What is a VLE?
According to the Jisc Digital Media site, a VLE is ‘an online set of tools and spaces that are managed by the institution for use in supporting teaching and learning’.(Jisc, viewed 2015). Some examples of VLEs are Moodle and Blackboard. Some of the affordances of VLEs, apart from providing a structure for learning, are; content delivery, synchronous and asynchronous discussion, online assessment, student tracking and provision of student tools. (Weller. M, 2007).
Getting to know VLEs
I have very little experience with VLEs, apart from Moodle on my current course and a couple of MOOCs on Astronomy and Music on Coursera. I can see VLEs as being fairly fundamental to online courses in order to organise and manage course content but I am yet to be convinced of their validity alongside face-to face teaching in blended learning contexts. In order to raise my awareness of VLEs I have decided to experiment with Edmodo with a couple of my adult classes. I will use it mainly as a storage space for students to post links to useful websites, articles, podcasts and videos related to course content. Although Edmodo lacks the flexibilty and structure that Moodle offers, it may be more accessible due to its similar look and feel to Facebook. I will have a minimal presence on the site and give students the freedom to use the space as they please. Nonetheless, I am concerned that my absence might have a negative effect on student engagement and will therefore check in once a week to monitor contributions and select some of their comments and links for use in lessons.
I think one of the most common concerns from my colleagues in regards to VLEs in a blended learning context is that interaction will creep outside their normal working hours. Most teachers already feel overstretched, and a badly managed VLE could tip them over the edge, or at least put them off digital technology for good. However, if the teacher’s method is based on learners finding/creating material and peer to peer collaboration not only will it save time but also enhance learning, in line with the constructivist learning theory.
The here and now
I can understand the idea that if you set up content on a VLE one year, the next year should be easier and less time consuming. That said, I am afraid of not responding to my learners needs, in the here and now, by following a linear structure set out the previous year. When I started teaching in my current position, I spent hours preparing PowerPoint presentations that followed the course book content. Despite all the hard work, the presentations never seemed to fit with my new learners, I felt as if I wasn’t really engaging with them as human beings or responding to their individual interests.
Free, open and non-linear
As with course books and PowerPoint presentations, VLEs tend to follow a predetermined path with a culturally imposed viewpoint and little room for learner agency. They also seem to forego the affordances of the internet and go against current trends in online behaviour where content is free, open and non-linear. It almost feels as if we are trying to cling on to an outdated ‘traditional’ educational system based on the one-way transmission of information that doesn’t quite fit with our current digital reality. According to Glynis Cousin, VLEs grew out of ‘the broadcast phase of technology’ and thus it is in their very nature to be content-centred to a certain degree. (Cousin. G, 2005). This is why I find the alternative of PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) quite interesting with the VLE as only a small part of much larger network of peers and learning tools.
More on PLEs in my next post.
Weller. M, Virtual Learning enviroments: Using choosing and developing your VLE. (Routledge: London and New York, 2007)
Cousin. G, Learning from cyberspace in Land, R. and Bayne, S. (eds) Education in cyberspace. London, RoutledgeFalmer. pp. 117-129.