‘We need a VLE’ – Oh really?!

So here it goes, the beginning of my blogging career starts here. I suppose I should start with a little introduction to myself, as it would be rude not to I guess? Here it goes…Hello, I’m Scott, welcome to my blog.

I’m currently 3 lines into this blog and I can’t help but think that it is quite a surreal experience, little old me airing and portraying my views onto the internet for people to mull over, crazy yet undeniably cool. Now after such a wonderfully rousing and philosophical greeting I’ve given you, I shall waste no time in launching my blogging career.

I want to start this blog with a thought, something that I am just going to throw out there, it’s a bit outrageous (something I am quite accustomed to) and you may not agree with me at all right now, but don’t hit that lovely glowing ‘X’ button at the top right of your browser, read on and I hope to swing you towards my ways of thinking. The thought that I present to you is:

‘VLE’s are pointless and a complete waste of a school budget’

Told you it was going to be one of those outrageous thoughts, I can even visualise some of you Frog and Blackboard worshippers wincing as you read that little quote of mine. Until recently I was naive in the respect that I believed a VLE was the only way forward for schools and educational institutions, in my opinion it was the best thing since sliced bread. A school simply couldn’t effiecently and effectively operate in the 21st century without one of those high-tech fancy VLE’s surely? But alas, this is where I was wrong.

After the government published their ‘Harnessing Technology’ report highlighting the need for educational institutes to provide a ‘personalised learning space for every learner’, the race to develop a commercial product which suited the schools ‘needs’ had begun. With teams of dedicated, brainwashed salespeople on the prowl around schools, companies successfully marketed their products and the commercial VLE revolution within schools had begun.

But armed with hindsight, was this really a necessary tool to buy into? A tool which Blackboard promises to ‘improve outcomes by optimizing valuable institutional resources, creating an atmosphere of personalized student attention and delivering a cost-effective and scalable solution.’      – Or in plain English, organise your school online . So why is it schools bought into these expensive, intrusive and more often that not pointless systems? I’ll put it down to fantastic selling techniques from the companies and a naive attitude from many schools…! But that’s my view, feel free to express yours.

The point of this blog is really not to lay into the schools who have chosen to adopt the commercialised VLE’s, but it is to simply point out that there are ways, software and ‘apps’ out there which can effectively do the same job as a VLE from Frog, but for a fraction of the price. Those of you who aren’t sitting down, now is your chance to grab a seat and sit comfortably as I reveal the potential annual software license fee schools would fork out if they were to adopt my method of creating an ‘online learning resource’…£0.00. Ah, you’re shocked by this I assume? Well, at first reading I was too, how could this be? Software which rivals that of all the commercial VLE ‘villians’ for free? When asked, ‘how do you get an annual software license for nothing?’, I answer in one simple, smug tone: ‘Google’. Yes, that handy little search engine company, they have come up trumps here. High five Google.

After learning of this, I frantically trawled the Interweb looking for confirmation that by using Google-based software I would be able to create my own personal learning space. Which turned out, as if by some divine miracle, to be true, I hadn’t been lied to, it does exist!! This in turn sent my inquisitive mind racing, could I really create an online learning space, something to rival Frog and the gang for a snip of the price?

As I began my investigation through the www. world, I got in contact with a chap called Mark Allen (top bloke, available at @EdintheClouds) and what an experience he provided me with! After an initial email conversation, he invited me into a Skype conversation with himself and one of his colleagues. The conversation was incredibly enlightening, thus leaving me utterly amazed and astonished as to the capabilities and potential offered from Google, for the creation of your online learning space.

During the conversation with Mark I was personally able to gain a lot from his experiences with creating these learning spaces. His views really centred my thought process, which, to me, made it clear that when you are in a position to create an online learning environment you should, ‘merge the physical needs of a classroom, and then customise this with the electronic essentials.’ Given the importance of online learning spaces within all educational institutes I have drawn a massive inspiration and determination from Mark to spread the word of free, practical software which actually works. Why settle for a commercial VLE, or in other words, a massively expensive, non-personalised, wasteful service, when you can create your own using apps and services, personal to your institution which is a lot more effective and efficent in the job that it does?

In terms of e-safety (a massively important factor within any software used in educational institutes), Google has taken care of that (very kind, I must say), allowing you as the administrator to grant/block access to users of the site where appropriate. The ‘walled-garden’ analogy used to describe the safety measures provided by this software is a true reflection of the potential that this software beholds. But enough with the small-print, serious nature stuff…!

As I near the end of this blog (I can now breathe a sigh of relief), ask yourself,  ‘is the role in which commercial VLE’s operate any different to those with licenses that are free to obtain?’, ‘do commercial VLE’s cater for every need in which you have within your institute, or are they wasteful in terms of unnecessary apps and other software?’ If you answer no to either, then my work here is done.

Setting up your own personal learning space on Google software is an easy process (thank you Google, you geniuses) and does not even require any in-house experts, arrays of fancy resources or budget-busting fees. Please do take a look at the marvellous Mr Allen’s guide to creating your own learning space, available at: http://www.edintheclouds.com/elevator  and begin on your journey towards an online educational space which is created by you, for you and with everything that you want it to be.

Thank you for reading…you’ve just read and hopefully digested 1,156 words, reward yourself with a cuppa and a biscuit, don’t be afraid to dunk it in. Thank you and please comment…!

Scott

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Posted on October 26, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Have you heard of blogs? I guess you have, as you’re writing one. Google isn’t the answer to everything, and certainly doesn’t replace VLEs for a lot of institutions.

  2. Congratulations Scott on your first blog post. Nothing like plunging into the deep end eh? Glad you are thinking about the pedagogy of this as well as the more obvious choices schools are having to make. This is a debate that will continue to rage, but I’m glad that even at this early stage in your blogging career, you have felt it worth adding your voice. Well done, and keep up the good work – I will be watching for future blog posts from you in the near future 🙂

  3. Really enjoyed reading your blog and would like to well done for completing your first one!!!. I find it ludicrous that there are still companies out there charging for services such as blogging, calender etc, when you can find the services for free and they are not that difficult to set up. I am in the process of setting up a blog for the SEN 6th form I work in. After trawling through the net I received some advice (via Twitter) I have opted for Primaryblogger – who specialise in hosting blogs for schools and have all the necessary features to safeguard students.

    From previous experience with schools using VLE’s, I found the majority of staff did not understand how to use it and it was very prescriptive in the way you had to do things on it. I agree that the availability of free software out there allows for far more flexibility due to it being open-source.
    Look forward to reading your next blog!!!!

  4. VLE vendors would argue that Google doesn’t offer SCORM compliancy or the ability to use specialised ‘learning objects’ that track user progress and achievement. In my experience, very few teachers use these systems for a couple of reasons 1- it’s difficult to make a SCORM compliant learning object yourself, 2 – pre-made learning objects don’t always cover the precise learning outcomes a teacher needs, and many, quite frankly, are very patronising. My department has adopted Google this academic year too. There are a few lecturers still hanging on to our Moodle VLE (which is the best out of 4 VLE’s I’ve used), but this is mostly because they already have courses set up and don’t have the time to migrate. Using Google sites, docs, forms, etc is actually easier than most VLE systems too. Get people started with Google Docs first, as this is relatively easy, then slowly introduce forms and sites until you build an integrated system.

  5. Nice post, Scott. I mostly agree with you, but I have taken to the MOODLE path. You can download it free, it’s easy to use and über flexible. I’d be happy to share a link with you to see my courses. I am teaching 5th and 8th grade TAG and building a full year high school statistics class.

    I’d love to try to make you a Moodle Evangelist! If one school district in 1,000 in the US built a great HS Moodle course, nobody would need to buy textbooks or pay for a VLE/CMS.

    Don

  6. Hi Scott,

    I work at Frog and whilst using an open source learning platform can often be cheaper for many schools, not all ‘free’ platforms provide you with the facility to engage teachers and students. You also often need someone within the school that has the technical capabilities to create something or manage something which again could cost. It’s quite often the cool gadgets and designs that actually engage the users in the first place – which you usually only get with a learning platform such as Frog.

    If you go for a free tool that still doesn’t engage teachers, students or parents then yes, at least you haven’t wasted any money on purchasing a learning platform but you may have wasted a lot of time and effort developing something that again doesn’t get used within the school.

    My advice to schools would be to look at what you want your learning platform to achieve, whether that be improving communication, increasing engagement or simply having a central repository for information. It is at that point that a decision should be made as to whether a free tool or paid for platform is the best solution for your school.

    Hope this helps.

    Vicky

  7. Hi Scott – we have Frog in my school; I’ve shared my thoughts here in response to your excellent post: http://www.stevemargetts.co.uk/2011/11/vle-a-worthwhile-investment/

  8. Hi Scott. I’m the eLearning Manager in a 6th Form College. I enjoyed reading your blog and I think your thoughts are valid in some sectors. For us we couldn’t manage without our Moodle. All our teaching resources are online and accessible from inside and outside of college. At exam time I see a marked increase in traffic as students do their, often last minute, revision. From a management point of view it is easier for us to use Moodle than set up something using Google as all our staff can use our VLE quite well. Apart from resources we include quizzes, videos, assignment uploads, you name it, we’ve tried it. So you won’t convince me to get rid of it just yet

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