FERL etc.

I recently read this blog post by Col Hawksworth: Afterglow.

In it Col expressed his frustration that just as he felt things were beginning, things were actually ending.  He saw the dying embers of investment in e-Learning across the wider F.E. Sector.

I know how he feels.

Several years ago when I was the college ILT (and then e-Learning) manager, I had the opportunity to attend quite a number of ‘e’ focused meetings and committees which aimed to support the take up and use of good ILT practice across the sector. Many of these were formulated by the superb FERL team working out of Becta. (e.g. The Ferl Practitioner’s Programme, Preparing for Inspection etc.). Then, about the time of and following Becta’s decision to become more strategic (which hasn’t seemed to do them much good in the long term) the FERL team disipated. Some stayed on and carried on the good work as best they could but many moved onto other areas and continue to ensure that ‘e’ is pedagogically embedded as well as possible. Remnants of the FERL team can be found in all walks of UK ‘e’ life. Just look closely.

For a period until about five years ago, there was an annual FERL Conference and no matter which Becta imposed political title the FERL conference bore, those attending relished every minute. And it wasn’t just the workshops that caused the enjoyment (even though at that time they were introducing a whole host of new and exciting tools, tips and techniques), it was the delegates themselves. Each person had a tale to tell and I for one enjoyed every tale I heard. Those war stories were in pre-Twitter and Facebook days and our community of practice (COP) continued (continues) on the ILT Champions mailing list, which  must be one of the more enduring and successful JISC mailing lists ever.  Many thanks are due to Rob Englebright for holding this together.

Now, like Col Hawksworth, I always felt a sense of sadness when those meetings and conferences broke up. This was because I knew (it was my belief) that we ‘the COP’ knew what was needed to embed ‘e’ and change institutional practice and not the Quangos, to whom the Government went for advice about funding. And I knew, in my heart, that nothing would change. And so, capital money was thrown at the sector, lots of it – but little or no ring-fenced revenue to support staff development.

Over the last six years, one shining light of ILT staff development has been the NIACE led e-Guides programme, which has always received tremendous feedback. More recently this has been funded by LSIS and been seen to complement the eCPD programme which they also funded.  Both programmes, like MoLeNET have been hugely successful and had begun to change the hearts and minds (the culture?) of staff rooms. The eCPD programme had begun to change the culture across wider areas of institutions. Because, we must not forget that ‘culture’ is not a single entity, it manifests itself in many ways; so much so that ‘culture change’ will always require vision and flexibility.

However, all of these programmes have now foundered on the rocks of low investment in staff skills.

As I commented on Col’s blog:

“I hope you come though this and use whatever means you can to disseminate and spread news of the excellent works you have done at Birkenhead 6th Form College. As you suggest (I think) there should be no cut off point and good practice should be allowed to flourish.

Time has proved that my own post-conference feelings (2002-2005 ish) were truly misplaced. Whereas my fears were that nothing would ever happen due to changes in Government priorities and a general failure to understand F.E. (by the Gov), they were wrong. People made the necessary changes happen. The early adopters and innovators (the original Champions and Mentors) are still out there and have worked long and hard to embed the ‘e’ we see being used in such a wide variety of ways today. They should be saluted because without their tenacity both in-post and as they moved on, have made the programmes we now see closing, a reality.

You [must] now take up the mantel and shout out VERY loudly. Keep blogging, keep tweeting and most of all keep up the good work.”

Scores on the door

I’ve recently returned from an event which probably wasn’t for me. A Technology Exemplar Open day at Oldham College. The event itself was fine and we were well looked after by Oldham College but the content wasn’t really for me.

I’d become aware of the event through emails from the JISC RSC-Northwest and Julie Harding at the college itself. I’ve worked with Julie on several occasions; first as her e-Guide Trainer and latterly as her Advanced e-Guide facilitator – but with a bit of MoLeNET mentor support in between! I really like Julie’s enthusiasm for e-Learning and appreciate the hard work her manager Roger Clegg, puts into giving her the time and facilities to develop.

So, as my work has pretty much dried up for this academic year (hopefully only for now – fingers crossed!) and I have some time on my hands, I thought that it would be useful to see what they’ve been up to. A bit of personal CPD.

There was an impressive list of attendees from all over the country and I thought it would be a great day – but I was misled by the title. Apart from Julie’s presentation, which DID enthuse me, there were two others which were purely technology. Not that others in the room weren’t enthralled – they were, but the other two subjects just don’t ring my bell. MIS and mini-MIS (Grade Book). There was absolutely no point in me giving up too much of my tiny brain to understanding HOW they worked: just WHAT they did was enough. I can’t take in new things without playing (activist) and as I have no opportunity to play with these technologies, I have to just take away what I can. We were shown a beta version of Share Point 2010 with a newly added ‘decomposition tree’ – and that impressed me. If I was still in a college, I could and would see the point of using this. However not today and – no mention of cost.

Julie showed us what she’s been doing with her e-Learning Moodle course for staff. I’d heard plenty about it prior to today, but was impressed with the way it worked. The ethos is something I’d started to work on myself back at Dewsbury but I couldn’t fix on any grading (gold, silver, bronze v good, bad, ugly etc.) that worked. This is something that still exercises my thoughts. To encourage progression. Julie and Oldham College have decided to go with the Ofsted grading criteria, which is a scale I’ve never gone along with:

  • Outstanding
  • Good
  • Satisfactory
  • Inadequate

It seems so demoralising. Other than ‘Outstanding‘ all the rest are a bit dismissive; ‘Good‘ being damned with faint praise [to paraphrase Alexander Pope] and ‘Satisfactory‘ being lumped with ‘Inadequate‘ in salacious news reports. Just the other week I heard an announcer say something along the lines of “‘xx’% of British schools are failing. Ofsted inspections have classed them as either satisfactory or inadequate” – surely if you’re satisfactory you are … well, satisfactory. Wouldn’t it be better to have a scale that is more upbeat, more positive – even if it has to be just four points? The whole four-point scale thing needs more exploration for me too.

On our Saturday walk, John Rousell talked about a research project he did for his Dip. Ed. where he naughtily asked for answers (difficult moral answers) along a four point scale. The majority of respondents selected none of the given answers and chose their own mid-way ‘about right’ answer. Given difficult choices, most of us would choose a mid-way route, why else would we need the word average (which over time, like good, has been given a bad press)?

I was hoping that I could come up with a scale which rewards desired personal progress and might be more supportive of the learner’s work. Initial thoughts came up with:

  • Exemplary
  • Singing and dancing
  • Improving
  • Up and running

Each would have descriptive criteria to explain how each might be achieved, but although the route was visible to the learner (in this case colleagues undertaking staff development), it would not be prescribed. As you might guess, I’m not happy with this grading yet and feel it needs more discussion but frankly (even if slightly factitious) naming the grading after Super Heroes would be more engaging than the Ofsted ranking.


  • Superman
  • Spiderman
  • Batman
  • Captain America


  • Cat Woman
  • Mystique
  • Xena
  • Captain Marvel

It was remarkably difficult by the way to come up with androgynous heroes and despite the huge list on Wikipedia of Super-heroines – I recognised very few.

Addendum: I saw this on Sunday: http://www.microsoft.com/education/competencies/humor.mspx

Perhaps slipping back to the Basic > Intermediate > Advanced > Expert routine can work then?