Last week the school where I work held a meeting about Flipping the Classroom. Many teachers in the school have been quietly flipping for some time, in different ways, and to my mind one of the most interesting questions which arises once the flipping goes institution-wide, is the whole question of branding.
With some teachers using Moodle, some using Edmodo, and some using our Sharepoint intranet, any attempt by the school as a whole to bring some order to the scene is going to be a messy business. So the first concern, then, is should there be some order? Does the Flipped Classroom need the branding of the school, or should it remain an anarchic sea of different platforms and individualism?
Now I am an Anarchist at heart! I believe, passionately, that teachers teach best when they are doing something they believe in. I prefer the functionality and power of Moodle, but I would be the last one to want to get those who swear by Edmodo, or any other platform to change! But there’s another part of me that thinks that some sort of order in the chaos is not only necessary, but desirable. Anarchism as a political philosophy only works when one argues for organic, grass-roots, bottom-up order to replace repressive, top-down order. Real Anarchists are not Nihilists!
I believe there are at least five solid reasons for creating a portal for the school’s flipped content, and indeed for the school’s e-learning efforts generally. Please note that I am arguing for a single portal, not a single platform. Content can be hosted on myriad platforms: Google Drive, YouTube, Moodle, Edmodo or WordPress and still be accessed from a single point.
Firstly, and from the point of view of the students – and teaching is nothing if not a service industry – there is a solid case to be made for a single portal to access whatever it is that teachers are doing: a place to go so they don’t have to remember the URL for Mr X’s class blog, or for Mrs Y’s Edmodo class. The worst case scenario would be students uncertain of where to access the content they need. I have experienced this with my own sons trying to remember where the class blog is to be found, and having to search past emails to find the link. If only one teacher is online it is easier for kids, but when everyone is in on the act, it must be a nightmare. A single portal would alleviate this confusion.
Secondly, it gives parents an opportunity to gain some understanding of the school’s e-learning initiatives, a place to track their own children’s progress, perhaps, and sign on as mentors, or as parent accounts on platforms that have these functionalities. I know that as a parent I would really value this. It would certainly influence my impression of professionalism in the school, and influence my choice of school in the first place.
So, thirdly, from the point of view of the school, branding the e-learning is an important aspect of marketing the school, and schools are also businesses, whether we like to see them that way or not. For the last few years I have been quietly branding the school Moodle platform in my capacity as the Moodle administrator. This has included using the school logos, branding the site as Roedean Online, using the same format for my own flipped content, and using twitter hashtags to feed content into course pages. I would be more than happy to use Moodle as a single portal (with links to Edmodo sites, class blogs and so on), but there is a significant core of resistance to Moodle amongst teachers, and so it would seem impolitic to impose that brand. I did, nevertheless set up a Flipped Classroom Course on Moodle in the Staff Training section, as my attempt to advertise and champion Moodle as a platform. If the forum didn’t win teachers over, surely the “flipped teacher’ badges would! It is merely an impression, but I feel that branding Moodle as the School Online helped win students and some teachers over. But I’ve climbed on my hobby-horse and I digress …
A fourth reason for having a single portal revolves around collegiate collaboration. In many schools teachers are somewhat isolated in their classrooms, with little contact with what other teachers are doing in theirs. This leads to a sense of isolation and as a considerable stumbling-block towards greater collaboration. This is exacerbated in cyberspace in some ways, and a single portal might help bring greater awareness and, if accounts allow guest access, a chance to share and collaborate more.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, shared portals could span not only classrooms, but schools as well. Several schools could work together, pooling expertise to share their online content. My vision of the MOOC in the High School is precisely this, of portals sharing Flipped Content, forums for collaboration and discussion beyond the walls of the individual school or even school district.
Are there any reasons not to have a single portal? If by portal you mean platform, then I would have to say yes, absolutely. Single platforms would kill all initiatives dead in their tracks. But as a portal linking to whatever platforms teachers are using or accessing, it can only be a good thing!