VLE report from OFSTED

Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings is a report from OFSTED that looked at 18 college VLEs, with ‘reviews’ of 5 more.

“We found that the exploitation of VLEs at curriculum level resembled more of a cottage industry than a national technological revolution.”

Of course, if you want a ‘national technological revolution’ then you need to provide some resources… The authors have made some important points about the quality of materials found on VLEs, and the lack of interactive use of VLEs in the sample of Colleges (and other institutions) surveyed.

“The best VLEs reviewed allowed learners to reinforce their routine work, or catch up on missed lessons. In those best cases the material offered was fun and helpful and was being used well by learners. In the least effective examples, documents had been dumped on the system and forgotten.”

and I found the following paragraph especially revealing

“It was assumed that [ forums ] might be a popular aspect of a VLE given the prolific use of such sites, including social networking sites, among young people. The survey identified one forum in a high-achieving senior school, and three very specific projects with other providers which, in two instances, were aimed at older learners on level 3 and 4 courses.” -para 33

That assumption is commonly made, but effective educational use of forums is harder than might be imagined to develop with any group of students of any age. “Build it and they will come” is a slogan that might work in the development of open source software, but not in teaching and learning. As Diana Laurillard put it in the interview cited in another red herring.

“I mean, we had ubiquitous technology and all the communication technologies decades ago and it hasn’t really transformed higher education. So I think that shows you that the access issue, that we will just make the technology available and everything else follows, is false, that’s a fallacy. It’s got to be a different way of thinking about what teaching and learning means and how technology can support that” -Laurillard / Donovan interview, 2006

The OFSTED report is important, and needs to be widely read. I think we are well on the way from ‘cottage industry’ to ‘universal service’ in my College, but we do need to do more work on effective educational use of forums. The report raises (among many other managerial aspects) the issue of quality standards for VLE materials, and the (anonymous) authors report that:

“No provider in the survey had a formal quality assurance system that ensured material on their VLE was routinely reviewed to ensure it was up to date, relevant, accurate or appropriate. Three providers had numerical targets for populating their VLE with course material which were then reviewed, but they did not have qualitative reviews. The lack of a quality assurance system was not seen as a significant concern by the providers. The reasons for not having a formal quality assurance system included the belief that the VLE was effectively an extension of a lesson, and as such it was the responsibility of the relevant tutor to maintain standards as they would with lesson material, with appropriate oversight from heads of department. There was also a concern, as with imposing a common structure, that at this early stage of development of the VLEs, too many restrictions would dampen the enthusiasm of those who were taking a lead. A formal system might also discourage others whose material was, as yet, not reviewed frequently in the classroom.” -paragraph 51

My question now is: can we scaffold the development of courses in Moodle without using a blunt instrument like a quality standard?


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