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Clash of Cultures: anywhere-anytime learning in the secondary school classroom

Cloud created by:

James Fanning
24 March 2017


In this scenario I was responsible for leading digital learning and teaching in the school.


The learning experience described here focused on two Design Technology teachers in a secondary school. They were using the forum feature within their school virtual learning environment, to support a collaborative design activity with pupils.

The teachers had both qualified within the previous four years. They would have assessed their ICT skills as good and had experience of using a VLE at university to obtain course resources and post assignments. They both had Facebook accounts and would have described themselves as heavy users of the internet out of school hours, mainly for communication and entertainment purposes. They were led by a Head of Department who had identified VLE development as one of the targets in her departmental development plan. Up to this point the department had used the VLE as a file sharing platform.

The class involved in the activity was a Key Stage 3 class, of 16 pupils, jointly taught by the two teachers. The class was equally balanced in terms of gender and the average GCSE predicted grade for the group was B. They had two lessons of Design Technology each week, each lesson being one and half hours long. They were taught in a new purpose built Design Technology suite, that had its own computer suite. All the learners had access to a PC and the internet at home.

Each member of the class was tasked with producing a design proposal for a sign that contained one letter from the subject area (i.e. design technology). The assessment criteria for the course included (1) the production of a draft design, (2) obtaining feedback from at least four other sources, including one that had to be external to the school and (3) adapting a final proposal based on this feedback.

The final designs would be incorporated into a sign that would be made by pupils for the entrance to the Design Technology department area.

The project took place over a period of six weeks.


The task focused on supporting teacher understanding of how to enable, facilitate, structure and assess learning conversations that were taking place within the forum on the school VLE.


An initial conversation took place with the teachers to plan a workshop and explore the existing skills of the staff; their personal and professional experience of online conversations; the assumptions they made about online learning conversations and the skills of pupils.

In an after-school workshop sessions teachers the technical features of the VLE forum were demonstrated to the teachers. They were introduced to the Salmon 5 Stage Model of E-learning and shown exemplars of forum use in different contexts (almost exclusively further and higher education).

In the week after the face to face workshop, the teachers were asked to engage in an online conversation, on the school forum, with other teachers, around the use of social media. The aim was to use the experience of this to identify where conversations could be located on the Salmon model.

What happened

Overall the project was deemed to be successful by the teachers and pupils involved in it. All the pupils met the assessment criteria. All the pupils had used the forum to share their initial and completed designs. A small number of pupils engaged in a conversation that could be used as evidence for assessment purposes. Most pupils used feedback from other sources, including Facebook. Many of the online conversations remained superficially social. Most pupil and teacher input into the forum occurred during after school support sessions that were taking place in school, where teachers and pupils were working together in the computer suite.

I reviewed pupil and teacher input in the forum mid-way through the project and provided feedback to the teachers. This appeared to have little impact, beyond increasing the forum input that occurred in those after school support session, where teachers directed pupils to contribute to the forum.


In reviewing the project there were several key learning points for me. I had assumed that:

  • Prior experience of using a VLE in higher education on the part of the teachers would lead to an understanding of the wider uses of VLE tools and applications to support learning, when in fact that prior use had focused exclusively on file sharing.
  • Experience of participation in social networks by the teachers would support some understanding of the ways in which a learning conversation occurred in an online environment.
  • Teachers would access the forum on an anytime-anywhere basis, given the flexible nature of the technology, when in fact they made use of tool mainly from a school location.
  • There would be an acceptance of the social nature of forum discussions and the importance of socialisation in online learning, when in fact there was little tolerance on the part of the teachers for conversations that did not focus directly on assessed learning.
  • There would be an understanding of copyright issues and that web material should not simply be copied into a forum; there was some acceptance on the part of the teachers that such material could be copied into the forum because it was a private space.

The project also revealed to what extent a culture of formal classroom based learning, a rigid curriculum and formal assessment procedures are mirrored online, even when the intention is to create a learning opportunity that is informal, flexible and collaborative.

Extra content

Embedded Content


Nicole Capon
2:59pm 28 March 2017

Hi James,

An intereating project with lots of reflections. Were there any lessons learnt that you took into other VLE projects?

James Fanning
3:38pm 28 March 2017

Nicole, I think there was a lesson around the design of content to support learning. Teachers simply uploaded material that they had used in class, not taking into account that when that material was used in class they (the teacher) were the 'interface' between it and the learner. Work took place with teachers after this around the design of their content.

Will Woods (student)
7:08pm 28 March 2017

Hi James,

A good activity. Interesting that the main use was during face to face time. You say there were "superficially social" conversations taking place. I'm assuming that those were student-student. Were the teachers involved in shaping conversations as they progressed and what was the overall balance of conversation? was it mainly studet-student or student-teacher? 

Ross Harley
6:47pm 29 March 2017

Hi James

In this case the teachers assessed their ICT skills as good, but do you think more should be made of ICT skills as part of teacher training?  I ask because I did my PGCE 2011/12 and I think there's an assumption that trainee teachers, who are typically millenials, somehow will 'just know' how to use a wide range of ICT tools and resources.

Michael Wood
1:43pm 30 March 2017

Hi James,

Interesting article.  I am very interested in the assumptions that you made, which all seem quite reasonable to me, but do you think there was any way you could investigated those assumptions - for example how to ensure they knew about copyright law?




Colleen Godinho
8:40pm 30 March 2017 (Edited 9:01pm 30 March 2017)

Hi James

A very interesting design narrative. I think your title captured the issue well - compulsory and post-compulsory education sectors have very different organisational cultures. I notice you introduced the Salmon 5 Stage Model of E-learning and provided examples but say that they were 'almost exclusively further and higher education'. Did you have any examples from secondary or other compulsory education establishments to show the teachers? I wondered if the teachers really understood the benfits of a forum in their teaching and if they could identify with any of the contexts shown to them in the examples. I also think the assumption made that because the media was flexible 'anywhere - anytime' as you say, it would have been used outside the school, but it wasn't which may have more to do with attitudes towards a teachers role. Just because they could access the forums outside their place of employment doesn't mean they will! 

James Fanning
8:03am 1 April 2017

Hello Will. The conversations were mainly student-student. Where the teacher contrubuted it was to pose questions from the assessment criteria.

James Fanning
8:05am 1 April 2017

Hello Ross. I think it deoends very much on the teacher training institution that students attend. I coulkd point to Glasgow University and the highly effective work carried out by Lee Dunn in ICT and teacher training. Or Derek Robertson's work at Dundee University integrating web 2.0 applications into student collaboration.

James Fanning
8:06am 1 April 2017

Hello Michael. After the 6 week unit of work was completed I evaluated the use of the VLE with the teachers and we explored mine and their assumptions about their ICT skills. Thsi led to a whole school survey of teacher skills and a CPD programme then emerged from this.

James Fanning
8:12am 1 April 2017

Hello Colleen. At that point in time I did not have examples of other schools that were using the Salmon model. There are some useful case studies on Mirandanet that show how some colleagues have tried to apply the Salmon model at a secondary school level -

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