Thursday, April 16, 2009

In praise of the walled garden (VLE)....

I have to start this by saying I am not a techy. I struggled a few nights ago to install MS Office on a netbook. But I am interested in how new technology can improve the way that we do things.

Back in 2004 I was invited to go on a Blackboard training session as there were plans that the medical school would use the VLE " increasingly to deliver course information and material". But when I went to the training session it wasn't this that got me excited but the discussion boards. I immediately thought that this would be a good way for me to communicate with and facilitate communication between 300 2nd year students undertaking a course I co-ordinated over 9 months. They were not even based in the same building as me. I've posted more about this here.

This year I used discussion boards, wikis and a course blog. Participation is voluntary. I don't assess contributions to the boards but students seem to find them a good way of accessing me and sharing with each other. The connections that they make through the discussion boards should help them to do better in the assessed written work.

So in my experience VLEs can work.

But many people do not like VLEs, or the way they are used or what they stand for (large, monollithic companies which I don't like either).

Martin Weller said the VLE is dead or dying back in 2007.Instead we will using "Loosely Coupled Teaching"... lots of different, freely available websites pulled together. Yes, that could mean lots of different log-ins and getting to grips with different websites but learning how to use wikis and discussion boards and blogs takes time no matter where they are, and tools such as openID, and facebook connect, might get past the log-in problems.

In 2009, Mike Bogle wrote about Distributed Online Learning Frameworks, now possibly including twitter, and was inspired by the experience of David M Silver.

But talk about moving away from VLEs is not just that they are big and cumbersome and slow, there is also a sense among many that it is the walled garden that is the problem. Access is restricted to those within the course within the institution. It is anti-edupunk and anti-connectivism. Mike Johnston thinks the VLE might be 'killing connections' for the institution's benefit.

But might there not be advantages to a walled garden? Can't students benefit from being able to talk and share in a private place where they can make a mistake and ask or say something stupid. We know the Cisco Fatty story. We're learning about digital identities. Is education in public really better? If institutions have any role in education might it not be the provision of a walled garden or safe space?

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