Hat tip to East Lothian teachers!

How does it feel to be unusual? If you’re one of the students, teachers or parents who’s been using eduBuzz this week, you might be interested to see that your activities – and your levels of media literacy – are now unusual enough to be something of a news story this week in the world of education.

The comments below are from Ewan McIntosh, a former East Lothian teacher, who contributed to edubuzz while with Learning and Teaching Scotland as future technologies adviser and now has wide, international consulting experience. (The bolding is mine.)

Congratulations, and thanks, to all involved.

In a small Local Authority in Scotland, thousands of students, parents and teachers have been getting together to learn and share their snow-day experiences on an open source blogging  platform. 25,000 visits a day1827 posts and 2477 comments were left throughout the three or four days of closed school this week on eduBuzz.org in East Lothian, Scotland.


the hat tip has to go to the teachers throughout East Lothian who, over the past five years, have come to believe in the benefit of sharing what goes on in their classroom day in, day out. That one principle is the hardest thing for people to ‘get’, and in East Lothian a significant and increasing numbers of teachers, the gatekeepers of a successful online learning community for schools, have certainly got it loud and clear. Nationally, there needs to be more of a campaign to help educators get to grips with the questions around sharing, issues that stretch beyond education and schools, and issues that too many have not yet understood. As well as being a tools issue, it’s a media literacy one above all.

If you’d like to read more, you’ll find Ewan’s full post here: What makes an online community explode during snow days?

All schools closed – but their blogs are busier than ever!

This week, along with many local councils, East Lothian reluctantly took the decision to close all its schools in the face of unprecedented severe weather.

It wasn’t long, though, before staff started to use their eduBuzz school blogs to post updates for their classes. And it’s been interesting to see how that has developed over the four days the schools have now been closed.

eduBuzz.org has been going since 2005, and there are now over 1000 blog sites and over 2000 registered users. Perhaps more significantly, the use of simple web publishing has become normalised across the 40-school district, and a good staff and student skill base has been built up in almost every school. Usage has been rising steadily, and before the school closures there were about 700 posts in a typical school week, and around 1200 comments.

With schools closed, you might have expected usage to drop; but the opposite has happened. It started with small numbers of staff posting learning activities for their classes. That trickle quickly became a flood as the closures were extended, and staff realised the potential of the blogs to keep some learning going.  By midday today, a running counter of “posts in the last 24 hours” showed over 700 posts had been added since yesterday lunchtime, a record level of activity. Education managers quickly realised what was happening, and arranged for school closure updates on the East Lothian council web site to point parents and students to the school blogs for learning updates.

Visitor statistics showed they weren’t publishing into a vacuum either. Visits per day have been higher than ever, at over 25,000 visits per day. Some of these will be due to people checking for closure announcement information, especially mid afternoon in the earlier days, but the levels of activity have been high at all times.

Some other statistics from this closure period:

  • 32 staff have registered new accounts
  • 14 new blog sites have been created

It has been heartening to see the efforts being made by staff to “keep the show on the road”. Many staff  have asked for help to enable them to do things they’ve never done before, whether it’s putting up a simple post with a learning activity, or recording themselves reading stories to their class, and publishing the recording on the school site.

And some, of course, has just been good fun – such as finding out what two feet of snow look like!

Parental Involvement starting to tip?

A couple of events over the past few days, each a new milestone in parental involvement, which together are giving me a sense that a corner is being turned:

  • a parent joined school staff at Dunbar Primary for an in-service session on web publishing
  • another parent got in touch to ask if parents were welcome to attend the eduBuzz open meetings

The one who attended the in-service session was particularly interested in helping the Parent Council get on the web, and has since done a wonderful job over the weekend of developing a new Dunbar Primary School Parents blog, including a beautiful bespoke graphic header.

Dunbar Primary Parents banner

Welcome to the new website dedicated to the parents and carers of pupils at Dunbar Primary School! This site is currently under development, but feel free to browse what we have here so far and leave a few comments.

It’s in development, but the site is active and he’d welcome feedback. Why not have a look?

And of course the Open Meetings are open to parents, so an invite has been sent.

New parent blogger Mumble: a must-subscribe

MumbleI’ve just read the first post from our new parent blogger Mumble. Put it this way, guineapigmum hasn’t just got company, she’s got competition.

Highly recommended: I’m looking forward to the next instalment already. Here’s a sample:

Yikes. Broadcasting is scary! I was aiming for the beginning of term for this but being a bit of techno-woose I had to go for a lie down after seeing the instructions and it’s taken a couple of weeks to get a calm clear space to try to work out how it works. I think this is that space, though the baby might wake up at any moment and snooker it. Link

School web sites can engage hard-to-reach parents

Good school web sites can engage parents who want to help, but just aren’t comfortable setting foot in school, or talking to teachers.

In talking to Mhairi Stratton today about developing the Humbie Primary site, and class blogs there, she told me the story of how she discovered from her pupils at a previous city primary that parents were going to great lengths to get access to the internet so that they could get involved via the school’s web site. Yet these same parents, the children explained, would not come into school, or talk to teachers.

This suggests that there may be an unexpected benefit here from East Lothian’s plans to develop class blogs as a key part of the new Parental Involvement arrangements.

Class Blogs to Support Parental Involvement

LongniddryDuring today’s In-Service, Longniddry Primary staff got some hands-on practice with the eduBuzz blog system so more people can update the school site, and so that they’re ready to make a start with class blogs.

The school’s Development Plan for the year includes work on parental involvement, and the blog-based school web site is one of the tools they’ll be using. They’re also keen to develop class-specific web pages which will provide a more to-the-point channel of communication with busy parents.

East Lothian’s Parental Involvement consultation found that primary parents liked the idea of a class-specific web page. A survey finding was that today’s busy parents might want to be involved with the school, but only had time to be involved with their own children’s classes. For that purpose, a whole-school site can be a turn-off, as these people don’t have time to dig around in search of class-specific informatiion.

After the CPD session, Melanie Bertram and I explored some other new ways to use the school blog:

  • Subscribe by email: we used Feedblitz to set up an email subscription service for the school site (subscribe here)
    • This is set to provide a nightly email with the latest posts.
    • Feedblitz is a powerful RSS-to-email service which offers a free basic service.
  • Linking class blog posts to the school site: using Chris Hatcher’s firstRSS plugin, we explored how up-to-date headlines from a class blog can be syndicated to that class’s Page on the main school site (example here).
    • This enables interested readers to click-through to see the full post on the class site.

I’m looking forward to seeing what new ideas this group come up with over the next few weeks.

Next parent blogger?

I’m hoping I might have found some company for guineapigmum in the form of a new parent blogger.

It was just one of those ad-hoc conversations which led to the sudden realisation that I’d met someone keen to contribute towards improvement, but not sure how best to do so. The offer of a blog was enthusiastically accepted.

Interestingly, the parent forums weren’t seen as any more attractive than the legacy school board arrangements. I wonder if we’re doing enough to differentiate them in people’s minds?

Anyway, watch this space…

How can the web enable improved parental involvement?

Partnership with ParentsSocial software looks set to play an important part in enabling a step-change in parental involvement within East Lothian schools. The 2006 Parental Involvement Act places important new duties on education authorities, which are explained on the Parentzone site. These duties include:

Education authorities have a duty to ‘promote involvement of parents in school education’.

Education authorities are required to develop a ‘strategy for parental involvement strategy’ and in doing this they will have to consult with parents, pupils and any other interested parties.

Susan Guy is now completing that consultation in East Lothian. From her work, it’s clear that social software, such as eduBuzz blogs, has the potential to play a major role in supporting new parent involvement arrangements. We’ve been looking at what such a blog site might look like, and how it might work. A useful source document has been the Partnership With Parents document (30 pages, pdf file) issued by HMI as part of the How Good Is Our School series.

The idea is, in Primary Schools, to use a class web site (blog) as a focus for parental involvement at class level. Such a site turns out to be ideal for providing the kind of information, and level of interaction, that parents want. There’s a skeleton “framework” site at https://www.edubuzz.org/dunbarprimaryp4a showing a possible model. Over the next couple of weeks we’re planning to develop the idea with the Pupil Council at Dunbar Primary. We attended their meeting today and showed them examples of what was possible, and their reaction was very positive. They also enjoyed leaving a few comments on the Law Primary site, such as this one and this one!

Law Primary’s blog: 670 comments in under 5 weeks

If you’d like an example of how powerful an easy-to-use, interactive blog can be as a school web site, have a look at the Law Primary blog. This site was created on 23rd February 2007, so it’s not yet 5 weeks old – but has attracted 670 comments already. As always, there are surprises. Who’d have thought aspiring stars in the school show would use the blog to share their thoughts on the auditions?

P3 “Personal Learning Plan” bloggers migrating to Exc-el

Robert Whiteside at Haddington Infant School has around 80 P3 bloggers about to migrate to the Exc-el blog system. This work is investigating at exploring the potential of blogs in formative assessment. Aims include:

While we were still cranking the starting handle of the Exc-el blog system in August these blogs were set up on learnerblogs.org. I met with Robert today to discuss migrating the blogs over. Continue reading P3 “Personal Learning Plan” bloggers migrating to Exc-el