explore
how pedagogical principles can inform and guide the design of learning platforms
namely the selection of learning tasks; the selection of learning supports and the selection
of learning resources.

Oliver and Herrington’s Design Framework for a Learning Platform

]
Examples of Practice.

Forums. From Chatting to Thinking

Forums were the first of the learning scaffolds to be populated and, much to everyone’s
surprise, they were being actively used by Year 2 students. They are popular, easy to use
and very accessible. Early concerns about students use of SMS speak and other
infringements but these fears soon evaporated once students and staff realised that there
was no anonymity on the CLC. Forums can be used at different levels of sophistication
from simple posting of a response to high levels of thinking and reflection about the form
of communication.
Importantly forums extend the learning beyond the classroom. A discussion which starts
in class can take on a whole new level of debate and knowledge sharing when it transfers
to a forum. This captures the interest of students because they become the creators of the
knowledge; no longer are discussions dependent on just what is said in class or what the
teacher knows. With forums students are given their own voice and what’s more the
voice is captured, to be used for assessment or stored in a portfolio
Forums represent the neural pathways of the CLC; the transmitters and receivers through
which teachers can extend the learning network. Forums can bridge classes in same year
or subject, involve external experts, parents or students and teachers from other schools.
By expanding the learning network in this way learning becomes more authentic and
realistic and there is a sense of real audience and real purpose to the discussion or
enquiry.

Examples of Forums in the CLC

Year Three Literacy.

The teacher began the Forum


with a posting from the Ning
Nang Nong and asked the
children to add a post in the
same style. This proved to be
very popular; the children
were inspired by each others
entries and enjoyed reading
each contributions when the
teacher showed the Forum on
the IWB
Year Six. World War 2
Forum
The class have been
discussing the causes of
the WW2 and the impact
on Hong Kong. The
teacher created a Forum
with 6 topics as an
extended Homework. The
use of open questions
encouraged the students to
be reflective rather than
just respond with facts

Library Forum.
The Librarian has created
a Forum for all the
students in Year 5 so they
can discuss the Paper Bag
Princess. The CLC means
library activities can now
be integrated into whole
school learning..

Year 6 Egyptian Topic


The year 6 created a Forum
where the students could
post the question they
would like to ask an expert
Egyptologist from the
British Museum. They
selected the best three
questions and then invited
the expert to hot seat a
Forum which all year 6
students could access
Home Page. The Learning Zone of the CLC
Home Pages have evolved into common Learning Zones where news and information can
be broadcast to students in a year group and, most importantly to parents. Year teams
preferred to share a common Home Page rather than run individual communities for their
class. This fitted in with their planning because they could easily share resources and
promote inter class activities such as Forums, Surveys. Teachers created folders so they
could distribute resources to students – students could then work on these at home. The
use of Home Pages made a significant impact on home – school relationships and parents
quickly came to accept that Home Pages could replace much of the content of
newsletters.

It quickly became apparent - to the students at least - that the Home Page gave them an
audience of their peers and their parents; they were highly motivated by the prospect of
being able to publish their stories and presentations and get feedback. For teachers who
had previously been using email for this purpose, this saved them a lot of time.
At Key Stage 2 some teachers appointed Home Page monitors who had responsibility for
managing the Home Page and, as in one example, the students used the Home Page to
summarize what they had learnt that week.

Year 6 Home Page


The main page is
being used as a
bulletin board to keep
students informed
about current events.
In the right hand panel
the Year 6 teachers
have created folders so
students can access
current resources for
homework. Students
can view each others Power Points and use the shared Forums to share their ideas and
suggestions. The teachers are able to share the work load because they both have
editor rights to the Home Page
Year 3 Home Page
The Year 3 team
have created a
common home page
to support a Unit of
Inquiry. The
audience is as much
parents as it is
students. There are
web links, Forums
and Surveys. All
students in Year 3

can access this home page. The year team used the home page to link up with another
primary school in Melbourne so students could view and comment on each others
presentations about water

Year 4 Home Page


Another examples of
a year group home
page. Note the news
bar at the top of the
Page. Home pages
can be used like
Wikis because the
ownership and
editorial rights can
be shared among
teachers (and
students).

Surveys - getting Feedback from Users.


Surveys make it possible for teachers to get feedback about what students already know
and, for students, they are a way of getting feedback from their peers. In this way the
CLC supports the new meritocracy whereby users can rate each others contributions.
Surveys can be applied across the school and were used to survey parents about changes
to uniform. But it was when Surveys were used to support the learning process that they
came into their own. Teachers like Surveys because they could use them for capture and
share Prior Learning so ‘What do you already know about the Egyptians?’ is a good
example. Surveys were also used to give students feedback from their peers about the
stories they had written. Surveys were also very useful as way of setting homework;
unlike Forums, students in a survey could not see each others responses – only the
teacher could do this. When the results were displayed the class could then view and
access their collective knowledge about a topic.

Day of the Dead


The teacher created
this survey to find
out what the students
already knew about
Egyptian language
for the Day of the
Dead.
When the teacher
displayed the survey
results the children
could view each
others responses

Year 4 Literacy
The year four students
were asked to create
Big Books for the Year
2 children. The
teacher worked with
her class to create a
survey to get feedback
from the year 2
children about the
design and layout of
their Big Books
Year 3 Field Trip
to Hong Kong Park
The teacher created a
survey so the
children could
record what they had
learnt from their visit
to the Park. Unlike
paper based records
the survey results
could easily be
shared and referred
by the whole class.
Parents were
included in the
audience

Rain Forests
The class had been
discussing threats to
the worlds rain
forest. The teacher
used a Survey to find
out the views of the
childrens’ parents
and this proved to be
a powerful
discussion point the
following day when
she shared the results
with the class
Conclusion
A learning platform makes us all learners. Learning platforms are still very new and what
we see today will be very different in a few years time, as the technology develops at a
rapid rate. So what are the key lessons after two years working with teachers in the
ESF?.
The leadership of the CLC came from the classroom; it was classroom leaders who set
the agenda rather than school or subject leaders. But if learning platforms are to be
sustainable and become part of school culture, then their purpose and outcomes need to
be aligned with school reforms – information literacy, assessment for learning, PYP,
thinking skills etc. The US Department of Education Survey shows that 35% of children
between the ages of two and five spend time online. Just imagine if we were able to tap
into this level of participation and knowledge creation and channel it into our education
system.
As Annika Smallxi chief executive of Futurelab says “ how can we enlist learners to
become co-developers in their own learning?.” If Wikipedia can match Encyclopedia
Britannica for accuracy then why are we still using text books?xii. How can we harness
the collective expertise of our teachers and enthusiasm of our students to drive a culture
of genuine innovation and collaboration across our schools?.

Finally technology is not value free and how teachers adopt technology reflects the
values they attribute to teaching and learning. Teachers who value student centred
learning – who set enquiries rather than tasks and who believe in students learning from
each other, will see a learning platform as a natural extension of their practice. Our
students do value this type of technology ( as do big companies like News Corp and
Google) this is where they are spending their time – 50,000 hours by the time they leave
school compared to the 15,000 hours they will have spent in school. We cannot afford to
ignore what is happening as the Tsunami approaches our classrooms and changes forever
the way our children will learn.

Peter Woodhead
ICT Adviser
English Schools Foundation
Hong Kong
Connected Learning Communities @
http://clc.esf.edu.hk/
woodheadp@esfcentre.edu.hk

References

xi
xii
i
Towards New Learning Networks by Tim Rudd, Dan Sutch and Keri Facer published by Futurelab 2006
ii
Social Software and Learning by Martin Owen, Lyndsay Grant, Steve Sayers, Keri Facer published by Futurelab 2006
iii
Their Space – Education for a Digital Generation by Hannah Green and Celia Hannon published by Demos 2007
iv
Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/
v
Del.icio.us - http://del.icio.us/
vi
YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/
vii
Zoho - http://www.zoho.com/
viii
Lemke, J (2002). Becoming the village: education across lives. In G Wells and G Claxton
(eds) Learning for Life in the 21st Century: Sociocultural Perspectives on the Future of
Education (pp34-45). London: Blackwell
ix
Jim Hewitt From a Focus on Tasks to a Focus on Understanding: The cultural transformation of a Toronto classroom
x
Scardamalia, M and Bereiter, C (1994) Computer support for knowledge building communities.
xi
Oliver, R. & Herrington, J. (2003). Exploring technology-mediated learning from a pedagogical
perspective. Journal of Interactive Learning Environments, 11(2), 111-126.
Futurelab issue 04 of Vision 2007