vote for the VLE

Last weeks THES ran an article on the demise of virtual worlds in HE. I have mixed feelings about this. Earlier in the year I attended a conference in Second Life ( and and concluded it had the potential to provide a powerful learning experience but this had to be offset by problems with access. While many UK universities have an SL campus it was rare to visit and meet anyone. Similarly with recreations of cities or simulations designed to raise awareness of issues such as schizophrenia; dressing up in a toga in ancient Rome may be great fun initially but the experience is fundamentally unsustainable. I don’t know what the current usage is but in a similar BBC article a few weeks earlier, Technology, Twitter and the downturn, says SL traffic has declined by 67%.

The THES article quotes Dr Lowendahl as saying lecture capture and retrieval is taking over from podcasting and elearning repositories. Podcasting always was problematic in terms of access as transcripts were rarely made available, as were elearning repositories with no quality assurance and/or attention to inclusive practice. While the traditional lecture transitions poorly to an online environment the idea of capturing and indexing may be a step forward but I wonder who will take on those roles not to mention quality assure and make accessible 50 minutes of videowith associated captions/subtitles/textual alternatives?  Moving on, Dr Lowendahl also says that e-books are currently top ‘of the peak of inflated expectations’ in 2009. Concerns about ebooks and readers are well documented here on this blog.

So I wonder what predictions can be made for technology enhanced learning in 2010? Well, here’s one.  How about using more effectively the tools we already have? The good old VLE, now embedded within systems and support, provides a virtual platform for the delivery of a range of innovative digital content for teaching and learning. It may be solid and a little clunky. It may not be very exciting to play with. But it’s reliable and it does what it says on the tin. What more is needed?

Cats and dogs and pheromones: researching the student experience

The paper I presented at ATINER 2009 was about a short level 3 online course I was given the opportunity to develop and support. The title comes from the use of pheromone therapy (natural chemicals) in the management of problem and stress behaviours in small and companion animals (cats and dogs). The use of pheromones has increased in veterinary practice in recent years but there was no supporting course or qualification. It was an opportunity to identify some of the challenges of distance delivery (retention, resources and socialisation) and look at possible solutions.

  •  Retention: build in time for induction with activities designed to ensure students have the prerequisite skills to be effective online learners.  
  • Resources: these need to work twice as hard if they are to stimulate, motivate and inspire enthusiasm. Formative assessment opportunities enable self assessment of new knowledge and application to practice.
  • Socialisation: difficult when students are learning at a distance in isolation but essential for support and encouragement.

 The opportunity to ask the first cohort of students about their experience of learning online seemed too good to miss. An initial evaluation was carried out by online survey and a second phase conducted via telephone or email interview. While students appreciated the induction and interaction with resources, they were less enthusiastic about opportunities for online socialisation preferring instead to focus on practice based communication. This may have been unique to this cohort, or common to all practice based short courses, and will be investigated again in the future.