VLEs. What/who are they for again?

Sallinger

CC from jetalone on flickr

There are new systems out there (e.g. http://openhive.net, 35 developers for three years released at BETT2010) that are very impressive – based on farming things in and out of the MIS to connect people seamlessly to their learning communities (teachers to classes etc) and create a set of learning tools and shibboleth SSO to get you wherever you want to go. I took a shoddy video at BETT – http://www.youtube.com/user/daibarnes#p/a/u/2/BCDi5KWFU0g and http://www.youtube.com/user/daibarnes#p/u/3/oumghI5B0_U. There’s another one for Frog which I’ll put on my channel today.

How much they drill down into and improve the mechanics of learning is hard to say because this is still (and will probably remain) an undetermined facet of elearning. Those of us that engage our learners (and are learners) with the internet may sing songs from rooftops but there are many teachers who are doing an excellent job and poopooing the tech becomes part of their success. [You’re the ICT teacher – that’s your job] The only place where they may fall short is a lack of preparing the young for their future. Is this sufficient to enforce significant change to their practice?

I think what I am trying to say is that good quality learning (however that might be defined) is not exclusive to technology. Therefore, Moodle and similar products are not the answer. They are a means of connecting people around the maypole of content and activities. The access to that content is still the job of the teacher – lead the dance, or at least get it started. Caution about opting for a proprietry system should be tempered by considering the value it adds to an institution/community and to the learning that occurs therein. And, therefore, I arrive back at Moodle which can be employed with external expertise for less per annum than the income of one child in the state sector.

My final point is to say that if we, as tech-invested educators, keep assessing a system by its capacity to penetrate the teaching community then we are misguided. The use itself will flow, burst the banks and spread in due course. Or maybe not. I am confident that children who pass through my classroom at A Level receive a rich technologically enhanced learning experience. I am not so confident this is the same in Y7 and Y8 where I see them for 40 minutes each week (something I must get a hold on). I am equally not confident that every pupil who passes through my school is prepped for life beyond the school. Maybe the school, via me, should plan which handful of subjects are going to embrace online learning to spread this essential educational substance and focus on that rather than the unattainable nirvana of every subject, every teacher, every pupil?

I would welcome tech being used more and more to facilitate the learner (handhelds, email, calendars, searching, etc.). Teachers and learners in the classroom, project-by-project and in negotiation with each other, will determine when and how it is used. As an ed tech leader I am 100% convinced, and able to argue, that tech helps people organise and provide access to material. As a teacher I am passionate about quality learning. Combining these two is, for me (but not for all), the rub. If another teacher tells me their rub is only the latter – they have my full support. Aye, the collaboration. Aye, the peer assessment opportunities. Aye, the digital citizen. But still.

Raise high the roof beam, carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man. J.D.Sallinger

or maybe…

Life is many days. This will end. J Joyce

  • http://www.andykemp.org.uk Andy Kemp

    I agree with you… The often missed question is what difference is the technology making?

    Sometimes we ask:
    Does it make a good teacher better? Can it make a poor teacher passable?

    But we need to also ask:
    Can technology detract from an excellent lesson? Can good teachers get so caught up with the technology that they spend less time on the content and more on the medium?

    This in my opinion has been the major stumbling block to a widespread adoption of VLEs and other technology in schools as for some teacher it requires a significant change of practice. And for many of our excellent and experienced teachers this does not equate to an improvement.

    VLEs on the whole fail to meet teachers where they are and instead require them to change their style to fit the VLE.

    Have no doubt I do think VLEs can have a significant and positive influence on teaching and learning; but it needs to marry in to the disparate styles of teachers.

    Some want somewhere to store documents for students to access out of class; others want a way to communicate more easily with students (group email etc); some want to offer their students a multimedia environment; and some want the whole virtual world (and then some!)…

    What we as schools and facilitators of the use of technology need to understand that not every teacher is like us – and not every teacher would be a better teacher if they used more technology!

    Every teacher, like every student, is different and we must help them find which bits are right for them…

  • james

    Hi, interesting post with a message I have always struggled with, for on the one hand I agree that teaching and learning should come first to tech, I can see and have seen the benefit tech brings to teaching and learning (a chicken and egg situation?)

    What scares and annoys me is the forcing of tech on teachers – which I’m glad you seem to not advocating with your few subjects at a time approach. I have just left teaching (5 years as an ICT teacher)and now advise a large FE college on their use of ICT. I have witnessed many establishments including the one I have just left do a great job of killing teachers enthusiasm for tech in the classroom, from dropping smart boards in every class then giving no training to forcing through lesson obs and performance reviews the staff to ONLY put there lessons into the VLE (and always a very expensive inflexible one at that)

    The joy of teaching with technology is just that, teaching WITH technology not because you have to use it or you will be hauled up in front of SMT (who probably don’t every use a VLE!)

    I believe its like James Clay has said if you can get going with just one thing- small quick wins perhaps, that will enthuse staff and students alike then the take up of proper embedded learning using technology can flourish.

    Thanks for the post, be interested to see what others think.

  • http://daibarnes.info daibarnes

    Excellent Andy. Spot on. Thanks for bothering to say so. It is becoming more apparent to me that policy, and the demand from above that policy is in the driving seat, will lead to the ultimate car crash of the VLE (let’s hope not all technology) into the proverbial brick wall.

    That is one of the reasons I am a fan of Google Apps Edu. Providing tools and functionality without the pressure to use them. It’s also why I’d like to see the pursuit of handheld devices for school comms between teachers and pupils. Organisational devices for homework, information, targets, detentions(?), events etc. Quick. Easy. Efficient. Flexible.

  • http://www.andykemp.org.uk Andy Kemp

    That is in part what appeals to me about the new OPENHIVE service. It has the formal controlled (and for various genuinely positive reasons – Microsoft based) service but like GApps is is much more a collection of tools which can if you want be used together as a a teacher chooses, or put together to form a fully featured VLE…

  • http://daibarnes.info daibarnes

    Yes. Agreed. I do like their idea (which is by no means exclusive to anyone) of providing pupils with live accounts and 25Gb skydrive that is theirs to take away when they leave. How much sense does that make? Even though I prefer GApps over live@edu by quite a long way, pupils would have to migrate their GApps accounts. It is the implementation of a broad set of tools and services that is OpenHive’s appeal. Still need to check their learning activities out though – devil always in the detail.

  • Chris Gasiorek

    In a way, I agree with all the above contributors. Yes tech is important to the future and we need to educate the future generation to be confident using it. Yes learning is important and comes ahead of source or technique. Yes the drip, drip effect of good example will be more effective than autocratic enforcement of policy. The bottom line is educating a future generation to see value where is is appropriate to see it: For some things, pen and paper might be best, for others a chalk board might be best and in other situations tech solutions might be best. Understanding learning and respecting diversity makes for intelligent and effective learners.

    Different disciplines require different skills. Some of those skills might be best served by a tech/vle approach others might be better suited to other approaches. Not only do we need to be flexible and not expect the same use of vles from every teacher regardless of their subject, but also we need to expect flexibility from our pupils to choose and use an appropriate tool for the task because it is the best tool and not because it is ‘the latest thing’.

  • http://www.andykemp.org.uk Andy Kemp

    For me this is one of the things I like most about teaching the IB. For the Maths section of the course there is a heavy emphasis on ‘appropriate use of technology’ and students are required to recognise when a problem is best solved by hand or best solved using the aid of a Graphical Calculator etc…

    This for me sums up the ideal use of technology in schools, and is what we need to teach students…

  • http://www.nickdennis.com Nick Dennis

    Dai, I think you need to ignore the hard nuts and carry on as you can’t win them all as there is no magic solution to the people who want to resist. The only other thing is to refer it upwards as if it is school policy, they have to follow it.

  • http://daibarnes.info daibarnes

    Thanks for all comments. Don’t try and win them all? I don’t. Appropriate use of tech is essential. The IB has it written in. A few of the new A Level specs have it written in. Maybe the tide is slowly changing.

    Mainstream technology tools are still very basic and miss the point a bit. I guess that is where the distinction occurs between web1.0 and web2.0 tools (which incorporate some VLE tools, even though they are occur within a walled garden) These will become/are becoming the teaching aids of teachers looking to enhance the T&L process. No proof. No evidence. Just because they believe it does.

    And, for now, that is a good thing. Teachers should be trusted to choose their weapon. And we must continue to inform them of the ever-increasing arsenal.