Some of you will remember that last year I spent a lot of time investigating VLE options for my school before finally deciding on using Moodle as temporary measure as we couldn’t find anything that did exactly what we were after. For those who haven’t read my original post on my personal opinion of the various VLE offerings that I wrote last year you can find it here
So this year at BETT I wasn’t really looking for anything that might fall into the VLE category (although I did have my eye out for things that could integrate into moodle!) so I was very surprised to be so completely amazed by a new product to the market (launched on the first morning of BETT) called OPENHIVE.
Much like Frog, OPENHIVE isn’t selling itself as a VLE but rather as a Learning Platform – and in both cases this is a much better description as what they aim to achieve is much more holistic platform within which most of the school’s ICT sits. Both aim to offer tools for various areas of school life – portals, email, parental engagement, etc…
There are however a few key differences:
OPENHIVE is a modular system where you can pick and choose parts of the product without adopting everything, where as Frog is pretty much an all or nothing product (with the exception of Secure Gateway & Parental Engagement bits which I believe are chargeable extras).
The second major difference is that OPENHIVE is cloud based (meaning all the data is hosted remotely) whereas Frog is a physical box within your school. This has ups and downs in both directions. Cloud based means remote management and service agreements for up time etc, but also means that it is difficult to fix problem yourself as you don’t have full access to the server… Also there are the concerns about hosting all this data on someone else’s server (especially data about students – i.e. parental engagement)
There has been a lot of talk recently about the traditional VLE being dead and that people should be looking to form their own Learning Platforms by using a combination of Web 2.0 in conjunction. What commercial Platform al ‘Learning’ products aim to achieve is a level of integration between tools which is difficult if not impossible to achieve using a collection of disparate tools.
OPENHIVE is built on top of Microsoft SharePoint, a very powerful but complicated environment. What OPENHIVE have achieved that (in my opinion) no one else has managed to, is to build a tool for use in schools which is simple and visually appealing but retains the power of the SharePoint environment. This has been done by using Silverlight (broadly Microsoft’s equivalent to Flash) as a front end for much of the UI.
For me the really appealing things about OPENHIVE was the integration of MIS data throughout the system. Timetables in Outlook, links to Groups, clear data for Parents, with the addition of Instant Messaging, Shared Whiteboarding etc. Plus all the native stuff that you get from SharePoint all in one coherent package.
The personal appeal of OPENHIVE is that it offers the very real potential to integrate the diverse range of tools that we use in school (Citrix, ClickView, Office 2007, Outlook, SIMS, etc) into a complete coherent system which is accessible from anywhere (and anything!). This could really change the way in which our students work online and have a profound effect on their experience of school.
Also from a business perspective, the fact that they have recently been purchased by Capita gives confidence that they are not going anywhere soon. Coupled with the fact they have built it all on open standards to BECTA’s regs give a lot of confidence.
I’m really excited to see where this goes as it has the potential to really change the way in which the online part of a school and its associated data work…
The one thing that worries me is the cost – I have heard some VERY large numbers floating about for cost per head which could easily price it outside of the reach of the majority of schools… I’m hoping that they find a sensible price range which enables schools to get on board with this potentially school changing technology!
Hopefully in due course OPENHIVE will add some screencasts to better show off their Platform, but for now the intrepid @daibarnes managed to record some video of the platform whilst at BETT which gives a useful overview of the product.