Why I don’t like ‘pet names’ for VLEs

Most educational organisations have a Virtual Learning Environment or VLE. If an FE college most likely Moodle, if a University probably either Blackboard or Moodle. If a school, it could one of many possibilities including Moodle, Frog, Fronter, and the list goes on.

Some organisations call their VLE by their proper name, e.g. they call it Moodle, or Blackboard of Frog etc., but other organisations decide to give their VLE what I call a ‘Pet name’ – things like LearnSpace, Myzone, LearningStuff, TheZone, Rex, Ginger, (OK maybe not the last 2), but basically an alternate name for the VLE. Now I don’t like this (in fact it is a pet hate of mine) for a couple of reasons.

Firstly when you do have an alternative name, invariably there will be confusion within the organisation as some people will call it one thing and others will at times call it the other, and if someone works at more than one organisation they will definitely get confused (and confuse other people) as they forget which name to use.

Secondly (and more importantly), when I work with staff I try to encourage people to try to find answers to problems themselves – e.g. ask Google the question and see what comes back. The problem with giving your VLE a pet name, is people will include that pet name in such a search (rather than the VLEs proper name) – and not suprisingly they don’t get much sense back. This is something that I have witnessed on many occassions, and frustratingly replacing the pet name with the real VLE name in the search criteria, has yielded the information they wanted. Another situation that I witnessed that saddened me, was a student was accessing the VLE and got stuck with something, so they used the inbuilt help tools within the VLE. However when they started reading the information because it used the VLE’s proper name rather than the pet one, they didn’t think it was referring to what they wanted so closed it down, even though the help function would have helped their query.

So if we want teaching staff and students to start taking responsibility for their own support, then can we please stop this obsession with calling our VLE by an irrelevant pet name, and call it what it is. Otherwise we are denying our users (both staff and students) the wonderful support mechanism that is the web and its many contributors.

Unless anyone can present a better argument for having these pet names….?

10 thoughts on “Why I don’t like ‘pet names’ for VLEs

  1. The only justifiable argument I’ve seen is to reduce vendor lock-in. The VLE is just a piece of software which may change from one year to the next and changing names can be confusing. Admittedly it’s no where near as confusing as changing the software but that’s another issue!

    1. I disagree – I don’t think it does reduce vendor lock in. If you change VLE, then in my opinion you ought to change the name of it, as part of that change. I worked at one University that changed VLE but tried to keep the same name for the VLE, and it caused total confusion, especially during the transition phase, when both systems ran side by side for 12 months, and we invariably had to differentiate the 2 systems somehow, so we called the new system by its new name, but once the old one was retired, they expected people to suddenly change what they had been calling the new one, to what they called the old one.

  2. I would argue, that my opinion actually reduces vendor lock in, in that if you do switch from one system to another, if you call it the same thing as before, that causes huge problems and confusion, especially during any transition period. (I worked at an organisation that did just this)

  3. You make a valid point. Our Blackboard VLE is branded “West London Online” – although, like other Universities, that’s at least in part because we’re trying to present a portal, rather than just a VLE. But confusion does sometimes arise because West London Online and Blackboard tend to get used interchangeably or inconsistently. But at some institutions the branding does seem to be consistent, and successful After last year’s Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference I stayed with a friend who is an Engineering lecturer at the University. As we started discussing Blackboard, it soon became apparent that we were talking at cross-purposes. “We do still have a couple of rooms with blackboards”, he said, “but mainly we use whiteboards”; as for any software called Blackboard, it meant nothing to him.

    Suddenly I realised where I was going wrong: “You probably know it as duo“.
    To which the reply was “oh, duo – yes we use it all the time!”

    I was impressed that Durham had so successfully re-branded their VLE that users didn’t even realise they were using Blackboard. And their in-house support is maybe good enough that users don’t have to look elsewhere for help?

  4. Thanks for the reply Andy, another point that this highlights is what happens if staff want to change jobs, if the lecturer at Durham goes to another university job interview and they ask if he has experience of Blackboard and he says no…. he may not get the job, even though he does have experience.

    Although some organisations may think this is a good thing….

  5. Hi Dave, my name is Neil Robinson, I’m creative director at Old-Media; we’re the creators of the LearnSpace VLE.

    Your article does raise some good points, food for thought! However I just wanted to point out that our VLE *is* called LearnSpace – it’s not a pet name! We have developed it from the ground up (i.e., coded it from scratch, not just put a nice front end on an open source platform) specifically with the needs of SEN (Special Educational Needs) users in mind.

    So, why not call it SENVLE or something similarly direct and obvious? Well, in its current form LearnSpace is ‘just’ a VLE, true, – but to us that is just the ‘ante’ to be ‘in the game’. Over the coming months our aim is to grow LearnSpace to be a complete community hub for the entire SEN community, not just for those in education. We’ve worked hard to build lots of social networking aspects into LearnSpace, to enable SEN students the safety of a ‘walled garden’ while still allowing and encouraging them to communicate in the primary medium of their generation.

    If you happen to be at the BETT show at London Olympia next week, drop by and say hello! It’d be great to get your take on our work so far, and as far as I know we’re the only stand planning to give out free tea, coffee and fruit. (You can have a complimentary generic pen/balloon/pack of post-it’s if you want though…)

    We’re on stand SN28 at the show, on the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th Jan 2012.

    (here’s a link to a map of where we are: http://www.tinyurl.com/LearnSpaceBETT2012 )

    Thanks for the mention and it’d be great to see you at the show.



    1. Hi Neil. I wasn’t aware of your VLE product, so appologies for using the name ‘LearnSpace’ incorrectly, in your case if an organisation had your VLE, then calling it LearnSpace would be absolutely fine. I am not at BETT this year, but I wish you well when you are there.

  6. Interesting post, Dave. I cannot call our Moodle platform VLE as ours is a decentralised platform in support of a postgraduate programme, and VLE is a word reserved for the University’s central Blackboard system.

    1. At least you have thought through the issue and come up with a justification for renaming the system. A lot of people just do it for the sake of it, which is what I disagree with.

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