Press Release. The Crossley Heath School: the future of online activity

PEN Comment: The growth of VLE ‘s is impacting all educational institutions. Its worth keeping up with developments and beginning to unpick the implications for all sorts of educational settings.

A West Yorkshire grammar school is eagerly following its school motto; building on tradition; looking to the future, through the eyes of its pupils.

Once working with an uninspiring and lack-lustre virtual learning environment (VLE), the students and staff have worked collectively to build a highly inventive and pupil centred VLE. With personalised learning and student voice high on the agenda, The Crossley Heath School has built an astounding world of pupil-led online interactivity.

Out with the old, in with the new
Just over two years ago the VLE was largely used by the teaching staff to store resources such as worksheets and assessment grids. The system did not have the capabilities to allow for staff-student communication; this was seen as a huge downfall. It was vastly underused by the students and the school soon came to realise that the key to moving forward with a successful and modern VLE was the school children themselves.

To establish a digital environment that served both pupils’ academic needs and extracurricular interests, the school fully exploited the extremely talented and enthusiastic students. Joshua, a Year 12 pupil discusses the frustrating limitations of the old system and his involvement in developing the school’s current VLE, which uses Frog as its platform. “All we used it for was storing homework and downloading information. Many of us could see the vast potential in updating our system and we wanted to get on board with the IT department and use our ideas so that we could have a VLE tailored to our needs,” says Joshua.

To initiate the VLE development project, Joshua and other pupils arranged regular meetings with IT staff to discuss what would be helpful and ‘cool’ to feature on The Crossley Heath VLE.

Sam, a Year 10 student is proud to have been involved in the creation of what has become a fundamental part of student life at the school. “Each day, we have at least 600 students logging on to our VLE for information or help with their homework. It is a whole new world for us, one that was long overdue. I’m only glad I had the opportunity to work with other children like me, with an interest in IT and a desire to make school life more interesting and accessible.”

To mirror the school’s goal of increasing the volume of the student voice, the VLE team wanted to build a system that empowered all students to speak out. Joanne Steer, head of student voice at the school, maintains: “Our VLE is an amazing tool for encouraging the pupils to speak their minds. Features such as discussion forums have enabled pupils to speak up, especially those who might not feel comfortable or have the confidence to voice their ideas in a meeting.” The Student Council has its own designated area on the VLE and pupils are encouraged to use this facility to vote on important issues and sign up for house events. Mrs Steer continues: “The organisational part of school life has been getting easier since our new VLE was launched.”

Further innovative features on The Crossley Heath VLE include the VLE Spaces page where students and staff are encouraged to get to know each other through the development of their own webpages. “The VLE Spaces page helps to break down barriers. It’s really interesting reading about what some of your teachers are into, like their music or what sort of pets they have. It humanises them,” says Deepak, a Year 10 pupil. Deepak is also a regular contributor to the online magazine known as Echo. Deepak and other members of the Echo editorial team meet weekly to discuss what school based issues need to be reported. “It’s a very satisfying way to see your name in print.  There’s no waiting around for the magazine’s date of publication; it’s instantaneous,” says Deepak.

More recently an incredibly successful feature of the VLE has been the GCSE and A Level exam revision forums.  From the comforts of their own homes, students can log on to ask their teachers revision questions. During the recent exam period, the forums logged over 900 hits, with teachers logging on to reassure nervous pupils.
The Crossley Heath School not only has its current pupils at heart, but is also keen to help the new comers to the school. In the summer, the VLE reached the Year 6 pupils who would be starting at the school in September. Designed entirely by a dedicated team of Year 7 pupils who remembered well the anxieties they experienced just over a year ago, the transition website allowed the new arrivals a very smooth transition to secondary school.

Hannah, a Year 7 pupil felt that discussion forums in which Year 6 pupils could talk to Year 7s, as well as get to know each other were vital. “I only wish this was in place for me last year. It would have been so much fun to get to know my classmates before I even arrived at the school.” Games and competitions feature heavily on the transition site in a bid to encourage Year 6 pupils to become a part of the Crossley Heath community.

The project has been a highly rewarding process for both the students and staff of Crossley Heath. “We definitely feel that we are being listened to and that makes us want to contribute to the VLE,” says James, a Year 7 pupil and regular contributor to the online community. Barry Coulson, Head of Year 7 maintains, “The rapid development of the VLE has been due to the students’ feeling that they are in control of this project. The growth of students’ confidence and their sense of pride and ownership of this project have been magnificent. It is providing a real outlet for those pupils who may find it difficult to communicate in more traditional ways and we have enjoyed seeing unexpected friendships flourish. Year 7 pupils are able to communicate confidently with Year 13 pupils and the breaking down of barriers is wonderful to watch.”

Work is anything but complete
Following it’s motto to the max, The Crossley Heath School is looking even further to the future. As such a fundamental part of school life, students have decided that it needs to be managed by a larger VLE team. In September the school saw the launch of FrogReps, representatives from each form who are responsible for different aspects of the VLE. FrogRep roles include News and Events Reporters, Designers, Photographers, Staff Writers, to name a few. The reps also give advice to other students and teachers on how to use the VLE effectively and ensure that it is being used appropriately.

“The management of the system is continuously evolving and that in itself makes this such an exciting project. We are always looking forward to what the students are going to come up with next,” says Jonathan Lees, IT Manager.

For more information visit
Visit Frog at BETT 2009, 14-17 January
 Frog Corporate Backgrounder
People in Frog schools are changing the way their school works. Leaders, teachers and pupils are all finding new and more effective approaches. Statements from staff in schools indicate that Frog enables this much better than other platforms. Frog users can design and create systems and pages very easily – be this for departmental websites and lessons, communication or admin systems, or areas students develop for each other. We believe that it is the exceptional creative control possible in Frog, through which all can demonstrate their passion and desire to help others, that makes the users of these areas of the school’s digital environment much more willing to engage.

The Frog Framework provides powerful building blocks to build school and local authority digital environments tailored to users’ individual requirements. The environments can then be further developed by teachers and school admin staff, using the kind of tools they are familiar with from office systems. This develops a level of commitment and ownership that is very rarely seen with other VLEs/learning platforms. Schools use the Frog environment to create their public website integrated with the VLE, departmental, year group and even tutor group sites, communications systems and admin systems, as well as the learning platform itself.

Frog recognises that all schools are different and must create their own digital learning environment to match the school’s organisation and educational approach.  Since 1999 Frog has been developed in partnership with a growing number of inspirational schools in more than 59 local authorities across the country and is quickly establishing itself as the platform of choice for the UK’s leading secondary schools.  Frog LA Portal is being used by local authorities to create parents’ portals and collaborative cross-school learning environments, to suit the needs of the 14-19 diplomas and family learning.

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