Locking the (virtual) classroom door

Next week I will start training a new group of employed management trainees – apprentices in fact.  We will meet for a workshop once a week until Christmas. I have been getting everything ready for them, including setting up their virtual classroom in Edmodo.

I think I mentioned in a previous blog that I got involved with using Edmodo for purely practical reasons:  some colleagues had been trialling it, and it is free – can’t get more of a bargain than that.  Edmodo is pretty simple to use from the back end and fairly appealing to learners as it resembles Facebook.  I will primarily be using it as a resource for learners to access links, electronic copies of training materials and extra materials and news I think they might enjoy such as news on management topics.

In anticipation of the new group, I have set them up a virtual classroom.  Edmodo generates a shortened URL and a group code learners use to join the group.  Once they have all joined, I can ‘lock’ the classroom so that it is a private space just for us.  I should point out that I don’t lock my students in classrooms in the real world!

Door

I have started to set up a virtual library in their Edmodo classroom – useful websites (click throughs), generic course info for reference etc.  One of the joys of Edmodo is that, once you have added materials they are in your teacher’s library until you delete them; ditto folders created to organise those materials.  As this is the third group I have used this with, it means I have lots of pre-uploaded materials and ready-made folders I can share in just a few clicks – a great time saver!

Managing elearning

Today I thought I would summarise what my experience has been on the teaching and management side of elearning.

Many, many years ago one of my colleagues left and my CEO asked me to take over the management of two Learndirect centres which were seriously under-performing.  I braced myself to hate Learndirect and just make the best of it.  But to my surprise I absolutely loved everything about Learndirect.  The back end was fabulous – as a manager I could access weekly reports about starts, completers, what learners and teachers had been up to in terms of stats and progress.  This soon become a favourite Monday morning ritual:  logging in to look at all the previous week’s activity. The learners who were using it liked the courses and online materials.  By working closely with the teachers, we managed to bring two under-performing contracts back on track in no time at all by:

  1. using the data available through the back end to plan for learner completions and prioritise interventions for those who were behind schedule; and
  2. introducing a more blended learning approach.

I could talk all day about the data side (I can never have enough management information), but I think the blended learning approach warrants a bit more explanation.

The majority of learners were studying English or Maths or both.  Some were brushing up on their English as a first language and trying to gain a nationally recognised certificate, while others were learning English as a second language (ESOL).  A minority were studying more vocational courses, but the clear priority – in terms of learner volumes, Learndirect contracts and funding – were the English and Maths.  Learndirect allows for people to turn up at a centre and enrol for a course and then, if they want, never set foot in the centre ever again, and this had previously been encouraged.  Often the centre was empty, and volunteers and teachers had little to do.

When I took over and saw how many learners were not progressing towards their English and Maths courses, the first thing I got the teachers to do was to ring all those people and invite them in.  We discussed their learning goals and their experience of Learndirect with them.  They all liked it, but slowed down when they got stuck and had no-one to ask.  So the teachers put on some themed half-day sessions (e.g. Tuesday mornings for Maths, Wednesday afternoons for ESOL etc) and got people to commit to attend once a week or once a fortnight.  They would come in and work on their courses online, knowing that there was an expert on hand to help them with bits they got stuck on.  This was a great success, and there was a bit of camaraderie since the learners in the group were all in it together, and could even help each other.  It also allowed the teachers to plan brief targeted sessions (e.g. on punctuation) once they knew what people were struggling with.

This experience left me with a very strong conviction that elearning is all very well, but it needs some real-world intervention from human beings, particularly where you have learners with low levels of functional skills and confidence.

Image

My other experience of back end elearning is in the management training I deliver to apprentices and other work-based learners.  I have been experimenting with Edmodo online VLE for around 7 months.  The reasons I chose Edmodo were purely practical:  the company I work for does not have its own VLE (most colleges I have worked for have used Moodle) and Edmodo was both online and free – my favourite price!   Some colleagues were using it, so I thought it was worth a shot.

In Edmodo I set up closed virtual classrooms for each group, and after each session I upload the materials and powerpoints I have used, along with links to websites I think they might like.  Edmodo looks and functions a bit like Facebook, and I can send a message to a group, create folders of materials for them and it is generally pretty easy to use from their end.  I can award badges if people have done something particularly meritorious such as given a presentation, although I doubt this is appreciated by adult learners!   My learners tend to use it simply to access materials.  No matter how much I try to encourage them to post messages with questions and answers to support each other, or respond to my posts, they don’t get involved.  It’s frustrating as I can see quite a bit of potential for it.  So it’s a bit lonely in there for me because

in VLE no-one can hear you scream!

I will keep experimenting with it – any pointers from more experienced Edmodo users would be appreciated…