Why VLEs aren’t evil

D’Arcy Norman has written “On the false binary of LMS and open” and like Sheila MacNeill, and Peter Reed, I am glad someone else has put this perspective into words.

I too am a big advocate of openness, of open source, of open practice. I think the world wide web is changing the nature of knowledge, I think scholarship needs to evolve. I love the narratives of Catherine Cronin and Audrey Watters. And I am also very proud of what my colleagues are doing with our Moodle. I’m excited about the challenge of creating a consistent, quality, trusted environment that meet student’s “transactional” needs, that provides for the “hygiene” factors. If nothing “transformational” or pedagogically innovative took place it would still not be wasted time.

I know from my own student experience that there are all sorts of anxieties and hassles that can distract from the hard work of learning. As Rob O’Toole would put it: “extraneous cognitive load”. Cutting down on confusion is important. And also I know that there are questions that students help each other with: “when is it due in? how do I know which lab session to go to? did anyone else understand that critique?”. I was lucky, I was a very sociable student, and confident enough to ask the lecturer anything. Many were not, and those that didn’t go out for the post-lecture coffee chat (for reasons of money, or childcare, or culture, or shyness), were surely disadvantaged. We owe it to all our students to provide them with good information about their modules and provide forums for additional information to be exchanged. As David Davies said to me, it’s an inclusion issue.

Outside the university I use online systems to do important necessary things: banking, paying my kids’ school dinners, sorting out my car’s task disc. They just help me do what I need to do and they don’t have to make me feel “wow”.

VLEs can be used as a platform for fantastic blended and online learning, but even if they are not used to that extent, they are still important. VLEs exist for a reason. I’ve had this conversation very recently and had started to wonder if I was out of sync with other educational technology people, so it is reassuring to see this anti-anti-VLE perspective surfacing.

As D’Arcy Norman puts it: “We have a responsibility to provide a high quality environment to every single instructor and student, and the LMS is still the best way to do that”.