It’s easy to bash the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). I’m not going to pretend that it is a universal panacea for online or blended learning, but it is not as bad as some folk make out. I think it’s easy to forget just how difficult it can be to start out putting together online materials, and to keep up with this when it is only a small part of one’s workload (and when senior staff are oblivious to the time needed to produce good elearning materials, or to make realistic estimates of what percentage of one’s workload model it should be). So here’s a few points in defence of the VLE:
- It’s all in one place. Students do not have to remember multiple passwords or urls. Typically they just log in with the same username and password as they use for their uni email etc.. Staff do not need to learn how to use multiple bits of software, they only need to master the basics of one.
- It’s safe. Because it’s typically only open to authenticated users (i.e. staff/students in a course) there’s a low risk of trolls or vandals. This is important when trying to get students to engage in forums, for example. It’s also important that staff feel free to experiment without worrying asbout ridicule.
- It’s familiar. Students (tell us in surveys that they) appreciate the fact that course materials are located where they can easily find them. Staff can upload materials (relatively) quickly and easily.
- It’s owned by the University. Unlike third party apps, the data therefore belongs to the Uni – an important consideration when thinking about assessment. In-house ownership also means that changes to the interface need not come as a surprise (unlike Facebook, for example).
- It’s scaleable. For those of us who have to support large classes, this is important. Forums can be more manageable than individual emails; online submissions are more easily managed than paper ones.
So I’m not saying that this represents the best that teaching and learning can be, but I do think that we need to be realistic. By all means go beyond the VLE in your own teaching and learning, but don’t belittle those who are not as able or as confident as we are out in the wilds of the internet.