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Happy Learners Info

My big project

I started thinking about setting up Happy Learners while I was recovering from cancer treatment in 2011. I wanted to create an online resource that would enable teachers to access information to support children with additional educational needs. I had recently worked on developing online resources to support children with language delay on the school's internal learning network. Then I thought it would be great to set up something available through the Internet.

I had always had an interest in computers and had set up a website for teachers about using ICT in schools during the 90's when the Internet was only just beginning to be used outside the spheres of work and science. However, life and work demands meant that I gave up on this particular project. Later my interest in computers led me to do a Post Grad. in ICT in Education at Brunel University. This qualification ensured that I led on ICT in the school for the next few years not that I recall any other teachers queuing up for the role!

Later as I moved up into school leadership I had the opportunity to move into pastoral support, inclusion, child protection and special educational needs. The application of ICT to these areas was at the time quite poor and there was a need to make knowledge and good practice more readily available. Equally there was a recognised gap in many teacher's knowledge about common conditions that affect learning and behaviour. When the government launched the Inclusion Development Programme, an initiative to provide online in-service training in special educational needs I found a role in helping to support this within the local authority. The first phase was on identifying and supporting children with language development and after a year of talking about this program I felt that I should really fully understand the subject matter! I therefore enrolled on a Post Grad. course on speech and language development. My school received a national award for our work on improving outcomes for students with language development needs. As a result I was asked to talk at a national conference. There I had an opportunity to meet some amazing autistic individuals who had taken part in creating the Inclusion Development Programme's autism materials. My thoughts therefore turned to thinking about how we might support these students.

However, a diagnosis of a rare form of cancer gave my life a new direction and after eight months off work I decided to move into a part-time role as a specialist teacher. I was given a number of primary and secondary schools to support, providing guidance, advice and strategies for the management of their students with additional behavioural needs. In this role I found that I could support staff and parents better by creating many of the visual resources they needed to implement the strategies I was suggesting. These I then made available through the Happy Learners website.

In the first year or two Happy Learners was mainly being used by the staff and parents I was directly working with. However, gradually as I added more content the number of users increased so that there were now users all over the world. Having not anticipated an international appeal for the website I now became conscious of how the use of English language varies amongst the anglophone countries. This has led to me to try avoiding any words that I know are spelt differently between American English, Australian English and my native British English. However, some words are hard to avoid like behaviour (behavior) and my decision was that I would use British English. At least, I hoped, that I might get that spelling correct! For those visitors from non-English speaking countries I made the assumption that they have chosen an English website because they could read it.

As the amount of content increased the site required a number of big reorganisations. If I couldn't find the resource I was looking for, how was anybody else expected to! This meant new navigation headings and sub-headings and a lot of pages being renamed including the URL. I experimented with separating parts of the site into different sub-domains but then abandoned the idea. I decided to begin organising some content into sub-folders that helped to keep all the similar pages together and allowed me to create topic related contents pages to improve naviagation. All of this remapping of the site affected how easy it was to find the site in search engines by damaging its established rankings and creating lots of dead links. However, I am hopeful that in the long term the changes will make the site more logically organised.

I set up the site to provide free and open access for anyone with an interest or need to find information and resources to support children. I didn't create it to make an income. However, after needing to take early retirement I recognised that the site would eventually need to become self-financing in order to meet its running costs. I therefore decided to start including adverts on the site. This in itself was a completely new learning process for me as I navigated myself through the challenges that this presented. Often lessons were learnt the hard way like ensuring that only appropriate content was advertised. Secondly the number and placing of adverts was an issue. Too many and the site becomes really annoying, too few and there is no possibility of any income. As a user of the Internet I hate coming across sites which are all adverts and minimal content. I learnt that many independent web authors and content creators rely on advertising as their main source of income. There is therefore a netiquette of paying for the free and open content you have just read or used by clicking on one of their advertising sponsors. I am hoping that eventually I will start receiving an income from my site that will enable me to ensure its continued development.

Happy Learners Info Website