David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.

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A post-VLE World?

What will we do without an institutional VLE? Is it something that we should be actively thinking about given that institutions spend heavily on licenses for these environments and their take-up by students is inconsistent?  I was asked to think about what a post-VLE world might look like for my own institution today so here are some thoughts.  

The question was pertinent as last week I attended a networking event hosted by Hugh Anderson of HAA Design (they were involved in New Campus Glasgow). The discussion was ostensibly about ‘making distance learning work’ and Jackie Baker of the OU in Scotland presented on the effectiveness of its model. THe OU certainly seem to understand how to work with a social model of learning and Jackie provided some insightful comments on how to make what I would call ‘blended learning’ work.  For this blog post the most interesting discussion points were:

  1. The quality of the PT student experience is of fundamental importance and the OU achieves it through unrivalled student support – tutors, mentors, excellent technology, excellent module materials.  
  2. They are engaged in ‘blended’ learning, involving engaging remotely (Moodle is the platform they use) and ‘intense, memorable face to face’ interactions. I think we can learn from this at UWS and across HE – by making the PT or even PG delivery more conference-like to create meaningful social connections possible.  At UWS we’re piloting the use of Camtasia Relay for recording lectures and there are several other ways of doing this
  3. The OU have continued to invest in using technology to ‘enhance’ learning, not as a cheap substitute for it.  Student satisfaction levels are the envy of the sector. 
  4. The OU have engaged fully with the trend towards offering its learning materials as open source resources – and have attracted more ‘paying’ students as a result. They use some ‘tools’ that we might explore using at UWS (and across the sector), including Elluminate Live (essentially a virtual classroom), Cloudworks, Flash Meeting (which is freely accessible from the OU website) and ITunesU. With respect to the latter, it is certainly a way of enticing potential students to consider studying at your institution – and it corresponds well with an open and collaborative approach to learning.

So, learning from the OU there is lots of potential in using new tools and techniques to enhance (not replace) student learning, but should we introduce these by embedding them into the institutional VLE (VLE developers have definitely moved to make their offerings more user friendly and attractive to use) or should we abolish the concentration on VLEs (and the cost associated with them) with a more open, less structured, but potentially more successful approach to e-learning.  I certainly found edublogs a very useful tool to support teaching and students like the interface, the simplicity and the easily embedded audio/video materials.  Here is an exemplar from a module I ran last year on mega events. There are clearly obstacles to the elimination of VLEs from our HE institutions and I’d like to get your views on where we could go next so:

  1. Can we work to ‘open up’ VLEs from within (and how?)
  2. What are the alternatives to VLEs out there at the moment and how effective are they?

David McGillivray • February 1, 2011


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