Hwb+ at the core of the Digital Wales strategy

The following post comes from Microsoft Education Partner Learning Possibilities, and looks at the Hwb+ learning platform as part of the Digital Wales strategy.


LP 2

The ‘Digital Wales’ framework recognises that the most important drivers of economic and social growth for any country, surrounds the digital competency of their citizens and businesses. As part of a strategy to transform Wales into a truly digital nation, the Welsh Government have set themselves five key objectives - to tackle the digital divide, to improve digital skills, to grow our digital economy, to provide better online public services and to deliver faster broadband across Wales.

Education, clearly, has to be at the forefront of that advance, and in March 2012 the taskforce ‘Find it, make it, use it, share it: learning in digital Wales’, made recommendations calling for a coherent approach across the country.

Key to achieving this, the taskforce said, would mean providing schools with a learning system making use of the cloud so that it would be accessible by all devices. The expectation and aim is to promote collaboration within schools, between school and home, and between schools across the nation to broaden horizons and share best practice, knowledge and experience. The Welsh Government’s clear intention is to transform teaching and learning, and encourage the learner-centred, collaborative, enquiry-based approach that’s implicit in the Welsh ‘extended’ Foundation Phase, and the Welsh Baccalaureate.

In line with the taskforce’s recommendations, in September 2012, ‘LP+4’ from Learning Possibilities, was chosen following a full competitive tender process, as the national learning management system for Wales, becoming ‘Hwb+’ in line with Welsh requirements, including being fully bilingual, supporting the national agenda around the Welsh Language Act.

Digital Wales and Hwb+ in action from Microsoft Education UK

Hwb+, like LP+ is a hybrid solution built on Microsoft SharePoint hosted in a private cloud, and Microsoft Office 365 is fully integrated in the complete solution installed in schools. Hafod Primary teacher, Stuart, believes that:

“The fact that the children have access to industry standard software, from any browser enabled device, is very exciting for them. Because it mirrors software used in the real world, adding authenticity of the children’s learning.”

Schools are realising the value of engaging the enthusiasm of their students and also reaching out to parents.

James Brotherton ICT Co-ordinator and Assistant Headteacher at Ty Gwyn reports that from the outset staff have seen Hwb+ as a major tool to engage parents in the education of their children.

“Because parents can now see photographs and videos of day to day learning activities they have far more meaningful evidence of progress being made and their initial feedback to the school has been good. Engaging parents was part of a clear vision that the school had prior to joining the Hwb+”

A Year 5 pupil, Amy, at Johnstown Primary says there is now a lot more trust in the relationships between teachers and learners. She added there was more motivation and something satisfying about entering the work straight into the system so it would all be in one place.

"It's really good that we are able to do work without our teacher having to tell us what to do. He just has to tell us where to go to find out what we need to do. If we haven't finished work in class we finish it for homework or do a blog or wiki for homework."

And in Year Two, teacher Kirsty Mackintosh describes how ‘Teaching is so much easier.

‘Everything – planning and resources – all in one place, and I’m constantly surprised by what the children are able to do – logging on to their pages, using email, sharing their work. It’s making them much more independent.’

At Johnstown Primary, Hwb+ has led to improvements in teaching and learning. Teacher, Kevin McComas confirmed that it brought teachers and learners closer together and teachers became more effective.

"Things I did before I can do more effectively and quicker. For example, through blogs I can achieve what formerly would take six hours' worth of lessons in half the time – and all the children would be engaged whereas before it would be like pulling teeth with some of them."

At Bedwas Primary Year 5 and 6 teachers use discussion tools to encourage children to reflect upon their own thoughts and the thoughts of others during a study of World War II. Teachers posted formative comments on each entry. Once published, the children were also encouraged to read the posts of others and give constructive feedback to improve the quality of writing in future posts. The children were very engaged and enjoyed the opportunity to use a variety of media to support their writing. As children knew that other members of the class would be reading their blog entries, the school found that the standard of their written work improved over time. The children were able to access their posts at home and so Hwb+ provided extended learning opportunities.

It is clear that these children viewed the notion of collaboration both with each other and with other schools as quite natural. If that mind-set becomes well embedded nationally, it can make a huge difference to the way children learn. At Barry Island children are eager to post photos and videos from any digital device to Hwb+ to support their learning. Morgan explains:

"It's not just doing your own homework, but yours and helping with someone else's too and for a project you are all doing."

Ysgol Pancae staff report that Hwb+ has resulted in a rapid improvement in Literacy skills. When blogging the children feel they are writing for a real audience and this makes them want to write effectively. Year 2 use the digital dictionary without coercion and as a result their spelling has improved. In recent tests 33% of a year 2 class achieved outcome 6 (level 3) for literacy, and whilst they can’t attribute this to the technology alone, teachers feel that Hwb+ has been a significant factor.

For the first time, following a recent review at Barry Island Primary, Estyn (inspectors of Education and Training in Wales) mentioned a commercial product in their school report - Hwb+:

“Due to the Home/School accessibility with Hwb+, it provides opportunities for seamless in and out of school learning & communication.”

“The school uses highly innovative and effective practices in developing Hwb & Hwb+ Learning. For example, pupils use Hwb+ to upload their home learning and research work.”

Hwb+ makes use of the cloud, which means that it is accessible anytime, anywhere on any internet-enabled device. The strategy employed by the Learning in Digital Wales programme combines government backing and leadership from the top with real awareness that adoption has to take place in the hearts and minds of teachers and learners. At the time of writing the rate of adoption is considered to be well in line with expectations.

This study, a blog for Microsoft Education, should be read in conjunction with the case studies written by Gerald Haigh: Hwb+ and Digital Wales.

There’s much useful information, too, on the Learning Possibilities website.

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