Having attended an excellent launch of an online programme to prepare schools to apply
for the Becta ICT mark today, I was impressed by our board officer’s praise of the
LearningNI (LNI) Virtual Learning Environment.
This is the environment that I use in class everyday and can’t understand why there is still such apathy towards it by many schools. I am in total agreement when he felt that this was most prevalent in the Post-Primary sector who spend money on other VLEs each year when there is a ready-made one available to all schools at no extra price! It is provided as part of the C2k(NI) provision
My worry is that, with the proposed cuts coming in the drat budgets, we may lose this free resource and, as schools, have to foot the bill ourselves. So, those schools who are heavy users of such an environment to improve the skills of their children may end up being penalised by having to source elsewhere. An interesting dilemma for many of us.
So, two questions:
What does it offer? What to do?
What does it offer?
The LNI environment is available to all teachers and pupils in Northern Ireland primary schools. It provides a secure ‘walled’ environment for the children to work in different ways including Discussion Boards, Email exchange, Online resources, LNI maps resources, Free Audio resources; Free Pathe News archive, Guardian Digital Archives; ALTA maths resources, Guardian Newsdesk (for children) to name many!
I won’t go into all of these but will update in the near-future each of the different areas and how they can be used in the classroom but even a brief look above shows the wealth of material on offer to schools.
The Newsdesk is a bank of resources based on news stories from the Guardian Newspaper. This is a locally maintained site and locally focussed news stories are made available for the children to read and listen to (there is an embedded mp3 file of the news story in each one, thus enabling reluctant readers to get involved). Many of these stories are also accompanied by resource packs and lesson ideas to encourage the children to investigate more.
Some ideas that I have used in the past (and currently) include: the built-in comprehension based Newsquiz; writing a synopsis of a news story in under 50 words; looking up the vocabulary highlighted to use in context; create discussion boards based around certain stories. The limit for use is the imagination of the teacher.
To support this work even further, there are lesson plans around news stories as well as specific lessons packs and fact files to support extended topics and units – ranging from the Titanic through to dealing with Auschwitz.
What to do?
I feel that we need to tackle the under use of the environment ‘head-on’ by setting aside exceptional closure days for the dedicated exploration of the environment by teachers to see how it can support their teaching.
We are all more inclined to use a resource if we feel that it will make our lives easier. So, direct teachers in this school time to research the LNI and include it in their teaching plans. Of course, the cry does go up ‘I’ve been teaching this way for 10 years and it has worked…’ But my answer to this is that we are not teaching children from 10 years ago who would not have had the same attitude or access to technology nor would they have had it so embedded in their daily lives then. So, I feel, it is akin to a moral obligation to pursue these methods of integrating technology into teaching as this is the digital environment they are living in.
Create courses for teachers to access in these closure days (one out of five wouldn’t hurt) and produce evidence of the research done and resources to be used. This should be very simple in a non-threatening or pressurised environment. It is in the interests of all schools to see their staff succeed and improve the children’s classroom experience.