Becta’s view of ‘Learning Platforms’ can be found here
What’s a VLE?
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and Becta expects every school to have access to a VLE by the end of 2008. Schools will be expected to explain their VLE provision as part of the Self Evaluation Framework SEF for Ofsted.
‘So what actually is a VLE?’ This is the question I am asked repeatedly by teachers from all parts of the country. The simple reply is ‘VLE stands for Virtual Learning Environment’. However this does not fully explain what a VLE is and, furthermore, how it fits into the organisation of a school.
Although there is confusion surrounding Virtual Learning Environments, they can be described as a web based facility, managed by the school, designed to enable pupil learning and assessment both inside and outside the classroom.
A VLE can be thought of an environment for learning, rather than virtual learning environment. This helps to make clear that it is the environment which is virtual and not the learning! A VLE uses a software system to facilitate teachers in the management of educational courses for their students. The software tracks learners’ progress, allowing teachers, learners and sometimes parents to follow pupil progress.
Why does my school need a VLE?
Having explained what a VLE is the next question that arises is ‘why do we need a VLE?’ Well, the threat of inspection itself should be no reason to adopt a VLE. The reason to adopt a VLE is that its time has come. Professor Stephen Heppel writes:-
“Learning is breaking out of the narrow boxes that it was trapped in during the 20th century; teachers’ professionalism, reflection and ingenuity are leading learning to places that genuinely excite this new generation of connected young school students – and their teachers too. VLEs are helping to make sure that their learning is not confined to a particular building, or restricted to any single location or moment.”
Personalising Learning with a VLE
Whilst there is confusion about VLEs there is also confusion about what constitutes personalised learning. However, as I see it, a VLE is the foundation to personalised learning. Let me explain. On its web site, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) outlines the five components of personalised learning in the following diagram:-
Without a doubt, a well organised and easy to use VLE allows a school to deliver most of the five components of personalised learning.
Who are the key platform suppliers?
There are a number of suppliers of VLEs. For some schools their choice of VLE has been made by a decision at LEA level. Commercial suppliers have been nominated by Becta and as part of the Learning services framework agreement. You may choose to view these suppliers via Becta’s web site. However, the list was chosen before some of the suppliers had built their version of a VLE and, as I write this in 2007, most have failed to deliver a completed platform.
Crucially there are other suppliers of VLEs that are not part of the Learning services framework agreement and it is up to individual schools to choose their own learning platform. Some schools have chosen free (open source) software, such as Moodle, to build their own VLE.
When a school has decided on its choice of VLE they need to upload courses for their pupils. They can be in any digital form e.g. Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher or Web pages. The digital files used for this can come from a variety of resources, whether built by teachers or commercially obtained.
In addition, a school can buy course content from publishers of digital content. However, be wary before you buy as the content you buy should be SCORM compliant.
What is SCORM compliant?
Most VLEs support Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) as a standard way to upload, launch and track courses. In this way a school can track the performance of each pupil and the pupil receives asessment for learning by receiving immediate feedback. In my opinion the best content on a VLE uses multimedia to engage the learner and to achieve deep learning.
At King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys we have found that no one VLE has everything we need. Therefore, we have met the rigorous demands of the DCSF by adopting more than one. In this way we benefit by using the best of each we have adopted.
In 2002, we adopted the Birmingham LEA VLE called MyInternet. Although it offers a wide range of facilities we have come to use it for pupils to:-
(i) Provide an internet email address for each pupil, accessible from any computer attached to the world wide web.
(ii) Provide a ‘home page’ portal (accessed by password login) for each boy which allows the pupil to access material loaded by teachers (pull learning materials)
(iii) Provide a storage space for digital files (Files Box)
For teachers we have come to use MyInternet VLE to :-
(i) Provide an internet email address for each teacher, accessible from any computer attached to the world wide web.
(ii) Provide a ‘homepage’ portal (accesssed by password login) for each member of staff which allows the teacher provide curriculum material to pupils they teach (push learning materials to pupils)
(iii) Provide a storage space for digital files (Files Box)
In addition to these commonly used features, the MyInternet VLE allows each user (teacher or pupil) to create web pages, eportfolios, discussion boards, noticeboards etc. MyInternet is a powerful web application.
In addition to the MyInternet we have also adopted MAPS (2003/4). MAPS (Managed Assessment Portfolios) is a VLE with a different focus than MyInternet. MAPS gives both teacher and pupil added functionality that is not provided by MyInternet.
With MAPS teachers can provide pupils with tasks and resources in a secure online environment much like MyInternet. However, MAPS allows the pupil to upload their completed assignments which can then be viewed by the teacher. The pupil can be enabled to carry out criteria referenced assessments of their assignments (Assessment for Learning). Completed digital assignments are then stored for the teacher to mark.
Teacher marking and comments are then tagged to the pupil’s digital submission.
MAPS is used successfully for the purpose of e-assessment at Camp Hill Boys. In addition, from September 2007, the Camp Hill Boys space on MAPS has been populated with the full range of Birchfield’s multimedia content. The Birchfield software that is used in lessons is now delivered to the pupil’s desktop at home via the web, complete with animation, video and spoken text.
In addition to these whole school developments, we have also developed award winning web resources to deliver curriculum content to pupils eg www.pupilvision.com., www.pupilvision.co.uk., www.vitualfieldwork.com , kechbscience web resources and science podcasts via the school website. Of particular interest is the development of WEB 2.0 technology by the utilisation of www.wikispaces.com by the Biology department.
The latest development (Nov. 2007) is the invitation to be part of the Birmingham LEA pilot to assess the Autology VLE. We are known in the city as early successful early adopters of learning technology, which has led to this invitation to participate in the pilot scheme.
A small number of teachers and pupils will experiment with the Autology platform to see how this powerful application can enhance learning and teaching.
Autology represents a step change in VLE provision. In short, it is a web based application that will do much the same as MyInternet and MAPS with an interesting additional facility. It will enable personalised learning.
Autology is preloaded with digital versions of school textbooks (Heinemann etc) and reference materials (Encyclopedia Brittanica). It enables the teacher to add to these resources with their own digital files. Then as the pupil works independently in an application such as Word or PowerPoint, a pane appears on the screen to provide hyperlinks to information and further resources.
Autology is new. We reserve our judgement on this new development until we have carried out the pilot study.
K G Phipps Nov. 2007-11-27