Back in 2009 at ALT-C we had the VLE is Dead debate. My view back then hasn’t changed much in the last four years. To save you watching the video, the heart of my viewpoint was that the VLE was the core of a student’s online presence and that other tools and services would plug into that.
I was recently discussing with a group of Psychology students how they used and felt about the VLE. Their response was quite positive, they found the VLE useful and it helped them with their learning. What they also said was that they were pleased it was available. When I asked them about discussions and chat functionality, they were quick to respond that no they didn’t do this on the VLE, but were much more likely to use their “homemade” group on Facebook for those kinds of discussions. When I reminded them that learners had asked for Facebook to be blocked in the library, they replied that this didn’t matter as they preferred to use Facebook on their smartphones.
You get a picture of how they were using different online environments and tools to support their learning. They were making choices about which tools they preferred and those that they didn’t. The students could have created a group on our Mahara site, but they preferred to use a familiar tool such as Facebook.
The question we might want to ask is how do we “assess” these discussions or even access them? Another question might be, do we need to?
If students are using a Facebook group for discussions, should we be trying to impose restrictions on their choices and make them discuss course related stuff on the VLE rather than in a closed group on a different service? Or should we focus on the importance of discussing over the importance of the platform?
In face to face discussions, these do take place in a classroom or seminar, however the vast majority happen elsewhere, whether that be in the refectory, the coffee shop, the library, at home, in the workplace or while travelling. Can we be surprised that online discussions also take place outside the “official” discussion forums?