Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Glow Technical Briefing

Today I was in Stirling for a Glow technical meeting. It's fair to say that a good bit of it was too technical for me but there was some interesting stuff there too. In particular, I had my first look at the Virtual Learning Environment - GlowLearn.

Now, before I go any further, I should say that I am extraordinarily sceptical about Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) in general. In my experience, most are more about content delivery than about learning. Delivering content is of course a part of learning but there is so much more to learning than content. Most VLEs also provide management and assessment tools, however, I find the assessment tools (in general) fairly limited too. If I had a free choice of Virtual Learning Environment, I'd go for FirstClass, especially FirstClassEd which can do the content delivery, digital portfolio and assessment stuff but is stronger on communication and collaboration tools than the other environments I've seen. It seems to me that the creation and support of communities of learners is more important that simply delivering content and administering quizzes.

So, if I seem overly critical of GlowLearn, it's probably my dislike of VLEs in general that's the problem. I'll try to restrict myself therefore to four observations.

Firstly, GlowLearn seems to be largely about content delivery and quiz administration. :-) However, I suppose the point is that GlowLearn is only one aspect of Glow and the whole package (it could be argued) is about the creation and support of a community of learners.

Secondly, the interface looked fairly dull - largely text based. I suppose that it's not dissimilar to the rest of Glow in that respect. However, it is only a pilot testing version, so perhaps they are more interested in checking the functionality at this stage.

Thirdly, although I said GlowLearn is largely content delivery and quiz administration, there is quite a nice wee feature that allows you to attach short messages to tasks/assignments or quizzes. I think that this has potential. It could allow focused conversations about specific aspects of your online course. For instance, you could attach a private message to a quiz for a student along the lines of, "Well done on the last quiz Jimmy. This one's a bit trickier though, so think carefully before attempting question 5." I could see it having value as a means of providing targeted feedback and support to individuals. However, I do worry that it sits outside the rest of the Glow messaging system. The danger is that pupils could have messages here, there and everywhere and not even know they exist. Some sort of coComment system of pulling messages together in the one place, ...or a mechanism for forwarding them automatically to a pupil's email account, ...or an RSS feed of messages, ...or something similar, would seem essential. {As an aside, RSS seems to be conspicuous by its absence across the whole of Glow. That seems like a mistake. :-) }

Fourthly, the chap said that every quiz had to be submitted to a teacher for marking. I think that's bizarre! The feature I would find most useful would be to create an automatically marked, instant feedback quiz so that the pupils themselves could check their understanding without requiring input from the teacher. The instant and anonymous marking of a quiz like this is what makes them attractive to pupils. The presenter seemed open to the idea of instant feedback quizzes but made it sound like they just hadn't thought about it. Hopefully it will appear in post-pilot versions of GlowLearn. :-)

Sorry if I seem to have been grumpy throughout this post. I am in fact pleased to see the various bits of Glow starting to come together. Up until now it has felt a bit like vaporware, but it's good to see things coming together that teachers and pupils can use.

What would you look for in a VLE? Can anyone offer good examples of VLE use to counter my cynical attitude?

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Ruby said...

We've used First Class in Moray House for a number of years now - good for email and quick communication, but hopeless for keeping things in any kind of order and finding stuff again. The new client is set up in such a way that you can't save messages ... doh!
I've also used WebCT as it's the University supported platform. Clunky is an understatement.
I'm currently debating the advantages of using my own choice of systems for what I want - with the disadvantage that the techie guys get annoyed with me. But is one system has a hitch, there's always something else that you can still be using meantime ;-)

David said...

It does take a bit of effort to arrange things in FirstClass to make stuff easy to find but I think the way FirstClass organises itself in windows makes it easier than the text based menu systems some others use. I've only seen it demonstrated but FirstClass ED looks like it makes organising and structuring classes even easier than the standard edition of FirstClass.

As for WebCT - that's what our university bought too and I think I fully agree with your assessment. :-) I think the lots of small applications loosely joined can be more effective than the big application that tries to do everything.

Kenneth... said...

We have been using Moodle, at Glasgow, for 3 years now. We had First class prior to that. I miss FC it had some nice features as far as email systems go. My fav is still the history feature that tells you when someone reads one of your messages.

Moddle is a nice VLE. It can be clunky at times but over the last 3 years we've used it more and more effectively as we realise how powerful it is. I think the Uni opted for it because it's Open Source.

I recently used Moodle to invite PGDE students to opt for a selection of elective classes for the last couple of weeks of the course. You set up a choice option (multiple choice) you can have several catagories to choose from and you can restrict the number of people who choose each option. You can also set dates for the choice to be available to the students. The bit I like most is that once the choices have been made you can output the data (students names and choices) to either excel or csv format.

There are loads of modules that provide various options to deliver a distance learning course or support the running of a traditional face-to-face course.

It's hard to say it's better than any other VLE, because I'm still learning about its features and because I've not had the oppertunity to use other systems.

Ian said...

In North Lanarkshire we continue to use FirstClass and have started rolling out FC8.3 (though 9 is now available). I think that it knocks spots off Glow in every area. FC now has built in blogging tools, web publishing with single click, auto generation of shared areas that contain a conference, mail list, bookmarks, file storage, document storage - all with common permissions to allow selected individuals to collaborate.

I had a look at Moodle a couple of years ago but it seemed very oriented to FE and not school environments (though I know one school that used it).

My main criticism of Glow is the lack of drag & drop when creating anything - quizzes are painfully assembled with 3 clicks to place a pic instead of a simple drag & drop. It is a dispiriting affair getting anything created in the VLE.

Would it be helpful to anyone on this blog to be able to see the FirstClass environment as it exists today? I could arrange a guest account for anyone to try it out.