We never got round to finishing the discussion but it has made me think about what exactly *is* a VLE? I suppose I'm coming round to the point of view that the name things are given can matter greatly if they're given the wrong name. Or a name which implies they do something automatically. For example, I could call my daughter's bedroom a 'domestic learning environment' (DLE - I do like a new acronym!) because she loves to spend hours reading books up there. But that doesn't make *all* bedrooms DLEs. Just as with VLEs, you might well have learning which goes on in them, but the name doesn't magically transform them into centres of educational excellence or negate the fact that learning may never happen there.
Back to the question of the difference between Blackboard and WordPress. Okay, so there are lots of differences. However, there are a few which stand out:
1. I stand a chance of being the designer and creator of a WordPress-powered site. If I'm a student, that won't happen where Blackboard's concerned.
2. I can customise WordPress the way I want within broad limits, Blackboard is customisable only within narrow limits. And not in any truly meaningful way if I'm a student.
3. With WordPress, I am the creator of the content. As a student, I am the recipient of Blackboard content - and any content I do create is within the artificial bounds of the 'learning journey'.
4. WordPress, my content is open. Blackboard, my content is closed.
5. WordPress, I create the account / install WordPress. Blackboard, *you* create the account for me... and close it again when you say we're done.
6. WordPress = mine. Blackboard = yours.
So. What is a virtual learning environment? If you're a distance learning student, the VLE *is* the university. It's attending class. It's discussing things with your classmates. It's a centre of administration. It's a place to get help and support. If you're a campus-based student, the VLE is just another computer system that they use. The name of it can quite happily be the name the institution has bestowed on it (at the University of Sheffield, for example, our VLE is called MOLE - My Online Learning Environment). Just as when talking about cleaning the carpets and the words vacuum cleaner and Hoover are interchangeable. When I talk about 'doing the hoovering' you know what I'm talking about. The context of the use and terminology is more important than the overall label where students are concerned.
For staff, the name 'Virtual Learning Environment' allows us to exist in a blissful state of positivist ignorance. Otherwise, we'd call our institutional VLEs 'Document Dumping Grounds' and congratulate ourselves on our brutal honesty. Have you been on your institutional DDG lately?
Otherwise... Computerised Learning Administration Support System. CLASS. What happens in CLASS varies according to the teacher / student mix that meet within its digital walls.