VLE: a worthwhile investment?

I wrote about the value of a VLE prior to joining my present school, DHSB, and I was at that point unsure of its long term value.  Now, just over two years into my new role it is time for me to question the value of the VLE again.  We invested in Frog prior to my arrival; this had involved a significant investment in time and money.  The VLE had two login profiles: students and staff.  Neither group used the VLE extensively, it was primarily used by staff for booking ICT rooms and students studying ICT used it to submit work.

We undertook a major rewrite of the VLE two years ago and created separate sites for parents and governors in addition to the student and staff areas. 

I will discuss what information we have available on each of these areas in a future post.

At Frog’s conference earlier this year I remember Dai Barnes asking a developer about pedagogy and the impact of the VLE upon teaching and learning, that is an area I don’t think we have cracked yet.  Google Apps, in my opinion, does this better.

What it has enabled us to do is take great leaps forwards in our parental engagement.  We invested in the parental portal module which Frog states was “designed to engage parents first and foremost”. 

After some quite significant teething problems with the SIMS extractor (we have SIMS hosted remotely and that seemed to cause no end of problems) parents are now able to login after 6pm and see rewards, sanctions and attendance data for that day.

VLE parent view

I read a great post by Scott on his new blog, where he looked at using Google Apps to create a free vle. We introduced Google Apps this year and I have to agree with many of Scott’s points, however the parental engagement aspect of our VLE means that I’m not ready to call time on Frog anytime yet.

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VLE – I’m still not totally convinced…..

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Now schools are spending vast sums of money on VLEs I keep asking myself, are schools receiving good value for money from their VLE providers?  What is the opportunity cost of this spending?

When I talk to colleagues, both in my own school and others, many of them appear to use the VLE simply as a on-line storage centre.  Given the wide range of outstanding on-line resources it would appear that schools would be better off utilising a range of these.

I have just read another of Doug Belshaw’s outstanding posts on what are the ‘functional specifications’ of a VLE that drive real learning?  He highlights that the VLE could be used for:

Be a collaborative space where students and staff can collaborate on documents and web pages (like Google Apps)

Enable users to have appropriate contact with others within the Academy and the wider community by a range of methods (e.g. Twitter-like microblogging, instant messaging, shared whiteboards, video conferencing,email, social networking)

Promote learning by have clearly structured course elements, rather than be a file repository.

Process appropriate data quickly in a visually-appealing and easy-to-understand way for Academy staff, students, and parents.

Allow students to publish their work to various parties: peers, teachers, the Academy, the world.

Enable outside agencies to access appropriate data on students, staff and Academy issues.

OpenID login so users have a single sign-on and have more control over their digital identity.

Integration with immersive worlds such as Second Life (as, for example Sloodle does)

If this is how a VLE is to be used, perhaps it is time for a rethink.  In September the school I will be joining uses Frog – I shall keep an open mind.

(image by largo! @ Flickr)

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