There are many aims of this website. In a nutshell, it provides the whole educational community involved in a course to get together, share ideas and resources, and for students to have a 24/7 access to teacher support, and not be limited to meetings within scheduled lessons.
An exercise in lateral thinking, with positive outcomes for all..
This development originated from the need to provide more individual support for our students. Up until now the normal mode of thinking has been to attempt to provide more individual support into the scheduled lessons, or to put on additional lessons/revision programmes. In most cases this has resulted in an even greater workload for both teachers and students.
Allowing the students to work at their own rate, with individual learning plans, is one way of releasing the teacher to become more of a facilitator, in a supportive role, so that teachers can address individual needs of students. This can work to a certain extent, but there is ultimately a limit to the amount of time teachers can provide support for students in scheduled lessons. Not only does this require more work for the teachers, it is also based on the false assumption that the positive benefits for students is directly proportional to the amount of additional time and effort that the teachers provides. The 'law of diminishing returns' could be applied here! Virtually all of the previous support was geared to towards the time in scheduled lessons. Commitments elsewhere, coupled with a mismatch in the timetables between individual students and the teacher often made additional support impossible, unless some other commitment suffered.
Another way forward?
A support mechanism exists, which is free of time constraints for both the teacher and student and is not dependent on the timetable! It provides more breathing space for a teacher and student, so that each can contact the other when they need to, without requiring a scheduled meeting time and place.
A 24/7 Online Support Facility
Designed to run in parallel and to complement scheduled lessons, it is a unique support online facility. The Course Support Zone is a website which provides each user with their own unique support area. It has a very different and exciting application for teaching and learning. It is designed to extend teaching and promote communication between teachers and student beyond the normal confinement of scheduled lessons, and provide online learning in a most innovative and exciting way. Communications can be between teacher and individual students, or between teacher and group, or whole group (social) activities. Not quite a party atmosphere but, hey, we can work on that... :-)
24/7 access is not a 'virtual' dream, it is reality that we should embrace and use in making teaching and learning more effective and efficient as possible. It can be used in parallel with the normal support role within lessons. The main difference is that students and teachers can communicate with each other at any time, without waiting for scheduled lessons. This provides the teacher with more opportunities to give individual support, and the students can seek assistance and support whenever they require assistance. Another advantage of its use is that it reduces the pressure on the teacher for individual support during lessons. All users have time to make choices, rather than be dictated by the requirements of a timetable!
This is one of the most exciting ventures yet, and it certainly uses the most advanced technology available at this time. Yet, technology is certainly not the point here, it is the ability to utilise it to enrich and enhance learning. For all the potential and excitement that this generates we need to thank the Open Source software phenomenon, and to Martin Dougiamas who made Moodle available for the world!
Make no mistake, this facility has tremendous potential, since it can be used for 'delivering' whole courses online, with highly interactive elements between the teacher and student built into the system. Or, you can use it as an online learning package which complements and integrates with the normal scheduled lessons. Learning is done by a combination of individual discussions with the teacher, resources and guidance provided by the teacher, and feedback to the assignments submitted by the student.
Throw away those 'off the shelf' packages which very rarely deliver what you and the student need. This facility allows you to be in control, and takes account of individual students needs. In addition, there is a collective (social) element to each zone where individuals can discuss matters related to the course, ask and respond to any questions set by other members of the group. Every subject area in the school can have its own unique learning zone. Within each zone are offered a number of different courses for the students to enroll. Every course in the school can be catered for using this facility.
Each course has a number of designated teachers, who set assignments, provide guidance and documents, and give feedback to work submitted online. Teachers can upload, directly from their computers, virtually every document they use in teaching. Images, MS Word documents, Spreadsheets, ordinary text documents, Adobe pdf, even multimedia files can be uploaded to each course area.
When used effectively, it provides greater flexibility for both teachers and students. Rather than concentrating on trying to see everyone during lessons, and sorting out all the queries and problems in this scheduled time, the teacher has the opportunity to communicate with individual students, and with the whole group, by this online facility. Individual assignments submitted by a student are not seen by other students, but only by the assigned teacher(s) and the student. Feedback is given online. Regular and automatic e-mails to all members of the group informal them of any new messages been set by the teacher(s), or by other students in the discussion area.
The discussion area(s) allows students to discuss their work online, and teachers can also input guidance and direction. Since virtually all students have access to computers at home and access to computers at school, there is now no excuse to miss assignments, and opportunities exist to seek further clarification and guidance. The teacher can now spread the support time over a greater period, and make contact when it suits the teacher and the student. Very rarely does individual teacher and student 'free' time coincide in the real world. Each student logs onto his/her own unique learning area. They enrol for the designated course by providing the unique access code, given by the teacher. This is designed to allow only 'genuine' students to enter the designated course.
Students can enrol for any number of different courses, to match the corresponding courses in school. Teachers can add new students to course, or remove them! Teachers can be assigned to any number of different courses, hence the emphasis on a team of teachers for each course.
This facility has the unique advantage for the team of teachers. Each team member can upload files to a common storage area. Any number of folders can be created within this virtual filing cabinet, and each folder and file can be accessed by any team member. Now that long awaited central filing area begins to take shape, at last! Schemes of work , word processed documents, spreadsheets, images, Adobe Acrobat files, music files, and many other formats can be stored in this area where team members can share resources. Now those schemes of work can be accessed by any team member, anywhere. They can be downloaded, altered and used according to the needs of the teachers and their students.
What are benefits for the students?
1. Logon any time, home or at school, or on holiday :-)
2. Read and/or download the latest information about all courses.
3. Read and respond to any assignments.
4. Start a journal (project) and update/change it anytime
5. Ask questions, start discussions, share ideas and information.
What are benefits for the teacher/educator?
1. Teachers can assist and support without constraints of a timetable!
2. Set assignments online.
3. View assignments and provide feedback .
4. Initiate discussions.
5. Provide resources.
6. Provide tests/assignments/quiz activities .
7. Respond to any individual questions from students
8. Take part in group discussions about topics/assignments.
9. Track progress of students
10. Store and share documents/data .
Promote teamwork! There is a virtual filing cabinet for each course. There is no limit to the number of virtual filing cabinets that can be set up. These files can be accessed by all other teachers taking part in the support role, for a given course. They can also be made available to students by links through the activities and assignments. At last, that central filing cabinet begins to take shape! No more lost documents, no more reinventing that same old wheel again, year after year.
Martyn Overy, E-Mail North Chadderton School Oldham, Lancashire, England