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  • Stephanie Heath

Virtual Learning Environments

I find the recent shift in attitudes to traditional virtual learning environments or VLE's fascinating. We began 2020 with Further Education colleges predominantly using environments such as Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle and others to host learning resources. In my experience these platforms tend to have been designed by organisations to provide resources for a course per site (meaning that multiple student groups access one page of resources). This also lead to many teachers simply reusing content from previous years and lack of thought regarding accessibility, inclusion and collaboration, thus becoming a file repository. The many features on these platforms for both formative and summative assessments are undeniably useful and well thought out, but these tools can only be utilized if staff members feel confident with using and implementing them.

Following on from the first lockdown, organisations had to quickly navigate teaching within a new climate, one where all learning had to take place online in the space of 48hrs and this was a huge challenge. In light of this, many colleges opted to use cloud based collaboration platforms such as Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams to enable the delivery of virtual lessons, with this came the inevitable question, how do we use this concurrently with our VLE?

After participating on many edtech panels, working groups and collaborative forums it seems there is no right answer. The majority of the providers I have worked with have opted to use both in tandem, the difficulty here is that they are finding staff and students are quickly becoming confused between the two platforms and the maintenance and training alone is exhausting their departments and their limited capacities. In addition, this has encouraged some teachers to simply repeat bad habits and to reuse inaccessible content. Some have even fallen victim to malicious attacks on in-house servers due to the rise of online dependency. Therefore, many argue that moving to an alternative such as Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom offers a desirable, low maintenance solution with portfolio options using Class Notebook for vocational courses.

However, that option isn't without its challenges as well... keep an eye out for my follow up post regarding my experiences to date using Microsoft Teams as a VLE.


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