This is me just thinking aloud really.
There are those who believe that the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) is dead, has been for some time or needs to be slain. This issue was debated to death (see what I did there?) in 2009 but I believe there is still some mileage in a bit more of a discussion.
The debate raised its head once more on the back end of a recent ukedchat discussion about the role of social media in schools with a series of tweets between Miles Berry and Pete Yeomans amongst others. The argument as I see it is between two broad camps:
- Why would we want a VLE? We can be more nimble. We can do it all for free using a range of appropriate web 2.0 tools and resources. VLEs are used very badly anyway – at best a storage repository for Powerpoints and worksheets.
- With a VLE, we have it all safely under one roof. We have a consistent system that we can rely upon and that we can all get to know.
So firstly, let it be said that in too many cases VLEs have been used very, very badly. If they are indeed being used as online storage at best then they deserve the condemnation they receive in many quarters. I would go further, if a VLE is mostly used to replicate 20th (or even 19th) century learning experiences (but online) then it is equally deserving of condemnation. But here’s my point, it is quite simple and has been said before: just because a tool is used in a particular (uninspired, old-fashioned or negative) way, is not the fault of the tool. If teachers only ever encouraged pupils to use computers to read documents, would we say the PC is dead? If an IWB is only ever used as a glorified computer display, is it the fault of the IWB? If we only use a smart phone as a calculator…? It is the use of the technology where the shortcoming lies, not the technology itself.
Good teachers should and do look at tools and resources and consider how they might best meet their students learning needs. Outstanding and exceptional teachers often look at tools and resources (particularly technologies) and consider how they might transform the learning experience. This transformation seems to be increasingly on the agenda of schools and organisations. So, let’s use the tools to do things differently, in ways that aren’t possible or are more difficult without the technology.
Here are some of the reasons I think a VLE is useful.
- It keeps everything in one place. Why does this matter? Well it matters if you need to have lots of different logins to lots of different things. I know we can put links to lots of different things in one place and that single sign on can help but a VLE is the simplest solution to all of this.
- A proprietary VLE doesn’t depend upon one person’s evangelism and expertise in the same way that a range of tools might do. Does your school depend upon one individual to run and organise e-learning through Google Apps, a blog, and/or a whole host of other stuff? What would you do if that person suddenly moved on? There are sometimes issues in schools where this is the case. Having a proprietary VLE would avoid issues of this kind. It is a safe and reliable single environment for staff and pupils to get used to. It is also reliably externally supported.
- With a VLE, everything ‘belongs’ to the school and ‘lives’ within the school. As Miles Berry put it, having a VLE is like children learning to ride bikes in the relative safety of the playground.
- Less confident staff often feel more secure with a single thing they need to get used to. video poker download
- A VLE can be ‘branded’ to the school, maintains the school’s identity and is guaranteed advert-free. the best online casino for mac usa
On the down side, there is a cost to a VLE. You actually have to pay for the thing – not something that always goes down well in these days of austerity. Having said that, it isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, when something costs you, you value it more and are more inclined to use it (spending a lot of money on expensive running shoes helped me find the motivation to get out there and run for example).
So, what about Google Apps for Education as your VLE? I think GApps is a VLE. Isn’t it? Is it dead? I don’t think so. What I also think is that GApps, like Moodle, can be great from a certain age upwards and that age is somewhere in KS2 (9-10 years old?) in my opinion. I think they are both a bit busy and grown up – certainly for infants or bottom end of KS2.
What would I like in a VLE? I want children to learn to be ‘literate’ and safe in their use of communication tools, the internet, social media etc. Yes, they can access some worksheets, hyperlinks or powerpoints if they must, but they should also communicate, collaborate and create in ways that emulate or reflect what is happening on the web right now. I also want to see ‘social’ features included such as ‘friending’, ‘walls’, status updates, comments and ratings etc etc. I want these features because these exist in the world in which they live and I want them to learn about their uses, advantages, pitfalls and all. I want pupils to make mistakes. I want to help them learn from those mistakes in the safety of a school environment – thus equipping them to be safe and literate once they have left our care. I want them to be doing this learning from the youngest possible age.
I am lucky that the majority of schools that I work with have a VLE with those features (DBPrimary). It is a VLE that suits infants and has those social features built in. It is used with 3 year olds as readily as it is with 11 year olds. The schools seem to like it enough to continue subscribing and those that are, are beginning to do things that move well beyond reproducing 20th Century learning online.
As I say, just me thinking aloud. You are welcome to think aloud in the comments.
**Update** Please pop over to Chris Ratcliffe’s blog to read his interesting post on the topic.