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VLEs: best and worst features

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.


  • Having all material protected. Even with guest logins unrestricted, this still means Google can't find it, and others feel unwelcome and may not enter. However this means a student can't find it using normal internet access and Google: instead they must go to a meeting and write down without error the URL. So immediately VLEs are in practice only accessible to those who attend F2F meetings and lose the normal benefits and convenience of the internet. Colleagues can't view the material without special effort, prospective students can't see it, etc. In reality, only a tiny part of a course really needs protection (e.g. individuals' marks): the design is the inverse of what is appropriate.

  • Hiding course info from prospective students, from those with glitches in their signups, from colleagues
  • Above all, from Google so even legit students can't easily find it.
  • Basically, all courses have public and private aspects, so cannot have all the course info in one place, and VLEs thus fail in their primary idea of a single tool for putting on a course.
  • Restructuring them so that default is visible to the world, and page by page access control. Only hide a few things e.g. grades; and write access to forums.
  • For students, should support them having one place to login for several courses; and a single feed combining notices/msgs from all these.
  • Hides bboards; prevents the serendipity of Ruskin getting Grayling joining in.
    [dougiamas reply: but you could invite grayling. A truly T-centric reply]
  • One stop place for students for all course docs.


    In a talk, Martin Dougiamas listed the following approximate sequence in which teachers (academics) typically started to use different types of activity (feature) in Moodle (and no doubt this applies to other VLEs too). The conventional negative spin on this is "Isn't it awful, you introduce a VLE and staff just use it to dump their slides on it". (This ignores the fact that most students welcome this if, as often, they weren't getting access to the slides before.) However a positive spin could be: "In the medium term, most HE staff are going to move through this developmental progression, and end up at the top end: far beyond where most were before in their teaching. So VLEs are a slow but powerful scaffolding that is improving teaching practices in HE."

    1. Put up the handouts
    2. Add a passive Forum
    3. Add Quizzes, Assignments (reduce management)
    4. Use Lesson, Wiki, Glossary, Database maybe
    5. Use the Forum seriously and actively
    6. Combine the activities into sequences
    7. Think more deeply about learning activities / design
    8. Use the Survey module, Workshop maybe
    9. Sharing ideas, active research, reflection

    What most of us most immediately recognise here, is that the first thing staff do is dump their slides on line: requires no real work. Next, we see forums created but no student activity on them. But next again (maybe a year or two later) staff discover how to stimulate student discussion.

    Further on in the sequence, I can see echos of issues I've seen elsewhere: for instance going beyond isolated learning activities and thinking about piecing them together so that one leads to another (e.g. write your first draft of an assignment, students read each others', give each other comments, revise their own).

    And at the advanced end (the bottom), I see forms of "contingent teaching" where what the teacher picks up from the class changes what they do. Here (in Moodle) it is about using the Survey to get feedback on student views and ways of learning, just as Just In Time Teaching uses student answers to a quiz to determine what the next class will address.

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