Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tweakability and VLEs

I've just been playing about with Pageflakes and having also messed around with Google's version - iGoogle - I have to say that for me Pageflakes wins out.  Why?  It's simple but flexible.  Doesn't look ugly (yes, I know aesthetics shouldn't matter that much... but Google's version is seriously horrible looking, even after you've customised it a bit)... and isn't a basic page which hangs off a search engine a la iGoogle.  It made me think though about how petty some of my choices were for selecting a start page and then again about what I wanted on it and where.  What hope for institutions coming up with a VLE all students will like and adopt if they can't have some ownership over the petty things?  Tweaking a font here or there.  Taking things off that they don't want.  Adding in extra features if they're feeling a a bit adventurous.  Linking to resources outside the course or replacing standard features such as blogs or wikis with version they used beyond the course. 

Can VLEs cope with today's niche world?  I'm reminded of Chris Anderson's 'The Long Tail' and wondering whether a trick isn't being missed here?  Can VLEs cope with all that people want of them or do they end up doing a lumpen 'Jack of all trades' version and making no-one really enthuse about them other than systems administrators?  If it's desirable for students to use resources beyond what they absolutely have to in order to pass their course, then doesn't someone somewhere have to let go a tiny bit and allow them to 'play' just a wee bit?  Look at things like MySpace and Facebook - currently under fire because employees waste too much time using them.  But... but... they *want* to waste time using them!  The precious spare time people have.  The time when they're under pressure at work.  They want to use these things.  Look at most student forums for OU courses and unless there's some sort of prescribed activity going on the only thing you're likely to see is tumbleweed.  Look at the blogs - dead.  Wikis - superficial engagement at best unless a project is underway.  How is it that the thing we can mess around with and feel like we control and own can't be replicated within education if the end result is that overall students feel more part of what they're learning and learn more as a result?  It doesn't have to be a waste of time if there's some sort of overall umbrella of learning.  Oh, I don't know.  There has to be some way to tap into the current social networking phenomenon and inject some of that independent desire to write, reflect, create and share into online education...

1 comment:

  1. Sarah-
    Your points are well made, and something we're trying to get our heads round too!

    drop me a line if you share any of your pageflakes tabs - or maybe you could post screenshots of one two...

    It'd be really interesting to see what sort of mix you come up with...


    ps the Click On website, which supports the latest series of Radio 4 (Mondays, 16.30) has a tutorial on using Netvibes, which we're hoping to start driving traffic to... all comments appreciated :-)



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