What image would you choose to represent a VLE?

The video below was created in April 2010 as part of an MA ICT in Education module I was studying looking at how images could be used to represent ideas/concepts. It was also an exercise in using lo-fi equipment and production techniques to produce video content to support learning, which explains the less than Spielberg-esque production values.The video was shot using a digital stills camera, edited in Windows Movie Maker and hosted within YouTube. Cheap, cheerful and something that can be done by anyone.

This video was a light-hearted production aimed at prompting members of the Learning Technology team to choose images they felt represented the concept of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and to discuss them. The subsequent video was then used to stimulate debate among the members of my class around the place of VLEs in education. It proved to be very entertaining and provoked a lot of discussion. It is for this reason that I am now making the video available to readers of this blog. We want to hear your opinions and how you feel about those presented in the video. What image would you choose to  represent the concept a VLE? Let us know and post any images that you might have.

The subject of VLEs can be a polemic one and despite the odd ICT guru telling us they’re not, VLEs are still a very relevant part of the educational landscape. The mere mention of the abbreviation VLE is enough to send some  into a frenzy of rage, while it prompts others to enthuse profusely about their value as a educational tool. For me, I don’t think it’s ever a black and white issue and my opinions regarding the efficacy of such platforms change from time to time. It very often depends on what they are being used for and whether that suits what they have been designed for. I can see their value, but I’m also mindful that they are limited in what they can do and shouldn’t be seen as a one-size-fits-all solution when using technology to support learning and teaching.

Hopefully, my colleagues who appeared in the video will revisit it to reflect on their opinions in order to see if they differ from those they gave in April 2010. Let us know what you think and where you stand on the subject of VLEs in education.

6 thoughts on “What image would you choose to represent a VLE?

  1. I currently use a VLE in a primary school environment, in fact, being the ICT co-ordinator, I have had to build the structure within the VLE which hasn’t been without traumas and lets just say – it is still being ‘developed’!
    My image for a VLE would be a door – in fact, lots of different colours and styles of doors. Behind each one is a room bursting with knowledge, images, videos, sounds etc. which are all linked to a common theme. Each room represents whatever is being taught e.g. problem solving or a topic such as the Great Fire of London. Once you open that door, you can enter into different areas, some interactive, some not, whether it be a video to watch, a podcast to listen to, a link to a specific website where the learners can do their own research, a library of photos, something to read, a discussion forum… There is SO much you can put into each room. The VLE is a great area to put all of your resources into ready for learners or to put in planning, schemes of work, resources, links, policies etc. It means that all teachers using that VLE can access and use those resources . That way you can both share good practise and save time. For primary school learners, it provides a safe environment to browse and explore a topic without being exposed to the ‘dangers’ of the internet because you have already found the websites that you would like them to look at, or the videos you would like them to watch. They can be subtly guided along a learning path while still having independence and can enter into discussion forums with peers – for some it will be their first experience of online chat! It is the learners’ choice as to which areas they enter into to find out information. And of course, this can be all accessed at home too.
    In a secondary environment, there is even greater scope for the use of a VLE. It is also a fantastic communication tool, used at registration to communicate messages or announcements on the interactive whiteboard for both students and staff! Another use is the homework element – this can be set, collected in and assessed all online and visible for that student to see their progress. The downside of using a VLE? It can be very time consuming to put everything into it. However, once it’s there, then it will be there next year when you need those resources again! The other downside? Getting all staff onboard and using it. The children/students are no problem at all! They just get on with it!! At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember – the VLE is to improve learning!

    • I’ve often heard people comment that the benefit of a VLE in a primary environment is that parents can beome more invovled in what their children are doing and become more integrated into the school community. Is that something you have found and if so, what experiences have you had?

      • We are only just embarking on the parental involvement side. During an open evening I demonstrated to the parents how our VLE works and tried to share some of the benefits. The response was fantastic and very positive – they all wanted their children to use it at home so that they could be part of their children’s learning and work in partnership with the school. I think the only concern for the parents was that they didn’t initially know what a VLE was and were frightened that they couldn’t use it or help their child to use it. As ever, modelling it to somebody is the best way. All I need to do now is have the time to develop this further with both the staff in my school, the children and their parents. To get the parents used to using the VLE, I created a ‘room’ full of links to websites that we use in school with the children so that the parents can also use them at home with their child. Another way to involve them more with what is happening in school is for the children to create podcasts (about all areas of school life) and upload those into the VLE. The parents will be able to listen to these and share them with their child and give feedback. Gradually I will introduce homework projects or collaborative projects, but as ever, these things take time and some will be successful, some not.

  2. If I had to choose an image to represent a VLE, I’d choose a medieval walled city for two reasons. Firstly, I think that they restrict students/pupils from exploring the multitude of affordances that the digital world provides them with. They force people to stay within the walled environment of the VLE. While in certain contexts this may be desireable, e.g. with primary pupils, it restricts individuals’ movements. Secondly, I think insitutions can get locked into contracts with providers who promise the sun and moon but once the platforms are launched users find they rarely deliver. Money has been shelled out and institutions find it hard to integrate other applications or even consider other options. Go to any ICT event like BETT and you can’t move 10 feet without being acosted by a rep from a VLE company bombarding you with slick marketing patter.

    VLEs aren’t all bad and as the comments above show they help organise work and make it available to people in an easy and managable way. For teachers/tutors, they can make life a hell of a lot easier when managing content and making sure students/pupils have access to digital resources. They are also a great way for students/pupils to take their first steps onto the digital ladder. However, we need to be careful that we don’t talk up what they are capable of, nor do we overemphasise the importance of a one-stop shop for learning. The strength of VLEs lie in their ability to manange content and provide access to it, nothing more. Yes, there are blogs, wikis etc on there to provide opportunities for collaborative learning, but how often are they used and how collaborative are they really?

    I’m sure VLEs are here to stay, so I think it is important that we try to create platforms accurately reflect the realities of modern communication. Lets’s put everything behind big walls but strive to link up with what lies beyond them.

  3. We had a bit of a conversation before Charlie put up this blog post – was it serious enough? – Should people be held to a metaphors they come up with after 10 mins notice?
    Personally I have never considered myself good with metaphors – if pushed I will select one almost at random and then backward engineer a rationale for it.
    So I think we need to understand that the application of metaphors will always be simplifications but ones that spark debate and creativity as well as tongue in cheek rationalisation, as in my case. And that is interesting for me at least.
    Regarding VLEs themselves, there was huge opposition to them in earlier years and I sense that is subsiding. A lot of it was based on the fact, that in many places they were driven from an institutional desire to have a monitorable area for finding out what academics were doing with students at a time when government and educational institutions were monitoring teachers to death, often with little reason and with huge bureaucratic workload implications.
    Over the last few years I think teachers have started to separate managerial bureaucratic interference from the systematic electronic support that VLEs can provide.
    VLE-use has changed as well, they are no longer, or at least should no longer, be document repositories. They should, as it says on the tin, be ‘learning environments’ and they are increasingly becoming that. Creativity and online student activities can be supported there. The PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) and social networking tools that a few years ago people were anticipating might replace them, haven’t done so.
    But that should be another blog post.

  4. We use metaphorical/idiomatic representations in a multitude of contexts to clarify and simplify concepts that are often too abstract to understand, which can be challenging and as Pete remarked fun. Admittedly, how our explanations are interpreted are more often than not dependent on the audience we present them to receives them. On occasion, this can be hazardous enough with print-based texts, but throw images into the mix and the margins for misunderstanding can be greatly increased. The above task was an exercise in demonstrating how images, along with a clearly constructed narrative, can provide alternatives to print-based modes of delivery. Had only images been posted up without sufficient explanation, then undoubtedly they may have been more difficult to interpret: some more than others. However, using a narrative allowed each of the individuals to clarify what they meant and why the image represented how they perceived the concept of a VLE. While using narratives to clarify the nuanced meanings inherent in images is by no means a new thing, I believe that modern technology provides us with more modes of communication to achieve this than we’ve ever at any other point in history.The activity was aimed at showing how audio/video-based narratives could be created as quickly and effectively as a written explanation. It also illustrates how alternative forms of meaning can be created using objects, which quite often are in our pockets. I’m not saying that we should suddenly throw our pens and word processors away as that would be sheer lunacy. What I am advocating, however, is creating learning environments in which learners are encouraged to explore the affordances technologies provide them with in creating multi-layered artefacts which demonstrate their awareness of concepts and the world they live in. We pull information from sources that are increasingly more visual and auditory, so why shouldn’t we let people chose to create content in a range of formats incorporating video clips etc? I understand that on paper it is much more achievable than in reality, and that implementing such approaches could potentially create more work in areas such as marking. However, I feel that if we are to truly provide learners with the digital experiences that mirror the realities of modern communication, we need to be doing more of this.I know it is going on and more often than not it’s on courses that fall under the banner of Creative Arts, but this doesn’t mean other learners on courses deemed ‘not creative’ can’t produce content in this way. I think there are a lot of people out there that go through life not believing themselves to be creative, when in actuality they are. All they need is the chance to have a go a something different which allows them to explore multiple sides to their identities. How we do that on a large scale at curriculum level is another blog post for another day.

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