The impression you get of a product and company is influenced so strongly by the experience you have with the company representative.
With the cost of investment for learning platforms being so expensive – both in terms of money & training time, I have been researching the possible solutions for more than three years.
In 2010 and before that in 2009, the visit to the Fronter stand had been frustrating and off putting. The company representative in each case had no interest in talking about the Fronter product and gave little more than 2 or 3 minutes before bringing the cursory demo to a close – leaving us with no clear understanding of the platform.
Our preferred option of learning platform for the last two years was Frog. The decision to move forward with a purchase was held back by the high costs. We had also lost a fair deal of faith in the product due to a demo log-in with unresolved bugs – despite repeatedly reporting them.
I was keen to see a properly working version of Frog at BETT this year.
The initial greeting on the Frog stand was in stark contrast to the enthusiasm and professionalism that we had experienced in the past. The representative was insistent that we could not have had a demo log-in for as long as we had, and that we could not have been given costings before September 2010, as the product had only just been launched.
Thankfully, on being passed to Jessica Porter, my experience improved significantly. I thank her for her time, cheerfulness and professionalism. It does make a difference.
The product worked slickly, as it should do for near on £4000 per year. The small issues of required customisation could be carried out for us.
The list price for the Frog learning platform is £4500 for the first year then £4000 per year ongoing. This is currently reduced to £3500 for the first year then £2650 yearly. This includes support, training etc. It also includes a ‘free’ front facing website built on the Frog system. This would be template based and not necessarily matching the look and feel of the learning platform, unless extra cash was invested into a bespoke build.
One feature of Frog that I learned about for the first time is the YouTube embed feature for pages. What makes this different from the normal YouTube embeds, is that the video is ripped from YouTube to the Frog server so that a video is available to users even if YouTube is blocked.
I had been in email contact with Sajid Rafiq, a Business Development Manager at Fronter prior to the show. I was provided with a demo log-in. I had experienced the Fronter system to be perfectly functional, but was unexcited about the look and feel of the tools.
I had a long talk with Sajid and his colleague, and a pretty detailed demo of a number of the features. It was a much richer product than I had given it credit for.
The Fronter company has been purchased by Pearson. This development brings with it a close integration with a large bank of content that can be purchased from the Pearson Resource Gateway in units for one off fees. These bolt on products, which cost between £100 and £200 can be integrated into the ‘rooms’ within the system. It seems to work as was originally promised in all the initial hype about Learning Platforms. The Fronter system comes with £400 of content.
Another useful feature of Fronter is its ‘Question Database’. This allows teachers to build assessments. The results of these assessments builds a profile for each child or each topic. This can be beneficial when analysing to find gaps in understanding – to adapt teaching. The assessments of course must be completed on line. In many cases they can be self marking, unless the responses are free text.
Fronter costs £4000 for the initial set-up then £1000 as an ongoing cost. 5gb of storage is included, with additional space available at £15 per gb.
When uploading content to Fronter, the resource can be tagged with meta-data. This allows for easy searching / filtering of resources as more and more are added. It is particularly useful for non-text based resources such as photos or videos which would not be indexed by the Fronter search system to be found using a general search. When the search is used, results are ranked in order of likelihood that they are what you were looking for – hopefully with the most relevant at the top of the list.
The ILP (Individual Learning Plan / Pathways) section of Fronter allows for individual target setting and tracking. In my school we use curricular targets which could be assigned to blocks of pupils.
An online reporting tool is available to give parents an overview of pupil performance. This, as far as I understand, pulls in results from the Fronter assessments and from success with goals (such as curricular targets). This is an additional element of Fronter that comes at an additional cost of £1 per pupil per year. This is free in the first year to allow schools to get up to speed with the system before actually going public to the parents or committing financially.
I have to say that with quality discussion and demonstration, and a willingness of the Fronter representative to answer questions, I got a much better impression and understanding of the product. I was impressed. The page designs are a little uninspiring, but the functionality is good. Apparently the look and feel of the platform is due to receive a make-over as it is developed.
Fronter for primary schools is not a cut down product, as is the case with Frog. Although the page building tools are not as slick and sophisticated as in Frog, it is the extra functionality that Fronter gives, that could make it a better bet in the long run.
Ultimately I am not the decision maker at school, I can only put forward the details and a recommendation. Frog is likely to bring some of the features of its secondary product to the primary customers at some point. The official launch and roll-out has been slower than was suggested a year ago. There is no telling what the rate of development will be.
I think on balance, at my school, we would be best served by an investment in Fronter. It is a mature, tried and tested platform with many features – ready, live and working. On cost grounds alone, it would be a much more affordable system. Even at Frog’s discounted rate, the three year cost for Fronter is £6000 with £1000 per year thereafter, versus Frog’s £8800 with £2650 ongoing (or potentially £11,500 over three years, then £4000 yearly).