Learning Possibilities in Wales – a world-class EdTech intervention promoting hybrid learning
As the school gates start reopening in the wake of the pandemic-induced closures, it is a good time to reflect on the lessons learned during the shift to online learning during these traumatic times.
When schools and governments begin reflecting, at a system level, on how to build resilience into the learning framework, two of the main takeaways from those schools that were best able to meet the learning needs of the whole school community during their forced closures are:
- Digital skills amongst the teaching workforce can no longer be confined to those who are skilful early adopters of the new technologies, but ALL teachers now need to have, at their fingertips, the skills and capacity to be able to operate hybrid learning online learning environments
- Students should be better prepared for a future that involves more home study and learning online through the development of their repertoire of skills and competencies in self-directed learning
The implementation of national learning platform in Wales, which Learning Possibilities installed and rolled out to more than 700,000 users, has been held out as a model of international best practice. In the study conducted by NESTA in the UK, in collaboration with its international counterpart in Italy, the Welsh Government’s Strategy on Digital Competency in Wales, for which Learning Possibilities provided both the learning platform and the professional development and training framework, was singled out as one of only nine examples of best practice across the world.
The ‘Digital Competence Framework’ established digital competence as one of three cross-curricular responsibilities, alongside literacy and numeracy. The framework focuses on developing a broad set of digital skills required in our increasingly digital world. These span four main strands: citizenship, interacting and collaborating, producing; data and computational thinking.
Critical to the success of the project was the creation of learning platform, Hwb+, and the promotion of its use through the creation of ‘Digital Pioneer Schools’ which enabled the creation of a network for shared learning between schools and government, and also between Digital Pioneer Schools and other schools across Wales . The schools involved early in the programme acted as hubs for sharing learning, sometimes offering training for teachers from other schools facilitated via their Consortia. The school and teacher-led approach meant that through the Digital Pioneer Schools network, the government involved schools in the development process. This helped to gain buy-in from schools, while also stress-testing the framework in real settings. Another critical success factor was the creation of pairing and mentoring schemes. For example, one school supported the roll-out of Hwb+ in every classroom by ensuring that reluctant teachers were always paired with a more confident teacher. Additionally, student digital leadership schemes were set up in many schools, where students were given responsibility to support teachers and other peers with ICT issues and champion digital learning. Such schemes are reported to be effective in supporting teachers with IT frustrations, encouraging more teachers to use IT as well as developing leadership and communication skills in participating pupils.
The ADOPT professional development framework from Learning Possibilities, was the implementation tool that was used in schools nationally as a roadmap to guide the journey from early familiarisation with the technology tools and resources available on Hwb+ learning platform and the steps towards transformation: where learning and teaching, in the new paradigm, fully embraces an integration of face-to-face and online learning in a truly hybrid manifestation.
The resources to support the ADOPT framework are constantly being reviewed and improved by the technical team at Learning Possibilities and the framework has now been integrated with the LP-OASIS, online testing and evaluation system to produce annual progress reports charting the professional development of staff and informing the next stage of school development planning .
 National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts
Looking back, we were delighted with our participation numbers, the quantity of resources and of children’s work, the sheer scale, our confirmed hunches about the future, and of the way that our decisions about tight protection at all times of our users’ privacy, have proved to be absolutely correct.
But looking back there are some useful lessons from the project – which Microsoft confirmed as “a global showcase and an example of how technology can support change in educational practice” (Larry Nelson, Worldwide Managing Director). These aren’t a criticism of the past, just a useful set of key learnings from this vast project to inform everyone’s future practice:
- Building a platform for all the children in a nation is complex. If you do it really well, no one will know just how complex it was! For the Hwb+ system has used 821 GB which includes 42 GB of public facing Web site files (Read More). But technology helps complexity to be managed. That technology will change and it is important to have eyes on the horizon whilst the practical feet on the ground stuff is happening. As an example the work we did to plug in data analytics is important in 2018, but will be enormously more important by 2020.
- Secondly, it is easy for policymakers to forget about the children from time to time. Our Welsh users created an enormous amount of work – from blogs and poems to coursework and exam material. This isn’t just a vast repository of their good work, it is a valuable historical archive that will be increasingly valuable as time passes. Thought needs to be given to that resource before it gets to be too big to cherish.
- Of course, teachers are without a doubt the most hardworking group of professionals on the planet. They are smart, qualified, passionate about their children and often exhausted! Enabling their professional development needs to be about reducing their burden as teachers whilst making their teaching even more effective. That rarely happens from a top-down approach to CPD. We have very much wanted to support CPD using the wisdoms that were emerging from our most passionate users – by teachers for teachers. It is hard for top-down national policy to directly support bottom-up developments. That needs careful and enlightened planning.
- Analysing raw server data is difficult. The easy numbers are rarely actually simple. For example users might share computers, might amass work off-line connecting less regularly, might contribute multiple media as well as text, might be the indispensable “heart and soul of the community” but without contributing much formally, and so on. We really believe that good research can reveal far better insights than simple KPIs. That good research needs to be built in and funded, and part of the dialogue with users.
- But finally, as we had confirmed by so many tweets and blogs and conversations and enthusiastic children: this was worth doing. With almost 200 countries in the world, the baton is being passed on from Wales. What those countries do next will be even more interesting…
Our six year contract with the Welsh government has now reached its conclusion; following the three year extension after an independent review confirming its “value for money”. Time to look back, and forwards!
Our conversations with the government began in 2012 and rightly there was a complex and competitive procurement route to follow from there. Nevertheless, everyone wanted to get started as quickly as possible; a year would seem a very long wait for a five year old! Hwb+ began quickly, and grew even quicker. We launched the project with Leighton Andrews, the then Education Minister in 3 months, Andrews referred to the project as a “world-class system for those aged 3 to 19” (Source: BBC, 2012). At Learning Possibilities we are proud of the scale and impact of our work in Wales with 540,0000 active accounts and 87% of schools logging in in 2017 (Read More) and being referred to by Microsoft as “one of the largest deployments of its type” (Larry Nelson, Worldwide Managing Director).
The last decade has seen so many new technology developments: satnav on your phone, Snapchat, Instagram, üBer, 4G networking, properly smart watches, the Hadron Collider, Siri with Alexa and friends, and so much more. Our project began on a very fast moving conveyor belt of global innovation and we felt that all our design work had to be “future aware”. Even our six years with the Welsh government have proved to be a long time in technology-years. As the contract’s years passed, we added everything from Skype conferencing to big data analytics, but also pragmatic things like off-line working and many more terabytes of storage. Not everything needed to evolve; our initial certainty about the importance of user privacy might have seemed a bit obsessive at the outset, but has proved to be prescient as recent scandals about data privacy have shown. Welsh students’ data safely housed in the UK now looks very clearly the right call. What evolved in this case was others’ understanding of online danger.
Perhaps most interestingly, where Hwb+ had begun perhaps as a shared learning platform, it became the cement in a community of learners and one with a designed future-proofing, because we knew, and know, the emerging and changing needs of learners.
One key lesson from Finland’s much lauded education system is of the importance of collaboration and exchange between schools going forwards. As the OECD put it: “Children entering school in 2018… Will need to be responsible and empowered, placing collaboration above division, and sustainability above short-term gain” (Read more here). That OECD vision of collegiality and collaboration needs more than a tool to support blogs, chats, homework and content. It needs accessible and visual data that allows the individual to model and compare their efforts, and for teams to see who has done what, for whom.
The Welsh government were prescient back in 2012 to commission the very tool that would allow their users to build national collaboration. What started as a platform finished looking very much like a conduit for community.
And now, as we move forward it is perhaps no surprise to the see the level of interest from other nations as they too seek to make their learning better and to build the sense of togetherness that is looking more and more important as a slightly unstable world moves forward.
We were hugely proud of what we did in wales, but even more excited to see what we can do for other nations as they realise the power of collaborative spaces for learners and professionals alike, on-line and face to face. One important dimension in that collaboration is the role of language and of course our Welsh project was properly bi-lingual with Welsh and English to the fore. Technology is only just starting to hint at its ability to allow collaboration across cultures, but surely nothing is more important socially? Technology might eventually bring us something akin to Douglas Adam’s Babelfish, but without evolving the habit of equitable cross cultural collaboration, such wonderful technologies will be wasted.
Six years of progress? Well yes, but for us it was also 6 years of clarity in our understanding of what learners and teachers need, worldwide. Can’t wait to see what the next 6 years bring…
The Welsh Government published its Learning in Digital Wales Report on October 2016, which took a critical look at its funding of digital infrastructure, devices, platforms and content into schools.
On the LP+ (HWB+) platform, the report commented;
“Hwb+ [LP+] meets the objectives for the VLE which were specified, including a single user log on for all teachers and learners, ability to be accessed anywhere at any time from any device, and tools and content, most notably access to Office365, purchased through a ‘buy once for Wales’ approach. “
“Usage data on Hwb and Hwb+ and evidence from surveys and qualitative feedback seems to indicate that LiDW products and activities (including infrastructure improvements) have had a positive effect on increasing the use of digital resources in schools. Training, support and awareness raising activities also appear to have contributed to increases in the use of digital resources and to improving the confidence and awareness of teachers and school managers.”
The Report also comments on the high adoption of the HWB+ platform, and makes recommendations for future improvements of the programme. You can read the complete report here.
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Have you ever stopped to think about how often you collaborate with other people? Take a moment to think about your day. You wake up and may have to collaborate with the rest of your family on who uses the bathroom first.
On your way to school you will probably talk to your friends. Once at school you will collaborate with your teacher, your class mates and friends from other classes. Social media is fast becoming the major means of collaboration. It cannot replace face-to-face contact but it does have its advantages as long as it is used responsibly and appropriately. Hwb+ is a safe on line learning platform where pupils and staff can collaborate, and every school in Wales has access to their own Hwb+ site.
Schools across Wales are beginning to collaborate with each other using Hwb+. Many schools are taking part in joint projects such as ‘The Road to Rio’ where pupils are collaborating with pupils from other schools by sharing photographs, blogging about information they have discovered about the Olympics and sharing ideas with each other through discussions online.