Three stories about Virtual Learning Environments

November 10, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Posted in waffle | Leave a comment
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By chance, I’ve looked at three stories today about the future of VLEs which are relevant to this University’s use of Blackboard.

The first was an article by Lisa M. Lane in First Monday, titled Insideous pedagogy:  how course management systems impact teaching. It argues that the educational assumptions implicit in the design of systems such as Blackboard and Moodle affect the pedagogic choices made by tutors new to teaching online. For example, Blackboard’s default ‘Course Resources’ content area encourages tutors to use it as a document store. Tutors can of course use the Control Panel to configure Blackboard to their own needs, for example by creating a content area for each course topic, but may lack the awareness that it is possible or the knowledge of how to do it. I see the answer as a partnership between academic staff and learning technologists such as myself, where I find out what they want to achieve and then provide the advice and support needed.

The second was a discussion at this year’s Educause conference about the relative merits of commerical VLE systems, such as Blackboard, compared with open-source solutions, such as Moodle and Sakai. The open-source speakers stressed the advantages of a wide user community, lack of licence restrictions, freedom to innovate and the decoupling of paid-for support from the licence provider. The commercial speaker seemed much more defensive and said that Blackboard were improving their customer support and learning lessons from the open-source community. It was interesting that a US University that switched to Moodle made a deliberate decision to maintain their VLE budget and spent the money saved on the licence costs on a programmer and some instructional designers to help the academic staff make better use of the new system.

Finally, an email from ALT arrived advertising a panel discussion with the inflamatory title ‘The VLE is Undead!’. The future success of e-learning depends on appropriate selection of tools and
services.  This symposium will propose that the Virtual Learning Environment
(VLE) as an institutional tool is dead, no more, defunct, expired.

Originally delivered at ALTC 2009, this discussion has since moved forward,
opinions have changed, divided and developed so it could now be argued that
VLE’s are undead – an entity which was once alive, has since died but
continued to carry some life like characteristics.

This lively debate is designed to give end users a voice and an opportunity to
discuss the issues that arise by using institutional VLE’s.

The first panel member Steve Wheeler, will argue that many VLEs are not fit
for purpose, and masquerade as solutions for the management of online
learning.  Some are little more than glorified e-mail systems.  He will argue that
VLE’s provide a negative experience for learners.

The second panellist, Graham Attwell, believes that the VLE is dead and that
the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the solution to the needs of the
diverse learner.  PLE’s provide opportunities for learners, offering users the
ability to develop their won space in which to reflect on their learning.

The third panel member, James Clay, however believes that the VLE is not yet
dead as a concept, but can be the starting point of a journey for many
learners.  Creating an online environment involving multiple tools that provides
for an enhanced experience for learners can involve a VLE as a hub or centre.

The fourth panel member, Nick Sharratt, argues for the concept of the
institutional VLE as essentially sound.  VLE’s provide a stable, reliable, self-
contained and safe environment in which all teaching and learning activities
can be conducted.  It provides the best environemtn for the variety of
learners within institutions.

The session will be chaired by Josie Fraser.

Structure of the Session

The symposium will begin with an opportunity for attendees to voice their
opinions on the future of the VLE.  Each member of the panel will then present
their case.  The panel, with contributions from the audience will then debate
the key issues that have arisen.  There will also be pre-event online
discussions taking place via Twitter and blogs asking for the key issues that
affect users and the most popular will then be taken for discussion in breakout
sessions.  The panel will then re-convene for a closing discussion.

Intended Outcomes

By the end of the session, participants will be able to have a greater
understanding of the evolution and possible extinction of the VLE and its
impact on learners.

Booking Details

Places are available at the cost price of £40 per person which includes
refreshments and a light lunch.  To book your place, please visit the Learning
Lab website ( or contact Abi Redmond, Event
Organiser on 01902 322362 for further details.


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