Creative Learning Systems

Creative Learning Systems logo
New company, new logo

Just a quick note – Cleveratom has closed (we went into voluntary liquidation after a run of particularly bad luck, and some less than satisfactory decisions). In the mean time I have set up a new company called ‘Creative Learning Systems’. Does just what it says on the tin…

I am very sorry to lose Cleveratom – such a cool brand! I wish my former colleagues well in their new endeavours, and will look forward to carrying on doing some excellent learning based consultancy, learning space design and web application development with Matthew Eaves as a co-director.

Since we have no development team anymore, we will be looking for excellent individuals who have a lot of skills and want to work in a dynamic way. If you know of anyone, do send me their info (or send them mine!).

Educating Boys

Lots on TV recently about educating boys, and providing constant physical stimuli to keep them engaged. The TV show centred on a school in Harlow, not far from where I once taught.

I am slightly disturbed by the whole thing. The emphasis seemed to be to make the boys able to succeed within the existing curriculum and assessment system. At no point did anyone consider that these are the things that need to change… and whilst the great outdoors seemed to be the preferred classroom area, little was said about the impact of the environment on learning. Nothing was said about the potential of virtual learning spaces and how they could be leveraged.

Finally, as yet I’ve not seen how any of this is to be made sustainable, which surely it needs to be if it is to be anything more than a small intervention.


BETT 2009, Education Executive, collaboration in learning

I was recently asked to provide a short piece of text for Education Executive magazine, looking at one or more of the emerging trends evident from the BETT show this year. I didn’t get the best of opportunities to walk around the show as we were extremely busy on our stand, but I did also do a presentation on Stephen Heppell’s ‘Learning Elsewhere’ feature stand in the middle of the main hall. I focussed on the collaborative nature of working online, and believe that this becoming more and more important. Here’s what I wrote for the magazine article:

Collaborative learning is foremost again this year, but not just between pupils. Becta’s lead on engaging parents in dialogue demands closer collaboration between home and school. More than simply sending out reports and giving access to summative data, great schools know this is about a structured, ongoing dialogue, not an event. It should happen throughout the year to be effective, and go well beyond accessing summative data, talking at parents’ evenings, or sending SMS messages about attainment or attendance.

Collaboration is also central to the New Diplomas. Students from different schools learning together in a consortium, physically or virtually, presents some interesting dilemmas. Current ‘approved’ learning platforms are not yet communicating clearly between themselves and alternative solutions are needed that don’t depend on a single school’s management system. Such platforms do exist, and these often offer greater opportunities for collaboration when managed well.

Encouraging effective collaboration between schools, and between home and school, perhaps requires an interesting shift in our use of existing tools, or alternatively the adoption of new ones. Most importantly, we must actively reduce the barriers around our virtual spaces, in a safe and secure way, if large-scale collaboration is to underpin learning moving forward.

As you can see, the importance of engaging parents goes well beyond simply reporting data to them at frequent intervals, and should certainly embrace the idea of participation in the process, and not simply attending an event. This is hard for lots of schools, but if it wasn’t it probably wouldn’t be worth striving for. The benefits of enabling this level of participation are likely to be clearer understanding of the aims of the school, less surprises at parents’ evenings and almost certainly a higher standard of attainment from the students.

And then there are the New Diplomas, which demand cross school collaboration for many of the lines of learning. Further, they demand close collaboration with local businesses too; working online to extend the opportunity for learning carries many challenges. How will schools introduce students from other partner schools into an online space that they already run – all Becta approved spaces (VLEs, MLEs, etc) are linked to the school management and information system (MIS: a database of student information) to populate the member data. Adding a temporary student to this is hard enough, but adding them regularly, frequently and removing them afterwards is harder still. Worse – how do you add an external adult from the local car dealership (for example) who is working with the school on a specific strand?

At Cleveratom we have been considering this for a while and conclude that it probably isn’t the right approach to link everything to the school MIS, and in the case of diplomas and engaging parents then it isn’t practical either. We have two products that might be of real interest to schools:

Spoke – a self evaluation and review framework tool. This allows you to set up ‘scenarios’ with sets of questions that students can use to evaluate themselves against. Parents can also be invited in to a scenario and staff of course are part of it to. The system allows individual reflection and review of performance, allows peer review, mentoring, group review and even acts as a standard questionnaire tool, too. It is remarkably adaptable and will easily enable a school to engage in ongoing and continuous dialogue with parents regarding their children’s learning, but introduces a strong element of self-evaluation for the students themselves.

Thought Park – a learning platform designed to be simple, engaging and powerful, it is often referred to as a ‘facebook’ for schools. However, it is a closed environment with a known membership that leverages social networking tools to support and extend learning. We have deployed it in a number of different schools around the country, including primary, secondary and FE colleges and it seems to fit the needs at many different levels. We are developing Thought Park for the New Diplomas to include all of the features needed to deliver the programmes. It is most certainly not a Becta approved VLE, and we really don’t want it to be, for the reasons above. It is making a difference to the schools piloting the roll out of the New Diploma in Essex and we think it could be of real interest to you if you are at all involved in implementing New Diplomas in your school, or across a consortium of schools, and are looking at online collaboration as part of that.

It would be wrong to assume that these tools are another way of building walls around information that should be shared. Both systems are able to have the membership extended to whoever you choose, and schools can manage that themselves. As I said in the article, the future of collaborative learning must include the lowering of walls around our virtual spaces, the idea of sharing information and passing on learning to others. We cannot expect to put learning under any specific bubble and not allow bubles to join together. Such is the way VLEs tend to work, sadly – each is its own bubble, and whilst lots of schools in the same VLE can often work toegether, real life in school settings isn’t like that, with lots of different schools using different products that still, sadly, do not ‘talk’ to each other.

A month without? BBC Blast, NHS, BETT

Ever tried going a whole month without? I wasn’t consioulsy trying to, but I looked at the date and was suitably taken aback that it is nearly a whole month since the last time. That’s not quite a record, but it really doesn’t feel so good.

Of course, I am talking about blog posting.

Cleveratom has been a really busy place to be around of late, with many things going on that are simply taking huge amounts of time. This is all good, but it does mean there isn’t enough time left to do things like write blog posts.

So what’s been taking the time away?

First up, BBC Blast are recomissioning their wonderful touring entourage, and extending it somewhat too. The amazingly innovative truck and marquee are to be joined by a further space on each location (where it is possible to fit it in) and have an advanced vehicle visiting locations in advance. It will all make sense when you see it, even if it doesn’t right now, but suffice to say the project continues to go from strength to strength and should be an astonishingly brilliant tour in 2009 – 2011.

Next, the NHS are developing a professional networking solution that should complement and extend the learning management systems, and provide greater opportunities for dialogue between all of the various parts that make up the health care provision we all enjoy. Creating a robust solution that meets everybody’s needs is quite a challenge, but with many years experience to call on, and colleagues from our old university too, we feel confident of getting it into shape by the deadline of 5th December.

The BETT show is fast approaching and as ever Cleveratom will be there, this time partnering with City Cllege Norwich to develop an excellent stand space and provide a rich insight into what happens in the college ‘RUGroom’ space which we helped develop. This development has been exceptiionally successful in providing a rich and creative experience for all of the RUGroom students. We are considerably proud of the fact that our involvement in Norwich has been over such a long time, and that one of the outcomes has been a ‘Beacon Award’ for CCN. Can we now say that we have helped develop an award winning space? I’d like to think so! In the mean time we have to prepare the space for BETT, design the stand, arrange for the hire of the necessary kit, organise merchandising and leaflets and generally get it all into a viable project. We will be on stand U130 (and U120) in the New Technology zone where we will be showing products such as ‘Spoke’, ‘Thought Park’ and ‘Mobi Stick’… all wonderful creations! There is more information about these tools on the Cleveratom Website.

All in all these things take time to get right, and with three major pieces of work like this it is no surprise to find a distinct lack of blogging going on. As soon as there is enough of a space I’ll report about each of these projects in turn.

TES Conference, Olympia

On Friday I had the great pleasure of speaking at the TES conference at Olympia, to a group of primary headteachers and practitioners about implementing personalised learning in their settings. All too often, personalised learning is considered as appropriate for secondary schools when in fact it is applicable to all phases of education. My turn at the podium was an opportunity to consider this in more detail.

The points I raised were the background of the personalised learning debate in England, how personalised learning fits with other systems and structures in schools and what tools are available to support the introduction and embedding of personalised learning in primary settings.

I drew from the work of David Hopkins’s 2007 book ‘Every school a great school’ (Open University Press) which clearly discusses the processes that have been happening in educational reform and offers suggestions for how the process of change can be taken further. Building in examples from around the world, during my time at Ultralab, and adding in a fair smattering of my own opinion about how virtual learning environments, as they currently stand, are not going to support personalised learning without a great deal of effort on bealf of the teachers who use them.

Far from being pessimistic, the situation couldn’t be more full of opportunity, but dismissing some of the myths and dispelling rumours is necessary before schools will be able to move towards implementing systems rigorously enough to really embedd the processes required.