‘Virtual’ – an environment for learning?

Well, it’s been a while since my previous post https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/building-vles/, which received an unusual amount of (quite positive) attention. Many thanks to everyone who contributed and to James Clay for tweeting the fact that he was reading it!

I’ve considered the online replies, and the comments I’ve received from people who read the post and told  me personally that they enjoyed it. Furthermore, I’ve begun to work with some a secondary school and the practitioners who are building their own first VLE.

I feel that some development of this discussion is required and today’s post is aimed at prodding more response.

In her first comment Louise Jacobson directed me towards her own (February 2010) VLE blog post which drew her reader’s attention to a book chapter she’d written back in 2008. I think it is an excellent stepped approach to VLE development and one that can perhaps be measured: whereas I see my own 4-stage model more as a roadmap; each stage a means of guidance rather than a target in itself. Some institutions do in fact take a more stepped approach to VLE development, as I am reminded by Ellen and whilst I think that this can be a good idea, there is always the danger that the ‘level’ becomes the goal, rather than pure and simple pedagogical interactivity and engagement.

I do agree with Ellen, and perhaps all my contributors agree, that the first stage is just to get something on there! But it’s where to go from there and how quickly (and how much corporate interference there is) that needs discussion. What other factors come into play when trying to convince colleagues to use the VLE? Steve suggests that despite his keen and forward looking developments, he continues to be thwarted by the institutional IPD (https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/ipds/) and (https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/ipd-2/) which is sad, given that he (Steve) has a fine list of suggestions for VLE development:

• Plan it on a blank piece of paper – What do you want it to do and how do you want it to look is appropriate for the subject matter?
• Use Icons or pictures for links – Most of my links lead to web pages which I have made in Publisher and include embedded objects; make sure you set the links to open in a new page – even my PDF’s have pictures as the Icon.
• Try not to use it a filing system – Some of the VLE’s I have seen are sooooo boring, just lists of files! PowerPoint doesn’t fit too well in Moodle. Also, there are compatibility issues with Ms Office, and Open Office. Web pages, PDF’s and Flash are a lot easier for access anywhere.
• Embed RLO’s – Hot potatoes that kind of thing.
• Get your colleagues to test it – check for typos, broken links etc.
• Never assume – not all learners are confident ILT users.

(Steve Halstead)

So, should a VLE be developed strategically with only senior management involvement throughout? Do they know enough about what is needed, to lead such a project or not? Who should lead such developments then – teachers? .. Should the learner be involved? .. Should there be some sort of learning technologist involved? When and how much should IPDs become involved? Who is responsible?

Personally, I think that they should all be involved – and be committed to the project. Senior managers should realise that a final ‘finished’ product can never be achieved (certainly not “by the end of the month”) – it will always be a work in progress, with new possibilities being explored all the time. Teachers should be guided by their learners and not be pressured into achieving something too quickly – but they should nevertheless, mark their progress against a carefully considered roadmap or (if it works for them) a Gold, Silver and Bronze level of attainment. A learning technologist should be on hand to offer coaching, guidance and direction but not to interfere so much that he/she becomes the developer. His/her role is to help all parties to understand the VLE’s potential and how to avoid the pitfalls. Perhaps his/her most important role would be to be the lubricant that makes all of the various cogs run smoothly, with special responsibility for understanding the fears of IPDs and helping to assuage them.

In this way, strategic necessity is balanced against pedagogical need and the institution benefits as a whole – rather than (as I’m sure happens now) in silos.

I still wonder if my evolving model works the same for all areas (school, WBL, F.E., H.E., ACL etc) so comments really are welcome.


(Previous post regarding ‘levels’ – https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/scores-on-the-door/)
James Clay e-Learning Stuff Podcast on this subject: