2008 - it's all about Learning Gateway. And another milestone at BETT was when we released the case study on the Leeds Learning Network. Now, like many of the Learning Gateways that we've talked about, this one has been around a little while - in fact, the Leeds Learning Network (LLN) started in 2000, and switched to Synetrix, one of our partners, using Microsoft Learning Gateway as the platform in 2006. We have always wanted to wait until there's a solid educational story to discuss. Let's face it, talking about a new technology is interesting to some people, but describing what has happened educationally as a result is always better (even if, in this fast paced world of technology, we sometimes forget to look back and say "I wonder what happened with...?").

Some of the people at LLN have been involved with education ICT for a long term - I remember meeting Patrick Kirk at Leeds about 12 years ago, and David Neighbour at Synetrix about 10 years ago. So at the heart of the work is a clear vision of education. The LLN brings together 259 schools, and 100,000 students and employees, across the borough, and provides a way for all of the schools to collaborate, communicate and to provide home to school learning engagement.

Imagine managing 100,000 users

Jason Rousell at Synetrix explained “All of the data is entered into the management information system (MIS). Overnight, a link between the MIS and the system works out whether a pupil in a given school should have access to an e-mail account, a SharePoint site, a personal site, and instant messaging. It also determines the filtering policy for his or her school.”

In 2007, LLN upgraded its Learning Gateway infrastructure to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, and started to use SharePoint Learning Kit, which helps to meet the specific challenges of the education environment. Timetable data from the schools’ MIS system is integrated into the Office SharePoint Server 2007 learning kit component, which forms part of each school’s Web presence. With this system, teachers and students can create collaborative online spaces called My Sites. When teachers log on, they can create a new sub-site that contains all of the students who take a particular class. Teachers can now add all of their students with a single click, instead of having to add them one by one.

Helping schools and students share and collaborate

Instant messaging and a consistent e-mail system have enabled better communication and collaboration, but the most popular development is the ability to build online collaboration sites.

These workspaces are being used at all levels of teaching and learning to extend learning beyond the classroom. Now, for example, educators can instantly exchange ideas and share files, such as lesson plans and administrative documents. So far, 106 collaborative sites have been created for teachers and support staff, with titles such as “Behaviour Management,” “Maths Collaboration Site,” and “Leadership and Teacher Development.” Sites for students include subject study guides such as “A Level Chemistry Guide,” and interest groups such as “The Arts Network.”

Jason said “With this kind of activity, the concept of collaboration between schools and like-minded groups has really taken off and has grown almost organically without large-scale marketing from LLN. It’s indicative of what’s happening with the Web more generally in terms of increased focus on user-generated content that is driven by users’ needs, rather than by corporate needs.”

Parents and carers can also access information about their children’s activities and progress at school though the LLN. As Patrick Kirk put it “What we have here is an environment that will support key themes within the national policy agenda—a ‘Gateway to Education services’ and real-time access to parents and carers".

Personalised Learning in Collaborative Learning Environments

Greg Perry, ICT Coordinator at Kippax Greenfield Primary School says, “The LLN is already making a huge impact and the benefits to school life are already evident. Students love contributing to the discussion forums, being able to access their work at home, and now have their own personal area that they can contribute to and customise.”

Green Agenda

Brigshaw High School and Language College, for example, used LLN to replace the school’s paper diary, giving all teachers in the school immediate access to information on important events and eliminating the use of paper. Key school documents were put into the staff area of the network so that teachers can access documents from home. “The Learning Network will truly reinforce the effectiveness of our school as a learning community for everyone,” says Conrad Romer, Curriculum Area Leader of New Technologies and Learning Resources at Brigshaw.

You can read the whole case study on our Worldwide Case Study website, and find out more about the Microsoft Learning Gateway on the UK Education website. It is also worth going to look at the Leeds Learning Network website, to see how they present it to schools and students.