Just to introduce myself, I am Kenny McCormack, Operations Manager at Synergy Learning and I look after the development and design teams. As I have just passed my first year in the company, I thought I would write a blog on one project that I have some personal interest in, it involves my old grammar school in Derry city, St. Columb’s College.
The project is called the Foyle Cloud and the project team is aspiring to be a model for adoption of Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) for schools and colleges in Northern Ireland, which is by no means an easy task. In addition the aims and objectives for the 3 year programme and beyond are to:
- Improve IT skills from the ground up as part of the Digital Derry vision
- Adopt and promote e-Portfolio usage for portfolio based qualifications
- To provide a platform for sharing courses between schools and reduce travel between schools i.e. improve efficiency and hopefully save money along the way
- Provide a platform for staff collaboration in and between schools
As you can imagine with such ambitions there are many challenges that must be overcome by the team to successfully deliver the project, this blog will try and cover some of these and where Synergy Learning services has helped.
The technology solution bit
To help achieve the aims and objectives of the programme the customer needed to select a solution that would be easy to use, robust, scalable, would allow schools to have their own VLE, but still provide a means for students and teachers from different schools to collaborate.
The Foyle Cloud selected Moodle as their VLE platform of choice. Moodle is the world’s leading open source Learning Management System with a global user community and is recognized for its many benefits.
distance education and supplement classroom-based teaching – Blended
existing content, other web resources can be linked to, or create and edit
new content in Moodle
discussions outside the classroom
Assignments + Quizzes
and report on students’ learning, encourage students to learn and self-test,
Feedback + Choice course activities
gather feedback from students
tracked of all actions (Views + Posts) and can be reported on
+ Collaboration tools
system messaging between teachers + students, forums, wikis, interactive
chat, workshop modules
One other important reason why the Foyle Cloud selected Moodle, was its ability to link any number of Moodle environments together using its proprietary MNET protocol. Once the system is configured correctly, each school has their own VLE and a central hub VLE is established to provide the inter-school collaboration platform.
Learners from different schools are able to roam from their own school VLE to the central hub to participate in shared curriculum courses reducing the need to travel to the school in person.
Teachers can manage their own courses on their school VLE, share information and collaborate with other tutors from other schools in the network on the central hub.
The diagram below illustrates the Foyle Cloud Moodle network setup and the main user type responsibilities:
Foyle Cloud Moodle Network Model
In addition to providing the ability to network different Moodles together the MNET protocol also allows another open source system, Mahara, to be linked to any of these VLE environments. Mahara provides the missing technology bit that Moodle does not have; e-portfolio services.
Once linked to the Moodle network, the Mahara site provides a system for all learners of the VLE to store and share documents within a collaborative and reflective platform.
Users of the system can demonstrate their life-long learning, skills and development over time to selected audiences.
So where does Synergy Learning come in you may ask? The Foyle Cloud contracted us to provide the solid hosting platform required to cope with the large number of concurrent learners and teachers that would be using the system on a daily basis. We also provide the expertise and support to maintain the systems and ensure their optimum use.
Communication + programme structure
With the number of schools in the Foyle area who have already come on board and also those planned for year three, it is clear that a good organisation structure is essential.
Synergy Learning’s experience again has helped the Foyle Cloud management group develop a comprehensive communication structure with clear roles and responsibilities for those involved.
The agreed organisation structure is illustrated below:
This model could be adopted by other similar organisations attempting to gain the benefits of working together as a network of schools or colleges.
Part of the implementation of this organisation structure was to agree a standardized protocol for managing the different VLE’s. This operations protocol includes agreeing one single process for:
- Adding and enrolling users
- Password policy
- Course labeling and layout
- User profile fields
- Category organization
- Global VLE configuration settings
In addition to standardizing how the system is used, the Foyle Cloud also availed of Synergy Learning’s theme design services to create a consistent look and feel for all of the Moodle sites whilst still allowing each school to be branded separately.
The story so far!
Since implementation of the technology components of the system earlier in the year the Foyle Cloud ran a pilot course on the central hub site called ‘Building Bridges’, which was launched in tandem with the opening of the new Peace bridge in the city. This course content was created through the collaboration of pupils from a range of different schools and backgrounds in the city.
Since the kick off the project 7 schools have come on board to the Moodle network:
- St. Columb’s College
- St. Mary’s College
- Lisneal College
- St. Joseph’s College
- Immaculate Conception
- St. Brigid’s College
- Lumen Christi
The plan is to have 18 or more at the end of the 3 year programme.
So what’s next for Foyle Cloud!
Along with continuing to bring in more schools and colleges in the area to the network, the Foyle Cloud intends to:
- Launch the first certified shared course on the central hub in the next school year – either BTEC or A-Level Applied Engineering course
- Pilot their first e-portfolio certification course – Occupational Studies
- Pilot the use of Mahara in general with one of the schools on the Foyle Cloud already so that this can be adopted by all schools next year
- Fully establish the staff collaboration area on the central hub for all teachers and tutors
Synergy Learning will continue to support the Foyle Cloud to ensure the success of the programme.
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