Focus on Firefly – one school’s journey adopting a new learning platform


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Kingswood School in Bath is one of many in the UK and around the world who have proved that a learning platform is still a vital part of a school’s digital toolkit. Here we interview Gareth Edgell about Kingswood’s journey with Firefly and the impact it has had on learning.

What kind of school is Kingswood?

We’re an independent school in the southwest of England. We’ve got two schools in the foundation, a prep school and a senior school. Both schools have been using Firefly for about two years.

Were you using an LMS before adopting Firefly?

We had been using Moodle for over seven years. The use of Moodle varied a lot between departments. Those that were quite technically minded like ICT and Computer Science were quite keen on it. Staff that weren’t as IT confident were put off by it.

What issues were you experiencing with Moodle?

The main issue was confidence from people, in being able to use the functionality. It was perceived as being difficult to use, or only suitable for technical departments; getting other departments on board was quite difficult.

Why did you choose to adopt Firefly?

We wanted a VLE that was going to work for everyone. It had to be something that was quite user-friendly, and also distinctly different to Moodle. What really sold Firefly was the integration with iSAMS (our MIS). We also liked the look and feel of Firefly, with its nice big icons, clear menus and the way it handles images.

How did you initially launch Firefly?

We had Firefly installed in March 2016 and trialled it with two Computer Science classes for two months. In the summer term we brought on two whole year groups. Later in the summer term three or four other departments started using it, and all departments from September 2016.

Firefly delivered a training workshop as part of an INSET covering the basics of navigating around the system, editing a page, and also setting a task and assigning it to students. Staff also had the chance to act as a student and submit their own tasks, which was important to help staff to understand how a student would interact with Firefly.

How have you ensured that all departments and staff have adopted Firefly at roughly the same pace?

Our priority was to ensure that every department had subject information such as course specifications on their subject pages. Some departments quickly went further, adding comprehensive lesson resources, worksheets and presentations, and all of the student prep (homework) set up as tasks. In September 2016 we asked that all prep tasks for Years 7 and 12 were set using Firefly, and since Sept 2017 this was being done for all year groups.

A lot of the momentum for using Firefly has come from the students themselves. When setting prep the teacher can ensure that all the detail that students need is included within the task itself, rather than relying on students writing it down in planners. The students have found it really useful and made this clear to their teachers.

In terms of support we have number of Firefly champions who support colleagues in their departments, and met regularly during the initial rollout for training and to share good practice. I myself have an allowance to offer Firefly support so if someone needs some additional training I can provide that.

How has Firefly improve learning both inside and outside the classroom?

Firefly has had a massive impact outside the classroom particularly with students who struggle with organisation. It helps them organise their time and also means they have access to all of the learning resources they need to complete their prep. Setting tasks on Firefly with the option of students completing or submitting online has also been really useful. Staff can give feedback online which students can never lose, so they can always refer back to it in future, for example, when revising.

We are also finding that less work is being handed in late. Most students have installed the Firefly app on their phone, so as soon as you set a task it appears on their phone and reminds them when the deadline is approaching. We are now finding that if a member of staff forgets to set prep on Firefly the students will quickly remind them!

When staff are absent cover work can be set on Firefly as a task, either by the teacher themselves or by the Head of Department. Some departments go further and have all the lesson resources so that the cover teacher can run a near-normal lesson. When students are absent they can still access all the lesson resources and will get the prep task assigned to them.

How has Firefly improved communication with students, staff and parents?

The prep school have started using Firefly with parents. They can log in and see their child’s attendance data (pulled from iSAMS), lesson resources and prep.

What obstacles to rolling out Firefly have you encountered?

The main obstacle was resistance from staff who lacked confidence or who couldn’t see the benefits. Demand from students has proved to be quite effective in overcoming this! We are also employing targeted support to help specific individuals. This has been really effective with some staff who were really resistant initially, who now after 1:1 support are very positive about how much time they are saving with Firefly.

What technical issues have you encountered?

Our initial setup was not quite right. Teachers originally had edit permissions at the top level and could edit every page. However when we wanted to create a governor-only area we had to remove teacher permissions at the top level and re-assign at a lower level. With hindsight we should have thought more carefully about the long-term uses and users and set up access permissions with those in mind.

We found configuring single sign-in with Office 365 quite a challenge. Firefly provided us lots of support but it still took several weeks to resolve. We still find that users have to log in several times in order to edit Office Online documents embedded in Firefly pages. This seems to be down to the way Microsoft authentication works rather than an issue with Firefly.

What do you love about Firefly?

The ease of use. No matter what your level of IT competence you can still create a really good-looking page and set assignments to students.

Extra benefits are that it is cloud-hosted with automatic updates; and the daily synchronisation with iSAMS means the class lists etc. are always up to date

What is one feature you would love to be added to Firefly?

A better a mark book would be good. It will work out an average score for students but you can’t analyses the data in any way e.g. by topic.

Have you any advice for schools just starting out with Firefly?

Don’t try to launch everything at once. Begin with a small number of classes or a single year group, and then if you do encounter any problems they will be easier to resolve.

With your pilot classes choose students who will be tolerant of technical issues so they don’t lose confidence in the system if you haven’t set it up quite right.

Decide what your priorities are and work at getting all staff on board with the most important features before asking them to do more.

Finally be prepared to work intensively with some staff. Most staff will pick it up fairly quickly but there will be a few staff who will need lots of encouragement and support. In the end it will be worth it!

 

Mr Gareth Edgell pictured showing his head and shouldersGareth Edgell is Head of Computer Science and IT at Kingwood School, Bath

Learn more about Firefly here.