Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's all about control...

Who controls the learning environment?

Einstein's blackboard
Originally uploaded by Garrettc
I came across two posts today that seem connected. The first was from an ex-colleague - Now learners control their VLE/LMS. In this post, Naill argues that:
"Much of the criticism levelled at virtual learning environments / learning management systems relates to the control of the environment by the institution rather than the learner. The individual student has minimal ability to upload their own content or to set up collaborative tools unless this has been pre-ordained by the institution..."
I immediately thought of Strathclyde's VLE (currently Blackboard/WebCT) and of Glow.

It has always seemed to me that Blackboard/WebCT is very much about content delivery. I am the one with the knowledge. I'll post it on Blackboard/WebCT. You can access it and benefit from my wisdom. Perhaps a slightly unfair characterisation of our VLE but not entirely without foundation. Although we are currently using Blackboard/WebCT we are about to move to Moodle. Hopefully, when we move, we'll install the Shared Activities module that Naill describes.

Then there's Glow. It has the potential to be about more than a information delivery... but the limited customisation features available are frustrating. Also, it not clear yet how much of the Glow content will be pupil generated... And that brings me to the second post that caught my eye - Growing and Glowing:
"Glow will soon support user blogs and wikis, allowing pupils and classes to create web pages and online diaries to showcase their work to other schools across Scotland. Promoting individualised learning and collaboration, this will be the first time Scotland has had access to a national education blog and wiki service."
I'm not sure about the last bit of that quote but making it easier to get pupil generated content on Glow sounds promising. Of course, Local Authorities can opt out of bits of Glow, so it will be interesting to see how many adopt these new tools and what encouragement or obstacles will help or hinder pupil use.

What do you think? Who is in contol of the content on the VLE that you use?


paulmartin42 said...

I am not sure it matters who is in control - there is a blog facility in BB; key is the geography of the learning space - virtual and real. Enterprise is a catchall phrase for a basket of skills but providing an educational experience that improves pupil capability has to match tool to student to teacher - now that's magic

Kenneth... said...

This is a non-issue! Control of the VLE is as relevant to education as control over the books in your library. Nobody would suggest that students should be writing/selecting the books in the library.

David said...

Hello Paul

I think it does matter because it is a fairly basic desire to customise and personalise. When you get a new computer - you change the background image, choose a screen saver, re-arrange the icons on the desktop, add new stuff to the shortcut menu... It makes no difference to the applications that are on the machine or the problems you can solve with it but you do it anyway. I think it does matter.

Hello Kenneth

With the greatest of respect, I couldn't disagree more. :-)

A VLE is (should be?) more than a depository of information to be accessed. Learning surely implies more than just accessing a library of information. If it is a half way decent learning environment, it will provide space for socialisation, for discussion, for just messing about... Discussion in the cafe after a lecture can be just as effective as the activities in a tutorial for promoting learning. So, there are some aspects of a learning environment that a student will (quite rightly) have no control over. But is it not educationally valuable to give them control over some aspects so that they can adapt and adjust things to suit their own learning needs? As a teacher I might set homework but do I really care if a student completes it in the silence of a library or in their bedroom while listening to loud rock music as long as they complete it to the best of their ability?

...and certainly our library has a mechanism whereby students can suggest additions. :-) {Sorry, cheap shot but I couldn't resist!}

David Gilmour said...

In response to your Tweet, I don't think you're just being grumpy - and I should know.

There's definitely a current sense that whatever IT systems are best suited to supporting the kind of learning activities we know work, they're unlikely to be ones that deny learners control. Software that constrains the user is something I associate with task workers in industry, not with knowledge workers or learners.

Part of the problem is that the VLE is not being purchased by learners to support their learning activities, but by an institution with its own concerns. The current generation of VLE products will inevitably reflect desires expressed by institutions, and their IT staff, a few years ago. These people fear anarchy, and centralised control can be a big selling point. Martin Weller's "VLE/LMS is dead" post notes this effect.

Like you, I have similar worries about Glow. We're finding that staff want access to connect into the national content delivery provided by the Groups, but tend to balk at the the idea of creating controlled, secure private spaces.

Pupils can contribute to shared class or school Groups, but their own personal "My Glow" area offers little space, is awkward to share, and offers poor support for collaboration.

For current learners, it would be good to offer a VLE which supported them in creating learning resources, or allowed unapproved exploration, but Glow Learn is not the tool for those tasks.

We've been starting to experiment with Google Apps for Education in East Lothian schools. It's striking that this product offers low levels of institutional control and flattens out the school hierarchy by providing the same tools to staff and students, with the same levels of control. For example, a teacher cannot see a student's work unless the student chooses to share it.

It also offers a set of tools that are much more loosely coupled and flexible than those of a traditional VLE and it's interesting to see ideas emerging for how they might be used to support e-portfolios. I'm convinced that this approach has a significant role to play, and may even supersede traditional VLEs.

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