My first experiences with a VLE

In my last post, I talked about ‘What got me started in online learning?‘ with my first foray (in the late 1990s) into this area of work being the use of a joint drive to share files with learners, so that they complete self directed tasks – either assignments or other activities.

Although OK at the time, the obvious drawback of this technique was that the learners had to be in the college to be able to access the resources – what I wanted was a mechanism to give them access outside of college – the idea of learning anytime and anywhere! I spoke to the then college webmaster @KirstieC, who put me in touch with @Lesleywprice  who was at the time responsible for the online courses that the college was running, and for that they were using a VLE called LearningSpace by Lotus (although I think we referred to it as an MLE back then). I quickly saw the potential of this way of working, and set up areas on there to support my face to face teaching (which not many people were doing back then).

At first I added things to the VLE in a very Ad-hoc fashion, so there was no continuity, things took ages to upload, and in hindsight the software can only be described as a complete dog to use. However I persevered, and in my next year of teaching, I was a little cleverer – rather than adding files ad-hoc, I created a ‘template’ for each week or topic that I taught – this was a simple table that contained a box for key things such as a presentation, notes, web links, tasks for the students to do, a challenging question, and joke of the week (which I have blogged about previously – ).

All I did was copy this template then add the files and hyperlink them to the relevant area. This wasn’t rocket science but it made my life easier as was quicker and made the learners lives easier as they knew where to look for things, and in many ways I use the idea of creating a template to this day with my VLE work.

What I was doing at this time, was definitely revolutionary, as wasn’t the norm by any means, but there were still many problems:

  • Learners had difficulty getting logged in – for some reason the software was a bit clunky and flakey and sometimes students could login, other times they couldn’t.
  • Learners would get confused with login details – when this was set up we didn’t have single sign on, so learners had a different username and password to their college login, which confused them no end and if they changed one they assumed it changed both.
  • I had to manage enrolments – The system was such that users had to be manually set up on the system, which meant sending details to a techy who was very good at spelling their names wrong and associating them with the wrong courses, and often taking 2 weeks to do this. This caused huge headaches at the start of term, and put many off before they had got going.

Although there were many problems, and in reality I expect very few learners actually accessed the resources when off-site – this period was an important area for me, in my understanding of VLE use, thinking about the purpose of why to use the VLE, and recognising the real factors that stopped the VLE from working.

In my next post in this series, I will detail the next stage of my journey which was to stop using the ‘purchased’ VLE and instead make my own, to overcome the problems listed above.

Return to Washington Square Park, Aug 2009 - 69

The idea of a learner being able to learn where ever and when ever was best for them as per the picture above, always appealed to me as a teacher.


4 Responses

  1. Gosh that takes me back!! Yes we did call it an MLE and yes it was clunky not helped by being on a Domino Server🙂 However at the time it really was ahead of the game. I still remember creating quizzes and students taking part in discussion forums. Happy Days!


  2. It was always ironic, that a server that seemed to spend all its time falling over, was called ‘Domino’.

  3. Dave, I remember spending a few days with Lesley getting the thing running on the Domino server! I agree with Lesley too, this really was early days and it also started my own journey with e-learning too.

    Do you think the VLE has changed much since those days? There are the same structures and functions – with some nice add-ons/plugins that didn’t exist then, but the tools are largely similar (albeit easier to log into!).


  4. A very good question about how has the VLE changed. The technology has certainly got cleverer, easier to use, and with more potential for interaction rather than just resource management (with the odd quiz and discussion forum). However – I often get to see what current practitioners are doing with the VLE at their disposal, and it saddens me that many are doing worse than what I had 12 years ago – and I didn’t even have a computer in my office or one at home at the time – I had to go round other people’s offices or the library to do all of this.

    One of the projects I worked on recently, the students love the way the VLE was used, as we created something that made it possible for them to genuinely learn more flexibly, rather than the technology being a rod for its own back, or a barrier in its own right.

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