Are Virtual Learning Environments a thing of the past?

In light of the publication of the Department for Education’s digital strategy in December 2012 it seemed fitting to reflect on my own use of digital media both inside and outside the classroom. Having trialled numerous different ways to get GCSE History students to engage with Roding Valley High School’s VLE with little success, it would be easy to blame student apathy or lack of ICT skills. However, the students in my GCSE groups are intelligent, hardworking and tech savvy. The students have no difficulties handwriting a tweet of 140 characters with appropriate hash tags for keywords and concepts. The students were also happy to email work to me and ask for questions or advice via my school email. So why were they failing to make the most out of the school’s dedicated VLE.

The answer came from the automatic email signatures attached to work emailed to me. Almost every email I received from students was signed “Sent from my iphone/ipad” or “Sent from Samsung Mobile”. The students were not using large stand alone computers or even laptops to produce their work or access the documents I sent to them. They were using small handheld devices with touch screens. The text in emails, Facebook and Twitter can easily be manipulated by these devices to clearly and legibly fit the screen. The school’s VLE on the other hand, with its small buttons and wide size, was both difficult and clumsy to use.

My new year’s resolution this year is to go back to basics with virtual learning environments and try some of the forums and spaces available online like Google Drive, Edmodo and Prezi to give students access to a host of resources and revision materials that will help bring history to life. The advantage of these websites is that they come with easy to download apps making them usable even on the smallest of screens and most importantly they are free for both the students and the school. With a whole host of free online services designed to make both virtual teaching and learning easier it is not just the Department for Education that needs to consider its digital strategies. I think we could all benefit from a fresh approach to virtual learning environments.

Written by Matt Cocker (expressing his personal view)

History teacher – Member of the DAZ group Zest via Media

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