A month or so ago we described the continuing development of LP+4, the latest version of the LP+ cloud-based SharePoint based learning platform from Learning Possibilities. Now, a major milestone has been reached in the form of the official product launch, which was hosted by Microsoft at their Reading campus on 22nd November.
LP+4 a uses a range of Microsoft technologies in interesting and innovative ways, and the importance of the partnership was underlined by supportive video and Skype contributions to the event from the USA by Larry Nelson, Microsoft’s Worldwide Primary/Secondary lead, and Anthony Salcito, Vice President Worldwide Education.
Maintaining that Microsoft presence in Reading was Microsoft UK’s Strategic Partner Lead, Mark Stewart, who opened the launch by painting a picture of a cloud-based global data revolution in which consumers will increasingly call the shots.
“The schools market is changing and we’re moving to the concept of the student as the customer.”
Among the Learning Possibilities team there was huge optimism and a palpable sense that they’ve created, not just a new version of an old friend, but something completely new. As LP CEO Mehool Sanghrajka said in his introduction,
“We’ve fundamentally changed the product and we believe that LP+4 will redefine the learning platform market.”
They’ve done it, over an intense eight year period, by first listening to learners and teachers, and then using Microsoft’s technology – and particularly SharePoint 2010 -- to the full.
The listening bit has been really important. There’s a clear implication that the developers of earlier learning platforms didn’t do enough of that. As a result, said Mehool, there was a tendency to take what teachers already did well and make them do it through a machine. Unsurprisingly, there was resistance.
“We’ve tried to change that paradigm. Now that technology has come of age with SharePoint 2010, we’ve come to understand that we’re here to enhance learning, not to automate it. The difference is that the process is led by educationists not technologists. The technologists have the task of making it work, taking the technology from the commercial world and making it relevant to education.”
The result is a product that looks very different, with a personalised home page, friendly looking buttons for different functions and an emphasis on “social” web 2.0 features like blogs and wikis. The familiar constant presence of the Microsoft ‘ribbon’ also means that, for example, everything the learner writes is supported by the functionality of “Word”.
The simple fact that Professor Stephen Heppell is Chairman of Learning Possibilities is reassurance enough that this product is going to be all about learning and the learner. In a Skype link up with late-night Melbourne, Stephen brought the launch to life with a typically enthusiastic and visionary picture of the exponential growth of a world of learning that’s driven not from the top down but by the voices of the learners.
“We don’t know where it’s going, but it’ll be the trip of our lives, and LP+4 will jump start it. This is a global company, a global product, for children all around the world.”
Appropriately enough, there were children at the launch, Year 6 at Little Harrowden Primary in Northamptonshire, again via Skype. We caught them just a short time before the end of their afternoon, keen to queue up for the camera and tell us what they like about LP+4 and particularly about how easy it is to use and personalise.
“You can have your own personal Wiki, and update your status.”
“It’s easy to go down to the bottom and click the buttons and change the theme.”
Year Six teacher Matt Coleman endorsed the enthusiasm of his class, and the way they use wikis,
“They’ve really taken to wikis. They’re using them right now in class as we speak, collaborating on ideas, and sharing thoughts.”
The final part of the launch was a straight demonstration of the product by Tom Rees, Learning Possibilities Director of Learning (Tom’s on secondment to LP from the headship of Harrowden Primary)
Afterwards I asked some of the teachers in the launch audience how they felt about what they’d seen. All were impressed. Steve Thompson, for example, Head of Science and IT Champion at the independent Portland Place school in central London, felt that the functionality and ease of use of LP+4 would be sufficient to win over those of his colleagues who’d been slow to see the point of a learning platform.
“If it works in my school like it has done here, it will certainly be used,” said Steve, and went off in search of someone who could reassure him and tell him just how soon he could have the product installed. (The answer is January 2012 – which, in terms of school life at this time of the year, means imminent.)
Another person at the launch with a strong interest in the future of LP+4 was Phil Broadbent, parent governor at Little Harrowden. Phil’s presence is reminder of just how important and influential is a supportive governing body to a school that’s bent on improvement and innovation.
“We can see the head’s vision,” he said, “And we’ve pushed to see the school on the IT map nationally.”
He’s no armchair governor either,
“I was in Year Six today and the children were all working on their wikis connected with their class topic. They’d all personalised their home page and working quite happily. But then children do know how to use things don’t they?”
Steve Thompson’s other caveat, of course - “If it works in my school like it has done here” -- was a general one. Everyone, from Y6 pupil to teacher, to network manager, to LP engineer knows that consistency of performance, ease of use, stability of connection are vital. A couple of technical failures in front of a restless class can damage a teacher’s confidence not only in one product but in classroom ICT generally. At this point all that can be said is that everything about this product and the support structure behind it is designed to ensure that it’ll be there when it’s needed. Soon though, we’ll be reporting from schools that have it in place, in their classrooms. As we’ve said before, watch this space.
Event report contributed by Gerald Haigh, Freelance Writer for the Microsoft Education Team.