There’s been a lot of discussion on VLEs (Virtual Learning Enviromnents), MLEs (Managed Learning Environments) and LPs (Learning Platforms) recently. First of all, for definitions and purposes of these three terms Mike Herrity is writing a 15-part series over on the SharePoint in Education blog. Catch post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5 and post 6 with more to follow soon.
I had my first opportunity to use a VLE in school this year, provided of NetMedia. It was certainly not the easiest VLE to navigate and use, and I can imagine it scared many of the not-so-techy teachers in my school off, but I liked the way that I could get kids to engage with it at home as well as school and as such, put a lot of effort into building pages for it. Unfortunately, I am moving schools and my new school does not yet have a VLE, although I am informed that we are signed up as a cluster to LP+ and the head should be going on training for it soon.
Ways I’ve used the VLE this year
- Add relevant links to games/websites/pictures for children to access at home as well as at school
- Set up a forum – get the children discussing elements of their education. I had them evaluating topics, nominating books they’d really enjoyed, discussing the pros/cons of SATs (yr6), favourite lessons, hobbies, films watched at film club etc.
- Post homework/learning log tasks so that if the children forget what it is, as they invariably do, or lose a sheet, as they invariably do, then they have access to it at home. Also, they can’t say they didn’t get it if they were ill.
- Embed audio and video taken in class so that children can discuss and evaluate it.
- Snow Day page – as we had a couple of these over the past couple of years I created a page of activities that children could do if the school was closed. They don’t have to be live all the time, usually with a VLE you have to option to open and close rooms as and when you need.
- Other pages for when school’s closed – we closed for the general election as we were a polling station; again I set up a page of related activities for children to access at home throughout the day.
- Blogs – most VLEs have the facility to write blogs, although more on this in the cons section at the bottom.
- Children can submit their homework at home rather than bringing in several hundred memory sticks for you to lose.
- Include a place for children to add useful websites/pictures they’ve found on specific topics
- Include instructions videos for staff/children on how to use specific programs so that they’re not constantly asking you!
- Setting up polls which we then used in data handling sessions
- Quizzes or assessments
- Notice board and shared calendar
- Embed sites like wallwisher for children to post questions etc on, or primarypad for the children to write collaborativly.
- Building webquests that can be timed to come online.
- Added staff meeting materials so that there’s not reams of photocopying for staff to put down somewhere and lose.
A lot of the time it comes down to embedding features from other websites, rather than functions of the VLE itself. I’m also sure there’s a lot more they can do but I probably haven’t found it out yet!
Pros of a VLE
- It provides a repository for links and embeddable media so that it can all be found in one place
- Children are part of a secure network
- You can set the access rights so that some areas are staff only, some for pupils, some for parents or a mixture.
- Can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere in the world
Cons of a VLE
- Once the children leave their things are deleted. I’ve recently been discussing with @EdintheClouds about the way in which his school uses posterous for each child to build up an e-portfolio which means they can take it with them – my only concern, as with all the free websites, is what happens if Posterous disappears? Will the children lose all their work?
- There is no audience beyond the children’s school peers and possibly parents, so what’s the point of uploading work as it’s just like a virtual display board so just taking away the face to face element of discussion? With things like blogging there is a worldwide audience which can really grip children’s imaginations.
- The price that schools are being charged is absolutely ridiculous!! Our school is paying well over £3 grand this year but there is no funding left to buy anything else, and currently no funding to renew it next year.
- Wiki also provides a repository for links/media and can be accessed 24/7 anywhere in the world. It may not look quite so nice but it doesn’t have a hefty price tag either. It doesn’t have the security though.
The future for VLEs
This, I feel, is uncertain mainly because they’re just so expensive. I really like the premise of the VLE but perhaps there are things evolving that will do the same thing plus a whole lot more cheaper, faster and more effectively. One thing I’ve been looking at recently is GoogleApps for Education, which offer many of the things that a VLE does, I’m just trying to get my head around needing a domain and wondering if my new school already has one of these. It already has a website so I’m guessing this is being hosted on a domain but I don’t know whether these could also go on it. This is something I need to read up on a bit more!
I would love to know of other ways people use their VLE to engage their students, or from anyone who’s successfully moved away from a VLE to something else.