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Written Statement - Learning in Digital Wales

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The Minister for Education and Skills, Leighton Andrews AM, commissioned a review of digital classroom teaching in September 2011.
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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills


I wish to update Members on the actions which are being taken in response to the independent review of digital classroom teaching which I commissioned in 2011.

The independent review was carried out by a Task and Finish Group chaired by Janet Hayward, headteacher of Cadoxton Primary School and included representatives from education and business.  

The group published its report entitled Find it, Make it, Use it, Share it – Learning in Digital Wales on 29 March 2012.  I have now considered the wide ranging recommendations in this report and have agreed an action plan for the use of digital technology to improve performance in schools.


National Digital Learning Council

I am establishing a National Digital Learning Council to provide expert and strategic guidance on the use of digital technology in teaching and learning in Wales.  The remit of the Council will be to guide the implementation of the learning in digital Wales programme and to promote and support the use of digital resources and technologies by learners and teachers.  The Council will work closely with the School Practitioner Panel which I announced in March 2012.

The Council will start work in September 2012. The membership of the Council will be drawn from schools, further education and the skills sector in Wales.   In order to ensure that there is a strong learner voice in the Council, I have also agreed that a pool of associate members will be established, comprised of learners from primary schools, secondary schools and further education colleges.

In addition, the work of the Council will be supported by a number of professional advisors from higher education and industry.  


Hwb

In December 2012, I shall be launching a new bilingual learning platform for Wales, for which the working title is Hwb.  

Many schools and local authorities in Wales are already using some form of learning platform to host teaching and learning resources and support education activities.  Hwb will provide a platform for educators and learners to share resources, knowledge and experience across the whole of Wales.  It will also provide a personal e-portfolio which learners can use throughout their education – with the potential for learners to create an “account for life” by linking their use of Hwb to their unique learner number.

The architecture of Hwb will allow the platform to be developed to integrate new technologies and services over time.  Hwb will run on a range of digital devices, including but not limited to mobile phones, iPads and Android devices as well as personal computers and Macs.  The platform will be accessible anywhere, anytime.  

A distinguishing feature of Hwb is that the platform will integrate the use of services which are available elsewhere on the Internet -  including sites such as YouTube and TED - so that we do not reinvent the wheel but do make use of tried and tested technologies.   Hwb will also make use of open source software where this is appropriate.

The development and technical support of Hwb will be procured through the UK Learning Platforms Procurement Framework to enable us to award a contract to a company with a proven track record in this field.  


National Digital Collection

Hwb will provide the online home for a national digital repository of teaching and learning resources.  This will include the thousands of curriculum and good practice resources which have previously been developed for our teachers’ website NGfL Cymru, which will be migrated to Hwb in December.

Hwb will also provide access to a range of licensed educational tools and content which will be negotiated as part of a new “buy once for Wales” workstream in 2013. This has the potential to secure significant savings in expenditure on educational software across Wales as well as ensuring that that all teachers and learners can benefit.

Hwb will provide a facility for teachers and learners to upload and share their own digital content and to collaborate on creating new tools and materials.  The working assumption is that Creative Commons licensing will be applied to resources which are commissioned and published via Hwb in order to encourage reuse and development.  It is a key principal that both teachers and learners should be actively engaged with digital tools and not just consumers of ready made content.

Users will be able to rate and provide feedback about resources which are shared on Hwb.


iTunes U

Hwb will host resources which can be used on a variety of platforms.  One element of Hwb, however, will be the use of the free iTunes University platform (iTunes U) in order to showcase the best educational resources and activities in Wales.  I will also be encouraging schools and colleges in Wales to consider how they can make use of this and other online services in order to engage learners and extend access to learning.


Microsoft Partners in Learning

Hwb will also provide access to the wide range of free educational tools and resources which have been developed through the Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative.


Professional Development: Digital Technology and Computing

In order to ensure that technology is used effectively to improve learning outcomes, our investment in Hwb needs to be supported by professional development for teachers and other education staff.  I will therefore be establishing a team of Digital Leaders which will be drawn from the best practitioners using digital technology in Wales.  The Digital Leaders will support best practice in the classroom and also act as online champions of digital practice through social media.

The Digital Leaders will be recruited through limited competition and are expected to start work by December 2012.

In order to further raise the profile of digital technology in education, and of Welsh achievements in this field, the Welsh Government will be sponsoring an annual National Digital Event.   This event will be closely linked to initiatives such as PLC Online and to independent activities such as #addcym.

From September 2013, I propose to establish a pan-Wales programme of professional development for teachers and other school staff to support the teaching of computing (computing science and IT) in schools.  I shall be looking to the National Digital Learning Council to advise on the development of this programme.  However, I am keen to ensure that we exploit the momentum and enthusiasm which has built around the development of products such as the Raspberry Pi and Dot Net Gadgeteer in order to reinvigorate the interest of children and young people in computing, and encourage them to consider future study and careers in a field which is of such importance to the Welsh economy.

A Culture of Digital Citizenship

The world wide web provides a tremendous learning resource for children and young people.  As well as access to a vast range of information and educational tools, it provides an opportunity for learners across the world to share their own ideas, experience and creativity with one another.  We need to help learners develop the skills, confidence and maturity to navigate this new world and make good use of the opportunities it provides.  Most importantly, we also want to ensure that our children are safe online.

The Welsh Government is fully committed to safeguarding children and young people in Wales.  I wholeheartedly support measures to prevent children from accessing harmful and illegal content on the Internet, and I acknowledge the valuable work of organisations such as CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) which strive to protect children from online predators.  The Hwb platform will deploy the “Make a CEOP Report” button – also described in the media as the CEOP “Panic” button.  Hwb will also host guidance on the safe and responsible use of the Internet including social networking sites.

The new digital learning programme for Wales will, however, take a new approach to the use of social networking technologies in education.  Through this programme, and through Hwb, we will be encouraging schools to make full use of social technologies in order to engage learners and improve learning outcomes.

In previous years, local authorities have been asked to block access to social networking sites in schools, libraries and youth clubs, as a result of very understandable concerns about online predators, cyberbullying and the risk of disruption to classroom activities. However, this policy can have adverse effects.  It deprives schools of access to tools and resources which might otherwise be used creatively and constructively in education both within and beyond the classroom.  More importantly, it means that children are most likely to be using these sites outside the school, at home, or on mobile devices, in environments which may be unsupervised and where they have less access to informed guidance and support on how to stay safe online.  

In 2008, Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce the teaching of safe and responsible use of the Internet into both the primary and secondary school curriculum.  The underpinning approach was that we first teach children to use the Internet safely under supervision, and then help them to develop the skills and understanding they need to manage their own risk as they use the Internet independently.   Enabling access to social networking sites in schools will be consistent with this approach, providing pupils with the opportunity to learn safe, responsible and considerate online behaviours in the context of supported educational activities.  It will also help schools to include parents in these activities.

The Welsh Government will be working with local authorities over the coming months in order to identify the best way of implementing this new approach, and to ensure that all teachers and learners can have access to the full range of tools and resources which will be provided for them through Hwb.