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John Simkin

E-Learning Credits

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This month sees £100m worth of e-learning credits being made available to schools. However, the Department for Education and Skills admitted last week that there was still £75m unclaimed from the 2003-04 budget. Any credits which are not used will be taken back by the government in August. Eric Spear, the former president of the National Association of Head Teachers says: "Of course they are not being used, there's a limit to the amount you can spend on software. We're approaching saturation point."

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This confirms my impression too. My business has not been overwhelmed with orders. But a lot of useful software packages are not eligible to be bought with eLCs because the businesses (mainly cottage industries) that produce them are not registered Curriculum Online suppliers. One of the reasons why such businesses do not register is that it is an excessively bureaucratic process, involving the suppliers in filling in a complex 9-page electronic form for each product that they wish to make available for purchase with eLCs and declaring their income from eLC-funded purchases to Curriculum Online each month.

Essentially, Curriculum Online is an overpriced white elephant of an initiative. It will probably go down the same tube as UKeU.

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Guest Andrew Moore

I started out arguing against COL, as an incredibly expensive and inappropriate initiative. The dumbest feature is that public money pays for things in ways that encourage the producers to distribute them narrowly.

Something similar happens with many LEAs that use their share of Standards Fund grants to buy things, then hide them behind passwords - which keep out even their own people. I think that's immoral. In the East Riding, I have won that argument, and now we put everything out to the world for free (enlightened self-interest).

Far better is the National Learning Network route - the NLN stumps up the DfES cash. The publishers tender to produce materials to a very high spec (including excellent accessibility guidelines). Then they commission the writers. The stuff they produce then goes into the public domain. It's not that easy to find, as NLN mainly serves FE colleges, but once you find it, you get it for free.

www.nln.ac.uk/resources.asp

You may need to claim that you belong to a college, but just pick one near you, or one you know.

But I have come to realize that COL is a device to sustain publishers and subsidise them in a market, where purveyors of freebies (like John and me) have made their online activity less attractive.

COL has become horribly entangled with its own rules (like the 80:20 one that is becoming impossibly arcane). It would probably make more sense to let schools have discretion in what they spend, but use other means to steer them away from spending it all on more Bill Gatesware. Or maybe go the other way, like the Catalan ministry with CLIC, and pay for the development of tools and content, then give it to the schools (and the world).

There are some publishers (definitely cottage industries) that have not been able to jump through the COL hoops (Question Tools, for example). And for a long time COL would not recognize teachers or anyone without business accounts. (I am proud to say that I kept naming and shaming them for this, until they gave way last summer.) Cottage industries rarely have the time to sort out the COL rules, the metatagging and so on. But the big publishers - RM, Granada, Learn.Co ProQuest - they can put millions into this, as a speculation, then let the money roll in.

The commercial publishers want to sell subscriptions, which lets them rest on their laurels. With our LEA's (meagre) money and our regional grid's (a bit more) we pay local programmers to develop stuff, that we then own. If they do well, we will keep paying them to do new stuff - but we own it, not a commercial provider. And we provide much-needed employment in Yorkshire, rather than London or Oxfordshire...

I've recently coordinated a pan-European ICT project, which is part of a wider validation measure (ValNet) promoted by the European Schoolnet. Among various findings is one that supports Graham's view: teachers in England, Norway, Catalonia, were not short of suitable software (and had no interest in some rather clunky freebies that they were offered in the project). What they want is time to use the things they have already, to develop learning objects, and simply to become confident in using the software for teaching and learning. Oh, and they want a lot more hardware and infrastructure - more networking, more bandwidth...

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Couldn't have said it better myself Andrew. Exactly right in all respects.

I know the position I find myself in at school - literally thousands of pounds of money which, if I didn't have the time or inclination to research and investigate products fully, I would simply go for one of the hundreds of 'special offers' I'm sent every week. All the major companies will quite literally clean up with this. Over the next few months when all the money has to be spent I am 100% certain that schools will be subscribing to catch-all options, paying £1000s of pounds for them, when they have no need. The reason - eLCs that have to be spent or lost.

We have now reached silly season where I get sent 'Use it or lose it' offers every single day - you can just see what will happen and the major producers must just be rubbing their hands with glee.

I gave up trying to register my http://www.SchoolHistory.co.uk site and I really don't think I've lost out.

If only the money could have been used for 'ICT resources' - covering hardware and software - that would have been productive. Then we could have purchased what the school requires - hardware to make effective use of the software we have, or a happy combination of the two. :rolleyes:

Edited by Andrew Field

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Andrew's view on COL is close to mine:

I agree that

COL is a device to sustain publishers and subsidise them in a market, where purveyors of freebies (like John and me) have made their online activity less attractive.

I agree that

Cottage industries rarely have the time to sort out the COL rules, the metatagging and so on. But the big publishers - RM, Granada, Learn.Co ProQuest - they can put millions into this, as a speculation, then let the money roll in.

And the 80:20 rule is just plain daft. As a COL-registered suppplier I have just received a warning from COL's "compliance police" at BECTA that I must ensure that all my products comply with the 80:20 rule. Big Brother is watching you!

This is what I have written about COL and posted on my personal website:

"A government initiative, launched in January 2003, which has the noble aim of providing ring-fenced funding (e-Learning Credits) to schools in England to enable them to buy software and online services to support their teaching. The initiative has been surrounded with an atmosphere of controversy from the outset, resulting in court action against the BBC and accusations of high-level bungling. My personal perception of COL is that it is a technological and bureaucratic sledgehammer that has wasted far too much money on the technical infrastructure and is in the process of creating a cosy clique of suppliers who will dominate the market place and force smaller specialist suppliers into liquidation. The whole initiative has a pre-1989 East European flavour. Having gained control over teachers with the introduction of the National Curriculum, the DfES is now trying to gain control of the educational suppliers. Tom McMullan describes the COL initiative as being a government plan for "backdoor nationalisation of the UK educational content marketplace" (Wired to Learn, Adam Smith Institute). The COL website has been revamped (December 2003) in response to feedback from teachers, making it possible to search for a specific software title or supplier. However, the listing of a product at the COL site is not a guarantee of quality as only random checks are carried out. There is an evaluation process, currently operated by two agencies, Schoolzone (http://www.schoolzone.co.uk) and E-valuate (http://www.learnevaluations.co.uk), but for an exorbitant fee that a small business cannot afford."

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Guest Andrew Moore

The evaluation systems are, I think, even more dodgy than the supply of products. The former at least leads to real goods, that the end user can like or dislike.

The latter is totally parasitic. If you pay them (using a cut of your profits from the COL money), then they will give you a review (more or less favourable), then promote your goodies. In other words, public money is paying for the advertising of commercial products - and, yet again, giving advantage to the big companies.

But they do not review anyone who does not pay them (which means they exclude all the teacher-producers and others in the free/open source economy). On the other hand, I think that very few teachers pay much attention to these reviews - they make their own judgements.

The court action against the BBC was pretty despicable. The BBC's big idea (admittedly with its own bureaucracy) guaranteed independent producers at least half of the design work (the BBC does not have enough people in-house to do it all).

And the resources it made would have been (indeed, still will be, I think) freely available via all sorts of media and platforms - if you want to broadcast stuff to the universe for free, the BBC has proved that it does this quite well - unlike company X and Y, that password protect everything, and try to sell us what we already own.

There are some pretty serious financial irregularities in much of this. And LEA advisers have often colluded in it, by more or less coercing schools to buy A, B and C from supplier X or Y.

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I have a friend who own a small software company that he operates from home. He sent Schoolzone a copy of one of his best-selling packages for evaluation - which he paid for. The evaluation was generally positive, but it was clear that the evaluator was very inexperienced in the subject areas (Modern Foreign Languages and EFL/ESL) targeted in the package. The evaluator actually failed to mention, for example, which subject areas were targeted, failed to mention that the package was a suite of programs which could be bought all at once or singly, failed to mention what the different components of the suite did, etc... If a student of mine had produced such an evaluation it would have received a fail grade.

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As several people have pointed out the e-learning credits scheme is clearly a corrupt system. As with all corrupt systems we have to look at who benefits. The scheme emerged after representations to the Department of Education by a group of large companies who had invested large sums in electronic education (websites and software). I was working for one of these companies at the time. It was clear that given the market conditions there was no way these companies would get their invested capital back, let alone see a profit on the venture.

The main problem was the BBC and individual teachers who were producing online materials free of charge. Why should schools pay when they could get all this material free? At one time these multinational companies considered buying up these free sites (I was involved in some of these negotiations, both as a representative of this company as well as a website owner who was providing free material). The only way these large companies could survive was to persuade the government to rig the market. The result was Curriculum Online and e-learning credits.

One has to ask why the government was willing to hand over such large sums of money to help these companies who had made a series of bad decisions concerning the future of online education? From personal experience I know why the government did this. I am willing to provide details of this to any parliamentary committee that is set up to investigate this scandal.

By the way, do you know who owns e-valuate. The website keeps it quiet but if you type in e-valuate’s address in Google you will find out.

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By the way, do you know who owns e-valuate. The website keeps it quiet but if you type in e-valuate’s address in Google you will find out.

It's The Guardian newspaper, isn't it? They wrote to me, asking if I wanted my products to be evaluated at £420 per product - or £350 as an introductory offer. They must be kidding!

TEEM, Evaulate and Schoolzone are three of a kind!

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By the way, do you know who owns e-valuate. The website keeps it quiet but if you type in e-valuate’s address in Google you will find out.

It's The Guardian newspaper, isn't it? They wrote to me, asking if I wanted my products to be evaluated at £420 per product - or £350 as an introductory offer. They must be kidding!

TEEM, Evaulate and Schoolzone are three of a kind!

It is LearnPremium (owned by the Guardian). Now I wonder why the Department of Education was so keen to please the Guardian with its Curriculum Online Project?

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The TES has been less kind to COL

See my letter dated 3 January 2003:

http://www.tes.co.uk/search/search_display...d=373337&Type=0

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John writes:

The main problem was the BBC and individual teachers who were producing online materials free of charge. Why should schools pay when they could get all this material free? At one time these multinational companies considered buying up these free sites. The only way these large companies could survive was to persuade the government to rig the market. The result was Curriculum Online and e-learning credits.

I see things differently. When free materials began to appear in large quantities on the Web I began to get a bit worried about the future of my business partnership, which specialises in the development and retailing of software for computer assisted language learning (CALL). But as things began to settle down I realised that I was unduly worried. Firstly, the quality of most of the free materials on the Web leaves a lot to be desired. Teachers often imagine that their websites are better than they think they are, and most of the commercial sites offer very little compared to what you could buy at a modest price from your high street bookshop, e.g. a language learning pack consisting of a book plus audiocassette, audio CD or CD-ROM. Secondly, there are many things that are desirable in CALL that cannot (yet) be implemented on the Web or that you would not want to implement even if you could. For example, I have not yet seen a website that presents listen / respond / playback activities – an essential part of language learning – i.e. the kind of activities that have been available since the advent of the AAC tape recorder over 40 years ago and that can easily be implemented on a standard multimedia PC. Watching a foreign language feature film on DVD with closed captions is another language learning activity that is probably best done in a non-Web environment. I prefer to do this sitting in a comfortable armchair with a remote control in my hand rather than two feet away from a computer screen. I have broadband at home, but Web materials delivered via broadband cannot compete with the immediacy and quality of materials that I access via the hard disk and CD-ROM on my computer or via the DVD player and digital TV set in my lounge. I use the Web a lot, but mainly as a reference source.

There is still a thriving market for commercial educational materials in a non-Web format. The problem is that the big companies expected to make millions from the sales of CD-ROMs and from licences to access websites. There is relatively little money in this business, but there’s enough for me and my partners to live on for many years to come.

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Guest brinn

I don't mean to be rude, but you guys might as well just talk among yourselves because us everyday teachers (the ones whom our HoDs ask if we have anything we want to buy with our ecredits) have NO idea what you are on about.

At what point does someone - anyone - make you talk teacher-speak? (And get your message across in shorter, easier read posts fgs?

Beggar me - but I always feel I ought to explain what my IQ is (respectable, believe me!) whenever I challenge you 'boffins' to talk in damn clear English (and succinctly FGS).. as if it is I who am somehow 'thick'' for not having access to your jargon - when it could as easily be yourself who misjudges your register in respect of your audience.

Give us a break guys - speak less convoluted, less longness and less jargon, eh? (Unless you only mean to talk only among yourselves, which is OK too and myself who misunderstood the nature of the thread... :blink: ).

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I don't mean to be rude, but you guys might as well just talk among yourselves because us everyday teachers (the ones whom our HoDs ask if we have anything we want to buy with our ecredits) have NO idea what you are on about.

At what point does someone - anyone - make you talk teacher-speak?  (And get your message across in shorter, easier read posts fgs?

Beggar me - but I always feel I ought to explain what my IQ is (respectable, believe me!) whenever I challenge you 'boffins' to talk in damn clear English (and succinctly FGS).. as if it is I who am somehow 'thick'' for not having access to your jargon - when it could as easily be yourself who misjudges your register in respect of your audience. 

Give us a break guys - speak less convoluted, less longness and less jargon, eh?  (Unless you only mean to talk only among yourselves, which is OK too and myself who misunderstood the nature of the thread... :blink: ).

Curriculum online appears to be about propping up private "e-learning" companies who in the past have complained about the BBC's competitive advantage.

Free teacher produced websites are infinitely more useful than anything the private sector has yet produced or is ever likely to.

Schools have been given huge amounts of dosh to spend on officially accredited stuff which in many cases is seen as relatively poor.

The politics of this process leaves me cold, but the wasted public money leaves me very angry indeed.

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