Frog calls it’s conference the ‘National Learning Platform Conference’. That is daft. There are many other learning platforms. Are there not rules against misrepresenting the facts in marketing material?
If any Froggers are reading this, please do not despair at my critical tone. I am aiming to make Frog win at my school. To do this I will be it’s worst critic so I know where the pitfalls are. I’m not apologising. My tweets on the day were deliberately challenging Frog to show their teaching and learning credentials. I want to see the work; the value added to learning.
I am not going to go through the sessions one-by-one. My incomplete notes are here (I used simplynote on my iPad BTW – works well online or offline).
Frog are into the branding. You could buy hoodies, some with proceeds going to a charity. I received a frogbag, four badges, notepad, pen, beachball, conference guide, marketing leaflets and a pack of frog top trump cards (a fun and clever attempt to disseminate good frog practice).
Now, as Doug Belshaw pointed out on twitter, I thought I was at a practitioners conference, not a sales conference. Everyone I met had Frog in their school. I’m still uncertain.
The welcome was loud music (Lenny Kravitz, Are you going to go my way?), dry ice and inspirational slogan images. I only danced a little bit.
Gareth Davies MD revealed an excellent tool whereby the user (in this case a school using Frog) adjusted sliders to five criteria on the maturity of their Frog platform. Then click a button to see a spider graph showing your progress against the average of all the other Frog schools who had used it. I liked this. But I would have loved it if I as a teacher was able to set the criteria for my pupils to self-assess their progress in a unit of work and then see how it compared to their peers. I was informed this was intended to be rolled out to the core platform in due course. They also showed the new Frog community groups, which are not dissimilar to Google Groups. These too were heading for the core platform (no dates were mentioned). This is good. And I think it is a plausible strategy to unleash new tools on the teaching community before putting them into the school community.
Gareth did a bit of a Steve Jobs at WWDC. Fair play. Jobs has done okay out of it after all.
Then we had a keynote from inspirational speaker David Pearl. He was not worth writing about. Bad call.
Four workshops followed. I attended all the *Transform* sessions in pursuit of pedagogical inspiration from the best Frog practitioners showcasing their work. In the four sessions I saw one course which a pupil would see. It looked good. An image with a tabbed box beneath it structuring the resources being used for learning. And that’s it. At no other point in the day did I see a pupil’s perspective on work, or learning. Lots of parental engagement stuff. Cramlington Learning Village showed off their Frog pimping skills:
1. an interactive class photo page where you could drag and drop the pupils into a seating plan;
2. a random name selector that automatically uses the names of your class; (free one here)
3. automatic class blogs attached to the class of pupils. (think that’s all, apologies if not)
These were cool tools. I asked them if they had found it necessary to pimp Frog to make it good. They answered that this is very much not the case. Frog is fabulous out of the box. I asked if their cool tools were going to be adopted into the core platform. The mic was passed to the Frog MD who said (I think, I’m not certain) that schools who developed widgets and tools they wanted to share with other Frog users, would be able to do so. This is a great idea but something sticks in my throat because, when developing Moodle tools you can give them to the world because Moodle is, at it’s base level, open source and free. The same can be said of developing pedagogy with any open source tool. Publish your trials, tribulations and triumphs and others will use them to develop their own practice. This is not the same for Frog. But still, you are helping schools and thereby helping children. This, in my opinion, is not a bad thing. However, I am not paid to help anyone outside my school so this is not a critical issue, just one I need to make peace with.
My colleague, Dr Brooks (now on twitter) said he saw some stuff I might like in another session. The videos from that session are on the link below. The one he thought I would like is the e-safety portal, near the end of the video where the ideapad (pictured below) allows pupils to anonymously vote for another pupils suggestion or enter their own. Quite cool. You can instantly feel the pedagogical shift that this tool presents. It’s a nifty teaching and learning tool. http://frog.themfg.co.uk/index.phtml?d=227752
I saw some great ideas about how to develop parental engagement. Not rocket science but good contextual work.
Phase 1. Delivering all homework via frog.
Phase 2. Developing independence.
Phase 3. Parents as learners.
Phase 4. Parents engaging with learning.
Using social media. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Family learning activities. Getting parents to content without logging in. Using the social media achieves this. Wifi cloud around the site. Students have free access.
The FDP (Frog Developers Platform) is building into a good community. It was launched last year but this year they were realising schools want to do everything inside Frog. So APIs are enabled via the whole new architecture behind the scenes which allows modern web development. Users can build stuff and share it as described earlier. They can use Frog data in anything via oAuth. You can even build a whole new front end to Frog which just calls in the data.
Through the day I spoke to a few folk. It is always fun seeing Kerry Turner and Martin Colliver (a Moodler looking to be wowed), and I met Paul Benson (a new frogger and long time twitter mate). However, the enlightening conversations were with other Froggers. A network manager who had used Frog for three years but not managed to get it rolled out much beyond the ICT Department. A Headteacher who was as disappointed as I was not to see some evidence of value added to learning at the conference. And a gentleman who had flown in from Switzerland because his school had bought Frog in November. Since the purchase the school had employed some people with Moodle experience who were bemused by how few teaching and learning tools Frog offers, but now they were “stuck with it” so had to make it work. I must mention that after one of the challenging questions I asked in the afternoon, a Frog employee tapped me on the shoulder and had the difficult conversation (props to him). He was quite open that Frog has not been developed from the pedagogical viewpoint. He acknowledged Frog needs to address this. It delivers information to people very very well. It delivers assignments to pupils and teachers very very well. It does some great things. But it does fall short pedagogically.
Visuals. User interface. User experience. These things are important. Some may say they are vital. My approach to education technology is not to force it down everyones throats – especially busy teachers who are working very hard and getting great results. I love the teachers at my school. They sidle up to me and discuss an idea they have had involving a new tool they have found. I bite. I hope I deliver by helping them bring it to the classroom. I do not tell them to use the tools on my agenda.
The ICT Teaching & Learning committee are Frog fans. They might be right. Frog might be right for our school right here and right now. If we want all our teachers to be employing the VLE as part of their workflow, it might just be that Frog convinces those who have not taken to Moodle to do so. Context is king. We use MoodleDo at the moment and it is not the best Moodle company. WebAnywhere provide a better Moodle service than that we presently have. Tabbed sections within a course. SIMS integration including writing back for registers and reports. But at the end of the presentations to our committee, eight out of ten members were convinced Frog was right. Better tool. Better presentation. When I asked what they do not like about Moodle, one replied “all of it”.
At a strategy meeting I was asked if I would be happy leading Frog development at my school. It was hard to answer. But the answer has to be yes. 676 pupils out of 733 logged into our Moodle in the last 30 days (exam revision lists). I have changed the culture of our pupils. They expect to find material they need on our VLE. But this is not enough. What we need is strategic school deployment. I have worked hard to get senior managers invested in the rich use of technology in teaching and learning. Now I think they are. When Frog gets the green light in the next few days, we will develop a strategy that will hopefully incorporate all teachers, pupils, parents, technicians, administrators and senior management. This is what it takes to distribute education technology in a school. The VLE is not the silver bullet to 21C education. Anyone who knows my work will know how much I believe it is about creativity, innovation, collaboration and learning. Ask the pupils I teach. My hope is that those that adopt the VLE will shortly understand its limitations and want more. The more will be web2.0 tools. Google Apps maybe (Frog fully integrates with GAFE). Therein lies the win.