It’s Tuesday and day one of the Association of Learning Technologies Conference (ALT-C) 2009.
It’s a busy day with loads on and as a result there is going to be some good stuff which I will miss as either I am presenting or somewhere else in the conference.
I am not going to miss the first keynote from Michael Wesch, creator of some excellent Web 2.0 videos which you may have seen (and I have used in various presentations and workshops across the country).
His keynote at ALT-C will cover the following:
It took tens of thousands of years for writing to emerge after humans spoke their first words. It took thousands more before the printing press and a few hundred again before the telegraph. Today a new medium of communication emerges every time somebody creates a new web application. A Flickr here, a Twitter there, and a new way of relating to others emerges. New types of conversation, argumentation, and collaboration are realized. Using examples from anthropological fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, YouTube, classrooms, and “the future,” this presentation will demonstrate the profound yet often unnoticed ways in which media “mediate” our conversations, classrooms, and institutions. We will then apply these insights to an exploration of the implications for how we may need to rethink how we teach, what we teach, and who we think we are teaching.
At 4.0opm I am torn between attending Steve Wheeler’s Twitter workshop or the OER Matters Symposium. Steve’s workshop will be fun, but the OER debate could be really good. Pity I can’t be at both… I guess the key will be which will be the most useful and which one will support my role…
Going to wait and see on that one.
At the end of the day is the new ALT Members Reception, and as Gloucestershire College joined ALT this year I will be attending.
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.
Ideas to be explored
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. They will argue that VLEs provide a negative experience for learners.
The second member of the panel, Graham Attwell, believes that the VLE is dead and that the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the solution to the needs of diverse learners. PLEs provide opportunities for learners, offering users the ability to develop their own spaces 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. VLEs provide a stable, reliable, self-contained and safe environment in which all teaching and learning activities can be conducted. It provides the best environment for the variety of learners within institutions.
The session will be chaired by Josie Fraser.
Structure of 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.
By the end of the debate, participants will be able to have a greater understanding of the evolution and possible extinction of the VLE and the impact on learners.
A summary of the key points of the discussion will be syndicated on several blogs and other online spaces, and delegates will be encouraged to tweet and live blog the discussion as it happens in real time.
There are many people out there who believe that the institutional VLE is dead and we should allow learners to use their own PLE (personal learning environment) and/or a selection of Web 2.0 tools and services.
The institutional VLE is led by the entire institution and is therefore slow to respond to change, whilst the personal web is led by one user. The personal web has one more key advantage – it is owned by the individual who created it.
I have previously argued that VLEs tend to constrain students into particular ways of thinking and stifle creativity. I also maintain that most proprietary VLEs have been designed by businesses not by teachers, and therefore are unfit for purpose.
To be honest I don’t actually disagree with Steve on principle. I do believe that in order for learning to be accessible and personalised for all learners, institutional services often fail as they provide a service for all which can only meet some of the needs of some of the learners. Eventually learners will be able to choose the tools they want to use and when they want to use them. For those learners the VLE will be dead.
However we do need to question whether we bury the VLE now or wait…
Well Steve argues that learners are able to utilise the online tools and services available on the web to facilitate their learning.
There’s a big problem with this, in that most learners do not know how to use the web effectively and many of these only “visit” the web to do some stuff.
The concept that the majority of learners are adept at using Web 2.0 tools and services, are engaged with social networking and importantly are able to apply these skills to learning is a flawed concept at this time.
Most learners are not using these tools for anything let alone learning. There are no digital natives and there isn’t a Google Generation. Various papers have been published on this subject.
From my experience, most e-learning professionals aren’t engaging with the Web 2.0 tools and services out there let alone learning professionals. At ALT-C 2008 for example, six hundred delegates who were coming to a learning technology conference, and of those less than 8% were using Twitter! Though I expect the situation to be different at ALT-C 2009 I still don’t see the majority of the delegates at that conference engaging with the very technologies that are supposed to be replacing institutional tools.
Most learning professionals aren’t engaging with the web tools and services, so will learners?
Most learners who engage with post 16 learning could in theory already choose a personalised individual route to learning and use the wide variety of tools out there. They don’t choose that route though, they choose to engage with their learning via a physical learning environment, a college, a university, they choose to engage with a learning environment which is led by the entire institution and is therefore slow to respond to change.
If the VLE is dead then maybe we need to ensure that the physical learning environment is buried alongside. However it will be some time before we see the demise of the physical learning environment, why it’s not perfect, but it does a job.
All things considered, it is inevitable that the personal web will win in a straight fight against the institutional VLE. The VLE has had its day and will meet its demise, even though its supporters cannot see it coming. The personal web is on the rise.
The personal web will probably win, the personal web however is currently the domain of a select few individuals and not embraced or used by learners. For these learners they need guidance and advice on what tools they should use. This does not need to come from tutors alone, however where do these learners start from? Where should they go first? They need some kind of starting place (and dare I say it) some kind of portal to their learning.
The VLE can be that starting point.
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. For example this blog has an RSS feed which feeds directly into my institutional VLE. I use Slideshare to host my presentations which I can then as well as embedding into this blog, also embed them into my institutional VLE too. As well as embedding presentations, I also embed YouTube videos, videos from this blog and other sites too. My delicious tag cloud is embedded into the VLE to allow staff to see what I am bookmarking. My Twitter stream is streamed into the VLE to allow staff to stalk track my activity.
The VLE is not perfect, but it does a job that with the current cohort of learners and teachers could not do by themselves.
Eventually the VLE will be replaced as are all tools, but at this time we can’t afford to bury a tool which for some is their starting point on their learning journey.
Is the debate over?
No it’s just beginning. You can join myself, Steve Wheeler, Graham Attwell and Nick Sharatt at ALT-C 2009 in our symposium, “The VLE is dead” where we will be presenting and debating these issues.
Mashable reports on an interesting statistic that 60% of new Twitter users quit after the first month.
But like many social networks, it seems many people lose steam with the service. Stat tracking firm Nielsen reports today that a full 60% of users who sign up fail to return the following month. And in the 12 months “pre-Oprah”, retention rates were even lower: only 30% returned the next month. That’s good news, to some degree: retention rates have increased over time.
I am sure that a lot of these quitter are people who don’t yet “get Twitter“, but I do wonder though how the factors I mentioned earlier this week may be causing the reported lower retention rate compared to Facebook and MySpace.
Compare it to the two heavily-touted behemoths of social networking when they were just starting out…we found that even when Facebook and MySpace were emerging networks like Twitter is now, their retention rates were twice as high.
Steve Wheeler in his blog also talks about the demise of Twitter and brings in the celebrity issues (one issue I didn’t cover in my original blog article). In that article he says he has closed his Bebo account and nearly closed his Facebook account. I never had a Bebo account, and here in my college, the use by students has fallen dramatically, most learners these days appear to be using Facebook. I now rarely use Facebook, generally as all I ever see in there are updates from peoples’ Twitter status updates.
Twitter is not the easiest social networking site to explain to people, looking at it, you can’t get it, even trying it out doesn’t mean you’ll get it either. Generally you need to try it for a fair while before you appreciate the benefits it brings in terms of networking, communication, the conversation and not forgetting the coffee.