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 “offical” discussion forums?
One of the common themes that comes out when people discuss how to use Moodle, is the inevitable scroll of death.
As you start to use Moodle and create a course for the first time., you add a title, add a label describing the course and then you add a link to file, a link to the forum, some quizzes, a wiki, an assignment, then another. Before long you will have a long list of resources, the inevitable “scroll of death”.
From a learner’s perspective this is a long list of links, no context and not really an engaging and interactive learning experience. It will be more challenging to use Moodle, it won’t be intuitive. The end result will be disengaged learners and people saying that Moodle is “boring”, why can’t it be more like Facebook, Twitter or Google+?
If you are reflective and ask learners for feedback, when you next build a Moodle course, hopefully you will think about whole course design and not build merely a list of links. However years of talking to educators I have found that they rarely talk about whole course design, they are more worried about what they are going to teach tomorrow, or at best next week. They may well have a scheme of work, but that doesn’t mean that it’s useful or they stick to it.
This short-term planning often resulted in the resources been posted to Moodle without any thinking about the context or the impact this approach will have over the whole course.
Now at this point we mustn’t dismiss this approach entirely. It’s often seen as a good thing that we see learning on the VLE, however this doesn’t mean that when you find just a list of resources means that there is no learning happening. It may be happening in the classroom, in the workshop, the workplace, the resources are merely a starting point or a catalyst for learning.
An unplanned approach to curriculum design, combined with a interface flaw within Moodle, means that you are more likely to end up with the “scroll of death” than anything else. If you throw into that mix all the resources that are used over a course, there could be lots of them, probably much more so than any kind of interactive activity, then is it any wonder that when used extensively, most Moodle courses have the “scroll of death”. I know that when I was planning lessons I would have many kinds of resources to support the activities, there may anything up to ten resources for any one activity or assignment. This can quite easily lead to a “scroll of death”.
Another aspect to consider is that the VLE in most FE Colleges (and Universities) is used more often to support, enhance and enrich delivery in the classroom or the lecture theatre. It’s more rare for the VLE to be used for the delivery of learning on its own. Support often means resources, as opposed to a series of learning activities.
Having said all that there is no excuse for the “scroll of death” with a little planning, it’s quite easy to not only avoid it, but add context to any resources and activities, so making the VLE an engaging and useful experience for learners.
A somewhat quieter year this year with just over 100 blog posts posted to the blog.
As I did in 2011, 2010 and 2009 here are the top ten blog posts according to views for this year. Interestingly, the VLE is Dead – The Movie blog post which was number one last year and number two for the previous years, does not appear in the top ten , it was the 15th most viewed post.
The tenth most viewed post was my in-depth review of the Keynote app for the iPad. I wrote this review more for myself, to get a my head around what the app was capable of. Whilst writing the blog post, I was very impressed with the functionality and capability of the app, it was a lot more powerful and flexible than my first impressions of it.
I spent some time trying out the various mobile ways of accessing our college’s ebook collection which is on the ebrary platform. This was a review of the iPad app, I was both impressed and disappointed. It was much better than using the web browser on the iPad, but was less impressed with the complex authentication process which involved a Facebook connection and a Adobe Digital Edtions ID. Very complicated and as a result less than useful for learners. Though it has to be said once the book was downloaded it did work much better than accessing it through the browser. The only real issue is you have to remember to return the books before they expire!
MindGenius is not the best mind mapping app for the iPad, that has to go to iThoughtsHD however if you have MindGenius for the desktop then this app is an ideal companion for starting mind maps on the iPad and finishing them off on the computer.
In January of 2012, Apple had one of their presentations in which they announced iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app that built on the iTunes U service in iTunes. At the time I wrote three blog posts about those three announcements. All three of those blog posts are in the top ten, the one on iBooks Author was the seventh most popular blog post in 2012. It looked at the new app. I’ve certainly not given it the time I thought I would, maybe I will in 2013.
Over the last few years of owning the iPad, I have downloaded lots of different apps, some of which were free and a fair few that cost hard cash! At a JISC RSC SW TurboTEL event in Taunton I delivered a ten minute presentation on my favourite iPad apps. The sixth most popular blog post of 2012 embedded a copy of that presentation and I also provided a comment on each of the apps.
The fifth most popular post this year was from my ongoing series of ways in which to use a VLE. This particular posting was about embedding a comic strip into the VLE using free online services such as Strip Creator and Toonlet. It is quite a lengthy post and goes into some detail about the tools you can use and how comics can be used within the VLE. The series itself is quite popular and I am glad to see one of my favourite in the series and one of the more in-depth pieces has made it into the top ten. It was number eight last year and tyhis year was even more popular.
In January of 2012, Apple had one of their presentations in which they announced iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app that built on the iTunes U service in iTunes. There was a lot of commentary on iBooks and how it would reinvent the textbook. Looking back I think I was right to be a little sceptical on this one. Maybe in a few years time, we will see e-textbooks that change the way in which learners use textbooks.
The blog post on iTunes U, which followed posts on iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, is the second most viewed blog post this year. I discussed the merits and challenges that using iTunes U would bring to an institution. Back then I wrote, if every learner in your institution has an iPad, then iTunes U is a great way of delivering content to your learners, if every learner doesn’t… well I wouldn’t bother with iTunes U. I still stand by that, I like the concept and execution of iTunes U, but in the diverse device ecosystem most colleges and universities find themselves in, iTunes U wouldn’t be a solution, it would create more challenges than problems it would solve.
I recently gave a presentation and had a discussion on auditing your VLE installation at the RSC SW VLE Forum.
Gloucestershire College has recently undertaken an external audit of both their current VLE setup and their recent procurement process with outsourcing the VLE to ULCC. The audit process is a useful way of looking at the systems and processes an institution has in place for such a mission critical system like the VLE. This session will go through the key aspects within an external audit and delegates will discuss with colleagues how they would “fare” if they were to undergo an external audit. This may also be an opportunity to think about peer assessment and auditing.