The End of the Ultranet Era

This week sees the end of the government supported Ultranet (The Victorian Learning Management System)   and tonight I looked back at the blog post I wrote on the 6th of August 2011, just days before it was openly released to all Victorian teachers. It was only the third blog post I had written on this blog.  It is with pride I look back over how I have evolved as an educator in this time and part of this was thanks to the Ultranet.

Some of the tweets I read are celebratory and others are angry that the Ultranet tried to fence in our students. I believe otherwise. When I first started on twitter I locked my account.  It didn’t take long for me to realise the potential was in the world being able t see what I was saying but I needed that time to find my feet.  I did the same things when I first started blogging.  The first few posts were hidden from the world at the beginning until I felt comfortable in sharing what I was doing.

The Ultranet was a great opportunity for my kids to ‘play’ and I, my students, their parents and the school felt safe that they could test the waters of an online world without the harsh consequences the world wide web. For the first time my students were connected to every other school student in Victoria.  As much as we would like to think so we can’t do that with any other platforms.  My students could go into chat rooms and write on forums even if they were under the age of 13. They could design their own spaces and invite teachers and students from around Victoria. And as for the walled garden, I saw it no differently to the classroom, where students could take risks in their learning and I was there to help them.  Of course they didn’t stay in the walled environment, and I didn’t expect them to. With confidence they made their way to blogging and collaborating in Google docs, sharing our class account on Twitter. But the Ultranet gave them the skills. I wish I had had more of an opportunity to use the assessment side of the Ultranet and am frustrated we continue to report in a manner we know is not beneficial to our students or their families.

So what went wrong?  I don’t think we will ever know.  Was it the disaster of August 9th which would become the grey cloud that continued to hang over it? Was it the over sell that it would revolutionise ICT in schools?  Was it the infrastructure difficulties when trying to link all schools together?

As I look back for me it was a wondrous time.  I met amazing educators using the Ultranet hashtag on twitter who today are close friends. It connected me with my prep teacher 30 years on. I learnt basic html and css and it opened a world of online learning design.  It created a community of educators who saw it for what it was, warts and all, and took the potential rather than feeling boxed in. For the first time in my teaching career I was ready to share my learning with others and did so at conferences and online. Maybe I would have got there anyway but the Ultranet was certainly a catalyst for me.

I am saddened to see that after today the Ultranet hashtag will dwindle as the last few have their chance to say “I told you so.” But I look back on the opportunities the Ultranet opened up for me and my students proudly and take with me the learning it allowed me to do.

21 thoughts on “The End of the Ultranet Era”

  1. Mel, lovely article. I also was very fond of the ultranet. It helped me and my kids investigate the possibilities for sharing on the web, although in a walled garden. They were thrilled.
    Unfortunately it was never going to survive the current government.

    1. Hi Rod,

      The Ultranet hashtag led me to learn from great educators like yourself. There were many people who were very fond of the Ultranet and I think they are saddened to look at the loss. It will be interesting to see if any schools take up the offer to pay for it themselves. If it can replace the reporting system we have now, some may be interested.

      Mel

    1. Hi Gill,

      Yes I think we underestimate the change that it made in schools. It certainly put IT on the agenda for many schools and I remember even in the lead up that my school prioritise ICT and we had many professional learning opportunities. If anything it got staff understanding the importacne of a complex password ;-)

  2. Great post Mel,

    Like you, the Ultranet was a launch pad for my current PLN and educational learning in ICT. I have met some amazing educators because of it, twitter and Facebook.

    It will be missed, not for what it intrinsically contained but for the change that it sparked in many.

    :)

    1. Hi,

      Thanks David. You were one of those that I met in the beginning of my Ultranet journey and I enjoyed sharing ideas and learning from you and others in my PLN around not only the Ultranet but ICT in general.

      Mel

  3. Great post Mel,
    I watched you and other educators like you who were able to maximise the use of the Ultranet as it was intended, with envy. Unfortunately it never worked for me. Despite wanting to use it, I had technical issues right from the start. Because of a Cases glitch and despite constant help line advice, I was persona non grata for 8 months. By the time I actually had an account (that subsequently disappeared again!), everyone like you had moved too far forward for me to catch up and everyone else had given up :-(

    I think the vision was amazing but maybe a wee bit before it’s time. Hopefully another visionary educational administrator will rise through the ranks to give us another way of bringing our online ideas together.

    Congratulations to you for using the Ultranet opportunity so effectively.

    1. Hi Anne,

      Thanks. I have heard others with your issues and it was sad that people who really wanted to give it a go had these difficulties, as I know you would have been able to get from it. I think you are right in saying it was a a bit before its time. I think the vision and what they wanted to accomplish was great but I too agree it was probably a little bit too early and maybe the urgency wasn’t there for many teachers.

      Mel

  4. Great post Mel … In the longer term, I firmly believe that the complete teaching and learning cycle: DATA>>PLAN>>TEACH>>EVALUATE>>REPORT TO PARENTS will all be accessed via a secure portal ‘in the cloud’, and that this will all be available 24/7 to teachers, parents, students, administrators via a fully integrated platform that has identical functionality to the current Ultranet. Such a portal is inevitable.

    1. Hi,

      Yes, I agree, Brendan. We need to start closing the loop on the way we do things and make them talk to each other – parents, teachers, students, schools and parents all on the same page with learning and that this will happen in the cloud. How far away such a time is though I don’t know!

      Mel

  5. Beautifully written Mel. Thank you-not only for this entry but for letting me share in your ‘ride’ & learn so much more than I would have without you. I fear, like you, that the gap we need to bridge (reporting wise), is the less close without the ultranet. Fingers crossed the ‘portal’ Brendan refers to above, is sooner rather than later.

    1. Thanks, Erin. I too hope that reporting is next on the agenda. I hear that there will be a discussion paper released on assessment soon so I hope that is the case.

      Mel

  6. I sincerely wish that I could take such positives from my experiences with the Ultranet.

    For those of us who chose to use other tools, ie tools that worked, instead of the Ultranet, we were identified as not being team players, since the department could easily track user login information (and those who didn’t log in). We had a visit from our friendly Ultranet coach, and it was made pretty clear we were expected to be using it. Cue superficial, worthless tasks just to keep our login data respectable.

    It wasn’t just us, either. Plenty of schools in our area would get the students to log on to the Ultranet regularly purely to keep the department happy. The students wouldn’t actually do anything meaningful, just perhaps some trivial task or even log off again. How much learning time was cumulatively wasted? How much teacher time was lost organising such ridiculous box-ticking?

    Teachers who used online tools other than the Ultranet had their careers adversely affected. I was one of them. My principal didn’t give me another contract, and lack of Ultranet use was cited as one reason, despite the proven effectiveness of the other online tools we were using at the time. I was forced to travel to find work, the financial wellbeing of my young family was put at risk, and I was very nearly lost to the profession.

    The implementation, frankly, was a disgrace. Good teaching and learning was sacrificed to ensure that everyone used the Ultranet, no matter how obvious the limitations, no matter how poor a fit to the teaching and learning we were trying to put into place. Had the Ultranet been one part of a school’s approach to online learning, perhaps I could have found something positive about it. But when we were forced to use an inferior tool simply because it was the department’s tool, I immediately longed for it’s demise.

    I did learn much about leadership. As soon as Brumby lost the state election, it was obvious the Ultranet had a limited life span. I urged caution to our school leadership in adopting the Ultranet, fearful that its destruction would discourage a whole school of teachers from using technology in their teaching ever again. Despite my advice, my contract ended and I did not have the option to reapply. But I was right. Had that school invested hours and hours into a system bound for the trash can, perhaps that school would not be doing the work with technology it does now. But being right doesn’t seem to count for much when you’re jobless.

    You’ll pardon me if I drink a celebratory drink to the demise of the Ultranet.

    1. I was quite taken back ny this comment. Not becasue of what was said in it but becasue I have not before received an anonymous comment. I must admit for a moment I thought about not publishing it as it goes against my own beliefs about posting online. Although I have published it I have decided not to respond to the content in this comment as I normally would.

  7. The walled garden concept is an interesting one. The ultranet was only walled if you wanted it to be. With functionality such as iframes, embed codes, hyper linking etc. you could have external content in with your internal content. Some teachers I know were using google docs in OSL and in iframes and collaborating outside of DEECD. Others placed their global 2 blogs in iframes and could track the learning taking place in the external blog. I see your advantages of the walled garden Mel but only when you want that. The ultranet allowed you to bring that wall down any time you wanted to.

    1. Hi Craig,

      I often think the idea of a walled garden is met with resistance. And I must admit I am not a fan when that is what you are forced to do. But it offers a lot of support to “newbies” and as you said the Ultranet allowed you to bring so much of the outside, in.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Mel

  8. Thanks Mel. I always found it annoying when I heard this criticism about the walled garden because its just not true as I’ve indicated earlier. I don’t mind criticism about anything as long as its based on fact. I found that often the people bringing this up actually knew very little about the ultranet. It’s not perfect but it was a potential game changer IMO!

  9. I too, an sad to see the Ultranet go, but definitely not suprised.
    At our school, just getting logged in could take a whole session. Student passwords would be forgotten time and time again. Teachers were literally getting kids to log on just so we would be seen as using the system. It had some usefulness as a tool for teacher sharing, such as putting up our daily newsheet, but even simply uploading planners was often problematic. Some teachers went for months without a single successful upload. It was slow, clunky and frustrating and all the things we hoped to he able to use it for, such as the assessment and reporting, didn’t come online until everyone had already given up.
    I think the lesson here is that the wrong people were trying to do the right thing in the wrong way.
    I don’t think there will be a next time.
    Private enterprise already does most if not all of what the Ultranet did and because it is customer focussed, things actually work or get fixed (most of the time, anyway!).
    For me, it feels like I’m starting again everytime I find out about a new program or package. Very frustrating!

    No wonder so many educators are wary of getting involved with technology!
    Daniel

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