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The Torbay 14-19 Learning Partnership, which encompasses 13 learning providers, has embarked on a single, common learning platform to support delivery of the diplomas. Liz Porter and Dan Bunce explain how it works.

The Torbay 14-19 Learning Partnership has been collaborating on Key Stage 4 learning since 2006. It includes five non-selective secondary schools (two 11-16 and three 11-18) together with three grammar schools, the FE college, three special schools, the pupil referral unit and education other than at school (EOTAS) provision which have all agreed a common mission statement and guiding principles.

Initially the partnership collaborated on an extended vocational learning programme, which provided a solid background for embarking on diploma delivery. We have been delivering the creative and media diploma to over 70 14-16 learners and 40 post-16 learners since September 2008, with another five diplomas coming on stream from September 2009.

Our diploma delivery model at Key Stage 4 is truly collaborative, with learners from four schools attending one of three delivery centres (two schools and the FE college) for diploma principal learning (PL) on Tuesdays followed by a home school day on Fridays for PL follow-up and generic learning and additional specialist learning.

Each creative and media delivery centre has a particular specialism within the principal learning. One school with specialist art status emphasises visual arts, another school specialises in media and the FE college has a wide range of performance facilities. Learners opt to study various units of the diploma with an emphasis on one discipline and thus attend the centre best suited to that approach.

Over two years every learner will attend every delivery centre for at least one unit to give the required breadth of the diploma. Much of the creative and media diploma learning occurs as group-work and groups may contain learners from several schools.

For this reason it is important that students can access their work from any delivery centre, from their home school and from home, in order to build on their PL work on the home school follow-up day or as homework, and that they can jointly contribute to work even when they are not physically together as a group.

The teaching team swiftly realised this had to be facilitated through a shared learning platform. Other learning platforms were already in use in Torbay schools but as soon as the support issues with multiple virtual learning environments (VLEs) were explained, it became clear to all that a common platform was required.

Another issue was that of assessment and attendance tracking. For this, the partnership commissioned work on developing a web-based solution for individual learning plans (e-ILP) from a Plymouth-based company and plans are now in place to integrate the e-ILP into Moodle to create one platform.

A current difficulty is the issue of writing learner data back to school MIS systems but we are hoping to resolve this within the next few months.

Agreeing one platform

Initial discussions with individual schools, and through the secondary schools ICT Support Network, revealed that several different VLE platforms (Moodle, Viglen, RM), were already present in schools but were being used to greatly different effect.

Clearly it would have been possible for diploma delivery schools to add students to their own VLEs but this would have been a logistical nightmare for the students, who would potentially be members of three or four VLEs around Torbay. Where would they go for support, and how?

Another option would have been one dedicated diploma VLE, hosted in one place but this one establishment would then have to offer support to all diploma staff and students, potentially hundreds if not thousands of people.

The procurement of one solution would also have required expenditure of many thousands of pounds on a software product that may not have provided the flexibility required by the diploma schools and stakeholders, as diplomas developed and the school demands changed.

As the project was funded through the Torbay 14-19 Partnership, following a successful capital bid in the first round of diploma gateways, this was a one-off funding opportunity to support the roll out of the Creative and Media Diploma. We wanted to ensure that the investment also supported future diplomas across the area.

Following a skills survey across the partnership we found that Moodle was present in three key institutions - Brixham College, Westlands School and South Devon College - which were heavily involved with the Creative and Media Diploma delivery and the planned ICT Diploma.

A development group was quickly established with representatives from South Devon College, Brixham College, St Cuthbert Mayne and Westlands School. Discussions took place and testing of inter-Moodle working was proven. At this point the findings of the group were reported back to the diploma leaders through the 14-19 Partnership and a decision was taken to adopt a Moodle solution.

The advantages of Moodle included:

  • support at all study locations by the home school ICT teams

  • an interworking solution that could be scaled easily to suit demands

  • relatively low capital outlay

  • flexibility to be developed with the changing face of the diplomas However there were also potential drawbacks:

  • sourcing a vendor willing to support and install a VLE network, who was impartial to which VLE was being used

  • reliance upon much good will between establishments

  • lack of support documentation and resources with free software - this will require continued strong partnership, a professional development programme and support from the local authority advisory team and South Devon College's e-learning coordinator

By using the Moodle solution, the home schools can support students in ways with which they are familiar; the main installation contractor only needs to support the servers upon which the VLE was installed.

South Devon College took the lead with teaching and learning development and provided training to the teaching staff expected to use the VLE. Technical support training was delivered by the main contractor with additional help from the existing Moodle users.

Streaming media

In addition to the VLE network, we have deployed streaming media servers to each diploma school complete with laptops and HD video cameras.

Archive video footage of lessons, tutorials and work can be streamed on demand to students anywhere in the area and live, streaming, video-casts can deliver remote classes which would not have been possible with video conferencing (the video-cast can reach many sites at a time, including student homes, which was almost impossible with video conferencing).

Media streaming training began in November 2008. We are focusing on ICT support staff between December and the end of January and then will launch the media element to diploma staff and leaders at a conference in February, hosted at Brixham College.

In addition to this, very soon the students will be able to replay video of the lesson introduction and summary via the Moodle links to the media server. Video-cast tutorials are planned so that students can interact with teachers remotely.

The learning platform provides excellent flexibility and access to learning resources. If you consider that the diploma VLE includes Moodle, a media server and e-ILP, it offers students the opportunity for greater home school/home study and the production of personal e-portfolios together with a range of assessment and progress tracking options.

It allows students to follow up on work missed through absence and to recap and consolidate their understanding of what has been done earlier. Learners can follow a diploma even if the principal learning is not being taught in their own school and it allows collaboration to continue even when learners are not face to face with each other.

So far everything seems to be working well. We are due to carry out a self-evaluation prior to the next round of diplomas coming online in September 2009 and this will highlight any enhancements that need to be made.

The diploma offers a unique scenario where schools that would often prefer to work alone are steered towards other learning providers - the key to making it work is collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.

By Liz Porter of the 14-19 team at Torbay Local Authority and Dan Bunce, VLE project coordinator for the partnership.

Data management

  • Other lead diploma staff involved in establishing the VLE were Jason Haines (Brixham College), Matt Harbour (South Devon College), Adam Shaikh (St Cuthbert Mayne School) and Becky Barrington (e-learning coordinator at South Devon College).

  • Partnership institutions involved in diploma delivery include: Brixham College, Paignton Community and Sports College, St. Cuthbert Mayne School, South Devon College, Westlands School and Torquay Community College. Three grammar schools, the PRU and a special school will be involved in the next stages of delivery.

  • The independent contractor chosen to support the VLE solution was Schoolcare.

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