Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Beyond Teaching at the London Blackboard User Group, December 2010

The London Blackboard User Group met in the pleasant surroundings of Regent’s College last week. The presentations were on the theme of “Beyond Learning and Teaching”.

The presenters and case studies were:
  • Supporting Accessibility (Jennifer Fraser & Michael Wheare, Birkbeck) - the presenters discussed the process of making digitised readings accessible to the visually impaired.
  • Prompting Health & Safety Awareness (John Conway & Stefan Hoyle, Imperial College) - for this online training course, extensive use has been made of the selective/adaptive release functionality to ensure students complete the test and can’t make more than two attempts.
  • Information Literacy (Sarah Spells & Jo Tate, SOAS) - all students in the School now have access to an organisation in the BLE which provides subject-specific information literacy/research support and advice.
It might be more accurate to say the theme of the meeting was “Beyond Teaching” because there was definitely a still a student learning focus in the activities discussed. Seeing as Blackboard is a ‘virtual learning environment’ that does seem to make perfect sense, but participants questioned whether the VLE is always an appropriate space for the activities it is used for. During the questions and the closing discussion some people felt that institutional websites and intranets should host materials which are not actually part of a student’s course, or at least that the pros and cons of using the VLE should be looked at closely.

Perhaps in the early days of VLEs, learning technologists were pleased to see the system being used widely, but now, with some reporting the VLE has become a portal to access all kinds of material and services, there is also an issue of the demand on system and human resources, and the impact this demand may have on the elearning service these resources are supposed to be supporting.

On the other hand, the VLE offers benefits. It may be desirable that students should be authenticated and personally granted access to materials via membership of specific areas; they may also need to complete assessments. VLEs are also easy for staff to add simple content to without needing specialised web authoring skills or assistance, or to create more sophisticated content for using ‘rapid’ authoring tools.

The fact that we were debating whether people are now using the VLE ‘too much’ certainly indicates that the often reported ‘death of the VLE’ may be a way off yet.

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