Monday, September 28, 2009

On boring VLEs

Federal Upset
Originally uploaded by Shermeee

I did a staff development session today on some new tools in the University's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and on the way in to the session (no-one knew it was me delivering the session which put me in a great position for eavesdropping pre-match conversation!) I heard several people chatting about 'another dull VLE session', 'the VLE is so boring' etc and although I get where they're coming from, I do wonder why people get so hung up on the tool itself. I know I probably veer towards the more personalized learning environment camp, but even then, they're all just tools and it's what you do with them that's interesting.

Anyway, I got into the session and made a start and asked them who thought that the VLE was dull... best to tackle this stuff head on, I reckon! So, a few hands went up. 'How many of you... honestly?' - a few more hands went up. Y'know. I agree. It's just a 'thing' after all, isn't it? A shell with some bits and bobs you may or may not use.

So, I moved on. I asked, 'How many of you put your lecture PowerPoints in the VLE?'. Lots of hands. 'How many of you provide anything more than your lecture notes? Anyone put any additional activities in there?'... no hands. I asked them what that might feel like for their students. Was that an interesting or helpful place to be once you'd downloaded those PowerPoints? Were those PowerPoints really that helpful without anything else? Were they engaging? Have to say, there wasn't a great deal of nodding at this point!

I then got them to imagine a really great learning experience that they'd had while they were at school or university and what made it great. I then asked the group 'did anyone's great experience involve a great teacher?' Hands. 'A really great subject area?' A few more. 'A really great activity or experience?'. Lots of hands and nodding. 'Did anyone's great experience involve how brilliant the room was where the learning happened? How great the chair was they were sitting on? How great the desk was they were using? The pen? Anyone particularly excited by the pen they were using?'. No-one.

Y'know. I think I actually heard the penny drop as they realised that it's what you do with something that makes it good and not the places or tools which make it extra special. It's funny how quick we are to blame an environment and forget that inspiring teaching and learning is about the people and the players. As adults we look at an empty cardboard box and see it as a storage device. Somewhere to put 'stuff'. As children we looked at that same cardboard box and saw a plane. A car. A train. An adventure waiting to happen. What happened to our own creativity? It seems like we get confronted by a 'virtual learning environment' and think that's enough. The learning will happen regardless of the effort we put into it. Wrong! So, so wrong! When eLearning works, it's an amazing, interesting, vibrant, evolving, engaging, rich space. When it's just a shell. A place to download PowerPoints... boy oh boy is it a sad bag.

I admit it. VLEs are dull. But what goes on inside them doesn't need to be dull. Here's to opening up the box and seeing what you can really do with it and putting an end to using VLEs as document dumping grounds. Days where you get to see people imagining bucketloads of learning potential and want to hold onto it themselves. Coming up with ideas as you're talking and scribbling them down as quick as they can. Now, those are the really great eLearning days. :o))
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