Embedding WordPress across a school district: some eduBuzz.org stats

What might take-up of WordPress across a 40-school local authority look like?

Monthly Visits Dec 2009 to Oct 2010

October 2010 web server summary stats for East Lothian‘s eduBuzz.org system (visitors and page views) show that the current levels of use this year, a traditionally quieter time, are already similar to the last school year’s peak period of May/June.

Monthly Page Views Dec 2009 to Oct 2010

The pattern each year has been similar, with usage at this time of year approximately doubling by May/June.  Together with steady recent increases, this is a year-on-year growth rate of well over 100%.

The eduBuzz.org WordPress site now has 1,161 sub-sites (blogs) and 2,336 registered user accounts.

#ediff: Exploring a Scottish Government Technologies for Learning Strategy

Last week Jackie Brock, from the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate, held a seminar to:

form part of the initial exploration work contributing to the potential development of a Scottish Government Technologies for Learning Strategy.

Just another conference?

Anyone working in this area will know that, recession or not, the business of modernising the education system has spawned an entire industry. It stages exhibitions, seminars, conferences and workshops which seem to be popular, judging by the endless stream of corresponding hashtags on Twitter. For many of us, though, it’s difficult to see how much of that frenetic activity might be leading to improved learning in classrooms. There’s often a sense, articulated by one participant at Friday’s meeting, that these events are attended by “suits”. Perhaps that’s why the first test this event had to pass was one of credibility.

It didn’t take long for participants to decide that it wasn’t “just another conference”, and other commitments were soon being hastily rearranged. Why was that? What differentiated it? Some possible reasons may have been:

  • The agenda consisted only of questions. There were three inter-related themes: experience, pedagogy and capability, and two or three “big” questions for each.
  • The time-scale being considered was a period of 20 years . Most such events concern themselves with quickly identifying and “fixing” current problems with short term actions. Unusually, this one set out to “review these themes in the context of the recent past (back to 2000) and the near future (forward to 2020).
  • The aim was not to reach definitive conclusions. It was instead to ” identify significant tensions, risks and opportunities to be taken into account in designing a new strategy and ideally developing a set of criteria or principles for how to make sound decisions in what is a rapidly shifting environment”.
  • The participants were not invited as representatives. Prospective participants included a good range of people with in-depth experience of the realities of using technologies, from Guitar Hero to Glow, as tools for learning in Scotland. Although from a variety of organisations, they seemed to have been invited as a sample of individuals who could inform the discussion, regardless of their role.

How successful was the event?

Neil Winton has already posted a detailed description of the activities on the day. As Neil explains, he created the Twitter hashtag of #ediff, which can be used to find tweets from the event.

What has been striking, in the interval since, is that it has quickly started an ongoing conversation on Twitter and blogs, which soon extended beyond the initial group.

At the time of writing, I’m aware of other posts from:

I liked the way IFF’s Graham Leicester approached the situation: trying to tease out underlying assumptions that have guided past decisions, for example, and that might continue to do so (“What would be the predictable strategy?”).

Of course,  it’s too early to judge its final impact. Early signs, though, are promising.

The Scottish elephant

The day started with a “Where would you spend your money?” exercise. Each of use completed an A4 form, so there was more detail gathered than shown on the summary flipchart. It proved a surprisingly useful exercise, in that it quickly enabled us to see what a wide range of views there were.

I felt an initial sense of frustration at being asked to choose between a range of predefined options at such an early stage. This felt like the sort of activity that might have been expected towards the end of a workshop session, where the group had analysed a problem situation, decided the answer was to investment in technology and/or learning, identified possible options and was choosing between them in a democratic way.

By starting off, though, talking in terms of technology and learning investments, there was a risk that the options presented set something of an agenda and framed later discussions in that context.

The purpose of the day, though, was:

… not to reach definitive conclusions, but to identify significant tensions, risks and opportunities to be taken into account, in designing a new strategy, and ideally developing a set of criteria or principles for how to make sound decisions in what is a rapidly shifting environment.

Thinking back on it now, I’m not sure we did that justice. I worry that we gave too much attention to things we thought we should do, and didn’t give sufficient attention to a peculiarly Scottish “elephant in the room“.

That issue is the governance arrangements around the use of technology in Scotland’s schools. This is territory that we don’t tend to talk much about, other than in connection with local issues, yet is critical. When we’re thinking about improving learning, we base our decisions on research evidence. If we adopt a corresponding research-based approach to managing our technology, it will lead us in this direction.

We are trying to make a start on developing a national technologies for learning strategy. If any such strategy is to be successful, we will need carefully designed national arrangements to ensure that decisions made align with it.

“To be effective, IT Governance must be actively designed, not the result of isolated mechanisms (e.g. steering committee, office of IT architecture, service level agreements) implemented at different times to address the challenge of the moment.” (Ref. 1)

From this viewpoint, our current arrangements are wrong. And we know that’s a problem, but we haven’t found a solution. It’s such a challenge that it may even be that Glow was, in part, conceived to try to iron out inconsistencies in access to online tools and help provide a baseline, equitable online experience for children – and staff – in Scotland’s schools.

There are still many areas, though, where inequities in access to hardware, software and, especially, online resources are as wide as ever, and may even be increasing.

What do you think? Is this something you would see as being within the scope of a national technologies for learning strategy? How important do you think it is?


1. Weill, P. and Ross, J. W., (2004) IT Governance on One Page

Law Primary’s Blogging earns HMIE Good Practice

Law Primary’s recent inspection report is now available on HMIE’s web site. The school’s blogs get seven mentions altogether, including in this Good Practice box.

Effective Use of ICT
Staff wanted to be more innovative in their use of ICT. They created a school blog to provide information on all aspects of school life and to encourage a regular dialogue between home and school. Staff worked closely with the local authority ICT team to set up the site and then took on responsibilities for maintaining it.

Pupils were given a key role in providing the content. Pupils at the upper stages displayed and gave an account of their achievements and the range of activities that they had taken part in. Across the school, pupils used the site to provide feedback on school events. At P6 and P7, a pilot programme for homework was introduced with homework tasks and links to helpful educational sites posted on the blog.

The blog also helped parents to keep in contact with their children who took part in the P7 residential trip and let them know about the daily activities. Development and use of the blog has helped to promote pupils’ language, ICT and independent learning skills. It has also proved to be a highly effective way of highlighting and celebrating pupils’ achievements.

Hopefully this positive report will help other schools Scotland-wide make the case for using blogs for educational purposes. Unfortunately we know that Law Primary’s blog, along with all www.edubuzz.org blogs, are currently blocked by web filters in a number of Scottish education authorities.

New Teachers Ask For Email Training

Feedback from an introductory training session on ICT for this year’s East Lothian NQTs apparently included the request that we should have covered how to use the school email system, in place of introducing Glow.

Maybe this is a sign of the times, as increasing numbers of younger people make less use of email, preferring instead the immediacy of MSN? If so, these people are going to be out of their comfort zone if they find they can’t keep in touch – with colleagues as well as friends – via MSN while in school.

Taking things a step further, we may be seeing a new generation bringing new expectations of what communication tools should be on a school PC desktop. Glow Chat may just have arrived in time.