• Dave Foord
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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 – https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/using-bad-jokes-to-get-learners-to-engage-with-a-vle/ ).

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.

 

How to locate images on Wikimedia and embed into Moodle or Blackboard

There are lots of people that work in education that sadly think that Wikipedia is the work of the devil, and think that it will undermine academia as we know it, and should be banned at all costs. There are others that think Wikipedia is a wonderful source of information, and there is no point of looking elsewhere for facts.

Regardless of your viewpoint on Wikipedia (which hopefully is somewhere between the 2 extremes above), one aspect of it that is very useful, is that there is lots of high quality media (mainly images, but also videos and audio) available on Wikimedia – that can be easily (and legally) embedded into a VLE like Moodle or Blackboard.

As organisations scramble to set up online courses, the reality is that most people won’t have the time or money to generate their own high quality media – and I don’t think we need to, seeing as there is so much media out there that we can easily and legally use – the key is the academic structuring of this information and the asking of challenging and stimulating questions around this available media and information. e.g. the image below identifying a muscle in the human body – I couldn’t draw this myself, and it would be a waste of my time trying to.
Musculi coli sternocleidomastoideus

The video below shows how easy it is to find an image on wikimedia and embed it into a VLE like Moodle or Blackboard

MindGenius offers use at home for students (and staff)

Followers of this blog, and people that know me, will be aware that of all the Mind Mapping tools available, my weapon of choice is Mind Genius – really quick to start using, very powerful, and can be used by all people in an organisation (learners, tutors, senior managers).

One of the problems though in the past with Mind Genius, is it could generally only be used within the organisation, so if learners wanted to access it from home, they had to purchase a licence separately, and this became a barrier for its use, especially as more people are learning online, for all or some of their study.

However – Mind Genius are now offering a very attractive option, so when organisations upgrade to the latest version they can then pay an additional (reasonably priced) annual maintenance – which then gives them ‘free’ upgrades for any future new versions of the software, as well as giving the organisation the home use rights – basically staff and students at that organisation can install the software on their own personal computers at home for free.

This to me is brilliant (in fact Genius) – the software is relatively cheap for an organisation to buy, we can now offer that when a student signs up for a course, they can have this software for free, staff can use Mind Genius stategically in their teaching and learning, knowing that their learners could access it at home as well. Mind Genius can be a wonderful tool to support learners with dyslexia who have difficulty with organising work (e.g. assessments) – if you read any of Geoff Petty’s books, he identifies that using Mind Mapping techniques offers huge improvements in students grades, which I have witnessed in the work that I have done.

Details of the pricing structure (in the UK) via a CHEST agreement can be found at http://www.eduserv.org.uk/lns/agreements/mindgenius#pricingandordering

e.g. (prices correct at time of this post being written) – an FE college would pay a one off fee of £1800, and then an annual fee of £450 – this I think offers exceptionally good value.

An example of one way that Mind Genius could be used, is converting a well formatted word document into a Mind Map

Which technologies do learners use?

Today I have been at the JISC RSC-EM summer conference where the focus was ‘the learners voice’. In the opening presentation by Chris Hill, he played various video clips of different learners voices, and one set of such clips asked the learners what technologies they used.

The responses were along the lines of facebook, MSN (although a few said this was declining), mobile phones and games consols.

Although not a suprising set of responses it does raise a few thoughts;

All of the listed technologies are victims of institutional banning!

Interesting that none mentioned a VLE or eportfolio, tools that many claim are at the heart of learning!

All of these technologies are not complicated, or expensive for a college to use.

So have we in education tried to be too clever with our use of technology developing overly complex solutions to problems that didn’t exist? should we take a few steps back and focus on basics (like using the existing technologies well)?

In another video clip where the learner was asked what they wanted from their teachers the answer was ‘to learn how to use PowerPoint and Word properly’ -which has been my arguement for years.