Ultranet … eating the elephant!

I have been using on-line learning management systems for a few years now … essentially moodle-based although called different names in different schools! The concept of anywhere, anytime learning appeals to me as a learner and as a teacher. Hence the idea of the Ultranet was also appealing … initially!

It’s hard not to sound bitter and frustrated, or not to feel let down by the DEECD with the #epicfail of the much publicised roll out day … but all that aside, I have started to take my first bites of this monster.

I have talked before about the power of twitter and again I must promote and thank my PLN for their support as I have asked what must seem like dumb questions. Although I consider myself to be reasonably tech savvy and I can set up moodle-based online classrooms quite quickly I have struggled to apply this knowledge to the new platform.

I have created a collaborative space for the year 8s at my school. I use the term ‘collaborative’ loosely … at the moment that just means I set up some pages and added the 107 students, 3 other  English/Humanities teachers and as many other yr 8 teachers as I could find on the list.

The pages are nothing more than pretty storage spaces for web links and files. I have always used my virtual classroom to provide such resources … it saves students research time if I provide some recommended sites (much like we also still ask our librarians to put together topic boxes of books). I have also always encouraged students to recommend links that they find useful. The true sense of collaboration would see the students adding the resources and I am guessing that Ultranet will allow this … I just don’t know how to facilitate that yet!

I know that another part of Ultranet is something called Learning Tasks. I have had a look at them … I even tried to make one up … not really understanding how they are actually used or what they should / could look like. I have no idea how to link them to the collaborative space, or even if they do.

I have a lot of questions and I feel as if I am learning to walk all over again. For a few weeks I felt like I was crawling around in the dark. I had a sense of what I wanted to do, I had some small idea of what was possible but no idea of how to achieve it. I tried the usual methods of getting help … the help guides weren’t really helpful, mainly because I couldn’t actually pinpoint what I needed to know … no-one in our school environment seemed to have the skills or knowledge, that may just be because I haven’t asked the right person but is also connected to the lack of professional development we appear to have access to … my PLN are supportive and patient but still make me feel like the dumb kid who is slow to catch on, which is more about my frustration at my slow progress than anything they actually do or say!

I know that in time I won’t feel so frustrated and helpless but it’s hard to inspire others when you’re struggling yourself.

So, for now, I am chewing my first bite slowly! My students are coming along for the ride. They are not ‘excited’ about Ultranet in the way that I read on twitter but they have quickly switched their question from “did you load the assignment sheet on infonet?” to “is the assignment on Ultranet?” They know this is our preferred virtual learning environment.

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Posted on November 4, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I am always impressed by the good faith teachers in general display and their absolute willingness to take on continual change requests from on high. Any ICT system purchase from a government department is always going to have difficulty finding an excited audience. Those who are tech savvy will always find the purchased environment “out of date” due to the tendering requirements of government instrumentality. In education particularly we have a very large cohort of teachers who are anything but tech savvy who would rather never have to engage in an ICT based environment. A real lose/lose situation.

    So in effect nearly everyone who has engaged in the Ultranet is probably doing so reluctantly. So Diggers27 I am amazed at your efforts.

    The old fashioned teacher in me wants to jump in and answer all of your questions for you and help, however as a teacher I am trying to encourage my students take responsibility for their own learning and I can see you have already done an outstanding job on that front. So what I’d like to add at this point is -your PLN on twitter is more than happy to share their experiences and tips and tricks. You Ultranet Coach will be more than happy to hear from you and the online session called Ultranet Share & Tell are really usefull. Keep on trying to connect the dots because you haven’t even really stumbled onto the main power of the system yet – its all tied up in its interconnectedness, ability to share content and learning and it (not quite yet) ubiquitousness.

    Thanks for blogging your experiences I’m looking forward to installment two.

    • Thanks for your comments, and support, Heather! It is exactly that expectation that there has to be more to this than what I am doing now that keeps me pushing on … I see glimpses of what other people are doing and I know I have to push through the frustration (which is exactly what I encourage my students to do). When we are feeling frustrated it can be hard not to sound negative … I am looking forward to realizing the potential Ultranet has to offer, especially in terms of individualizing learning opportunities.

      Experiences like this help me to be a better teacher … I feel the frustrations … I have to try to narrow down my questions and define my problems … and, as you pointed out, I need to be ready to hear/see the answers. Our Ultranet Coach has just offered to come to our school and run some PD … as part of our eLearning committee we have started to make a list of things we would like to know … I hope I will be able to get some answers and make the jump to the next level.

  2. Interesting read. Up to about 18 months ago I was an e-learning leader at a fairly large school and thus it was sort-of expected that I use and be excited about the Ultranet. I love the internet and online learning, and even finished several wholly online courses via Harvard University. I maintain many blogs and wikis. I Tweet and learn to use tech/online learning tools fairly easy. I am persistent in my approach and usually take to these tools like a fish to water…but the Ultranet? Nope. Could not get excited. Could not get to grips with it. Could not find stuff. Some days, could not even log on. I was lucky enough to find another path in education, where I don’t need to struggle through the complexities of the Ultranet. Good luck to you and well done on your willingness to try. I am forever perplexed at the way teachers keep trying and stay positive, even when faced with clunky tech tools which obviously chew up your valuable time. Hope it improves.
    Kind regards,
    Maryna

    • Thank you for taking time to read and comment Maryna! I think the amount of time it takes to adapt to these changes and develop the new skills is the biggest barrier to success. We still only have so many hours in a day.

  3. HI,

    Yes I know exactly how you feel! I have been there and had many of those same thoughts too.

    But I think it is great that you are thinking of your experience with kids in mind. It is an important phase that you are in where learning is probably the most authentic. That wishy washy complete chaos where you don’t know what to do next.

    But it was actually from that stage that I was able to draw on my persistence and the skills I had to force myself to put it into some kind of organisation where I could learn and move forward.

    when reading your post it made me think of a blog post I wrote when I was in the same place you are. It was funny to look back and reflect!

    http://captivatingclassroom.global2.vic.edu.au/2010/08/06/ultranet/

    Great post!

    Mel

    • Thanks Mel, for your comments here but also for your support when I have asked some of those “dumb questions”! I love your bike analogy and that is exactly how it feels.

  4. Hello again

    I agree that it is great to muddle through the new territory with the bigger goal in mind: The best outcomes for kids. I gave up on it because I could not justify the time it took to learn the Ultranet system when I was used to zipping around the internet with such ease. It made me think of the analogy of being forced to drive a very old Ford Model T after having the convenience and style of a sports car (Ferrari or Porsche comes to mind.) Anyway, I hope you find your way and make a great success with your endeavors.

    Maryna

    • Hi Maryna (again ;p)

      Again, you hit the nail on the head! That is my biggest frustration … I already use the web 2.0 tools to ‘collaborate’ with students and colleagues … I am finding that I am having to learn a whole new system, which is time consuming, rather than applying my past knowledge. Apart from Ultranet being a mandated part of working in a government school, the biggest plus is the protected environment aspect and the fact that I don’t need to get individual permission every time I want to use a new tool (as I have in the past for using wikis and blogs).

      Thanks for your comments and support.

      cheers
      Diggers27

  5. Hey there,

    It is always hard to find online learning solutions which suit the needs of the teacher, and the class. I, as the person who runs the ITClub in my school, also looked into this area. Previously, we always photocopied many sheets with the learning tasks on them for the students. This year I looked at online solutions. The club already has a moodle service setup, but I find that this solution is not easy to use. The design is just too cluttered and too ambiguous for the students to use without extensive training. So now I am using a free management system “ThinkWave.com”. The students can download the tasks from there, then upload their completed work. The software can also records attendence, results and has a blog system. Now that I have used the system for a few weeks, I already see its restraints. I hope to find a better system by the start of the next school year.

    Regards,
    chillibasket

    • Hi Simon

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this issue! I guess the reality is that we will never have a perfect solution but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop looking!

      I love the freedom from the constraints of time and classrooms and I love the potential that online learning management systems offer for the future of education and learning … I can also see why the Government is making us use the Ultranet since it does have an the ultimate effect of making sure all teachers are using the same tools … another attempt to have conformity and control in a school environment! After all, we specify the textbooks, calculators and computers that are used so why not the online learning management tool as well?!?

      Good luck with your quest … maybe you will write a blog about your experiences … I will be interested to know more about other systems you find and use.

      cheers
      diggers27

  6. Hello!

    I know that this post is know a bit old, but I have actually come around to writing a post about online learning systems! As Ultranet is a closed system and I can’t try it out myself, I would be interested to find out about what you think of it now? Have you gotten used to using it?

    Some of the things I would love to find out about is if it is easy to use (for both students and teachers) and if the design is good! From some of the reviews which I looked at said that the Web 2.0 tools were rather lacking, meaning that you had to use many links to other sources.

    Thanks!
    Simon B. – chillibasket

    • HI Simon

      I still do not find Ultranet to be a very good online learning management system. It is not an intuitive system so applying knowledge from other systems is hard. Professional Development and time for teachers to ‘learn’ to use the system has also been inconsistent depending on school priorities and access to quality region coaches.

      We do spend a lot of time embedding other web 2.0 tools into the ultranet pages.

      There are some good features – we have the capacity to set learning tasks in sequences designed for specific students or for whole groups. This means teachers can provide different curriculum for students with special needs or who need more challenge. The tasks also link to our assessment criteria so we can easily see what milestones have been achieved.

      At the moment teachers in Victoria are involved in industrial action as part of a dispute with the State Government, this includes a ban on using the Ultranet. At my school this has meant we simply don’t use Ultranet at all. For the time being we have made the decision to go back to using moodle (which is what we used prior to introducing the Ultranet).

      cheers
      Diggers

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