Virtual Learning Environments

14 08 2009

I’ve just finished an undergraduate Education degree at the University of Plymouth. Some of the module leaders there decided to make some use of the Universities VLE (Microsoft Sharepoint?!). This use was generally restricted to sharing documents with students (e.g. a copy of the module documentation, hard-copies of which were provided anyway). Some branched out to using a discussion forum, with limited success. Students often only commented once; they usually did not interact with others, but merely stated their viewpoint.

Steve Wheeler recently made another bold statement about the demise of VLEs and gave them a two fingered salute in his recent blog post. Perhaps Steve has a point when it comes to VLEs being used in a way as described above. Indeed, I propose that they must change in order to survive in my recent article on VLEs.

They are changing and they will survive. Why shouldn’t they? Steve argues that they constrain and control, but it is James Clay’s comments that really ring true for me:

Using an institutional VLE does not preclude using other Web 2.0 services and tools, on the contrary, a VLE  and web tools can be used together.

Bingo! We need to be able to support colleagues and learners in building their own personal webs and PLEs. What better way to do this than to allow them to experiment from their institutional learning environment. Once they feel empowered and confident about learning using these sorts of tools, they can begin to venture outside of the VLE. Of course, for myself and many others who have had the opportunity to experiment and begin building a PLE there is no contest. But for those who are yet to understand the power of Web 2.0, a VLE may just be the springboard they need. It may even be that use of the VLE itself encourages the learner to build a better, more flexible and personalised solution for them, such as their PW/PLE, instead!.

So, the VLE:

Dead? No. In need of renewed confidence? Yes. The first rung on the ladder to building a PLE? Definitely.




5 responses

15 08 2009
[vaughany].com » Blog Archive » Is your VLE really a VLE?

[…] Daniel Kennedy blogged his general agreement with James Clay about finding a middle ground between institutional control and the learner’s ‘personal web’.  Adapt and survive, in a sense (not that in my opinion the VLE is in any way dead or dying). But what caught my attention about Daniel’s post was that his institution is using Microsoft’s SharePoint as a VLE. […]

16 08 2009
Nick Sharratt

Just wanted to confirm that the UoP system is based on a Sharepoint infrastructure – in case your ?mark after it indicated uncertainty 🙂

it’s always disappointing to hear how little use is being made of this poweful and flexible infrastructure by many educators, although the pedagogic and logistic reasons are many and varied for this I think. It is perhaps especially disappointing to learn this is true in the faculty of education too. I support Social Science and business and Science faculties – now Plymouth Business School and Science and Technology and while there are some very innovative enterprising uses of the portal in those faculties, I do learn from programme committees etc that many do not – yet.

Hearing student views (including recent ex-students) of this is always useful 🙂

16 08 2009
Daniel Kennedy


Thanks for your comment. Actually, I intended the question and exclamation marks to indicate despair rather than uncertainty. The blog quoted on the first comment explains many of my frustrations. No doubt there are users of Sharepoint that are content with it. However, I do not believe it to be a true VLE. Nor did I see any innovative uses of the infrastructure during my 4 years at the University of Plymouth.

This said, should you invite me to the University to view some of these innovative and enterprising examples, I would be happy to reevaluate my opinion and publish my findings here on Learning Connections. I would be happy to hear from you.

17 08 2009
Nick Sharratt

Hard to demonstrate te innovative uses – did you see the examples and interviews etc from the 2 tulip showcase days bringing together people doing interesting things in the system? One example I can recall included using 2nd life for team working between arts students and comp sci students creating virtual worlds – ok, most of that is outside the VLE but the sharepoint bit was used as the ‘community glue’ for team working and collaboration – which is where Sharepoint excels.

Many examples of using the built in tools for wikis, blogs, rich media for reflective learning in a guided and centrally maintained environment; nothing that couldn’t be done with 3rd party solutions, but by using the tools provided centrally, it’s fully supported by learning technologists and IT support etc, with no data protection issues, integrated with the corporate student records system – and from this year will allow electronic submision of coursework integrated too.

I agree that “Sharepoint” is not itself a VLE, and there are elements common to most VLEs that the UoP system is still developing, but with the integration with other systems, tulip is a VLE framework. Unlike traditional VLEs, it’s extensible both centrally and by the individual educator, including use of 3rd party tools within it with little more work than abandoning the VLE and with many advantages for students. I feel this is a useful model for how a VLE can work best – providing a framework that is simple, flexible and extensible. That’s not to say we have it perfected – not by a long chalk 🙂

22 04 2010

Tweeting in schools – thought you might enjoy this one super Dan 🙂
Abstract Student ratings have been a controversial but important method for the improvement of teaching quality during the past several decades. Most universities rely on summative evaluations conducted at the end of a term or course. A formative approach in which each course unit is evaluated may be beneficial for students and teachers but has rarely been applied. This is most probably due to the time constraints associated with various procedures inherent in formative evaluation (numerous evaluations, high amounts of aggregated data, high administrative investment). In order to circumvent these disadvantages, we chose the Web 2.0 Internet application Twitter as evaluation tool and tested whether it is useful for the implementation of a formative evaluation. After a first pilot and subsequent experimental study, the following conclusions were drawn: First, the formative evaluation did not come to the same results as the summative evaluation at the end of term, suggesting that formative evaluations tap into different aspects of course evaluation than summative evaluations do. Second, the results from an offline (i.e., paper-pencil) summative evaluation were identical with those from an online summative evaluation of the same course conducted a week later. Third, the formative evaluation did not influence the ratings of the summative evaluation at the end of the term. All in all, we can conclude that Twitter is a useful tool for evaluating a course formatively (i.e., on a weekly basis). Because of Twitter’s simple use and the electronic handling of data, the administrative effort remains small.
see –

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