Submitted by admin on Mon, 11/30/2015 - 09:25

Open source software has long been a natural choice for schools and educators teaching children about technology: both share an emphasis on exploration and collaboration, and access to free, open source technology can be a welcome relief to schools and parents.

At the Abraham Darby Academy in Telford, Shropshire, students between the ages of 11 and 16 are getting a lesson in open courseware while also teaching them about journalism. Their BBC School Report website is running on Drupal, and students use the CMS upload their articles and video journalism to their website— and in the process, they are gaining valuable experience both creating content and uploading it to the web.

Said Stephen Birch, a member of the Information Technology teaching staff at Abraham Darby Academy, “[The BBC School Report] enables students to 'make the news' on School Report News Day (27th March 2014). [The students] report on stories that matter to them within a theme set by the BBC— this year it is 'computing' (a very wide topic influenced by the new Computing curriculum that comes into force for all 5 - 16 year old students this September).

"We chose to use Drupal to create the site as we could set it up in advance and give the students permissions to publish their work to it on the day. Being able to set up permissions so that the students can post without risk of 'taking the site down' is very reassuring. Drupal's front end also means the students do not have to spend hours learning how to upload the content— the word processing style interface is very familiar to them."

Drupal in Advanced Classes

The website for the BBC School Report is the latest in a long series of Drupal deployments at the school. In an email to the Drupal Association, Birch discussed the students’ passing familiarity with Drupal.

"We started using Drupal as a platform for our A-Level students to build websites for their assessments back in 2011,” he wrote. “Since then we have been using it for various projects, including our new school website that I'm developing to launch in September.”

Students enrolled in the A-Level Information and Communication Technology course at the Abraham Darby Academy are required to create a website according to customer specifications. The project takes students through every point in the system lifecycle, from initial contact with companies looking for solutions to delivery of the completed project.

In the class, students familiarize themselves with the development process, and deliver a live website, training schedules for end users and an owner’s manual— all of which they build as part of their schoolwork.

"There is no requirement for the students to implement any original code,” wrote Birch. “It is the process that is being examined. That said, they do need to understand how to develop a solution and we have found that Drupal provides the framework to enable professional looking solutions in the timescales we have.”

The Clear Choice

When it came to a CMS to be used in the classroom, the school cycled through a variety of other solutions, including coding in Dreamweaver, or building websites in Joomla. But when a student needed better database integration, the research began.

"A few of years ago one of the students needed a solution for a membership site and whilst looking at methods of implementing a membership database that could cope with paid membership and event solutions we came across the CiviCRM module. We tried it on Drupal and Joomla and Drupal won the day due to the support and advice available on the Drupal and CiviCRM forums! Since then we have never looked back.”

For the students, working with Drupal has become a valuable educational experience— and, as it turns out, they aren’t the only ones benefitting.

"The feedback from students about Drupal has been generally positive and they soon get the hang of how to integrate the contributed modules and themes into their designs,” wrote Birch.

"The ease of installing modules enables the students to produce non linear solutions to the customer requirements - this year it is looking like one of the clients is going to use the solution created as their business website.”

In the meantime, students will be working on their reports for the upcoming BBC News Day. What topics in computing will the students be reporting on?

Said Birch, "It would be great to use Drupal as a theme for one of our stories on news day.”

Do you have a great story about Drupal? Submit a story idea or contact Leigh to let the Drupal Association know about it!

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