Tuesday 19 February 2013

Using Virtual Learning Environments and their effect on attendance

Moving from Blackboard 8 to 9
At the HE institution where I work we have recently changed our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) from Blackboard 8 to Blackboard 9. Version 9 does have some features that are superior to those in 8 but it also has a few that are not so good – for instance, we can no longer easily see what the students see. We turned the move also into an opportunity to revamp our sites and make our students more reliant on the VLE than on paper-produced resources. Blackboard should be the default place that they got to find out information about their course.

The module template
We were provided with a template for the minimum requirements for our sites. Recently we have monitored how well these templates have been adhered to. The sites that were audited were given a score. Frankly, though, I could not see that much difference in quality between the lowest scoring and the highest scoring and the one I deemed the most useful to students did not score the most points. Nevertheless, the information was useful.

Some general good practice
Content areas should be clearly labelled and easy to navigate.
Each site should be generically similar though the content will be different.
Good use of the Announcement facility keeps students engaged.
The bottom line is the question “How will this empower the student to do what they need to do?”    
In the Learning Materials section, not only should there be a plethora of useful information, put is should be linked to week by week sessions. It should also be possible for any student who has missed a session to catch up by going to their VLE.
Students use the sites more if they are updated regularly.

The VLE and attendance
We don’t have compulsory attendance here for all sorts of reasons but we worry when attendance is poor. It may be a sign that students are not engaged. Also, more often than not, good attendance is reflected in better marks, though not always.
A problem might be if it’s all on Blackboard anyway, why would they attend? After all, if they work from home they don’t need to do battle with the snow or early morning traffic. The live class must bring some value-added.          
Is the VLE a step towards distance learning being the norm? I hardly think so. Even the veteran of this, The Open University, uses blended learning, providing several opportunities for face to face sessions. The VLE can do some things for us, taking that burden away from our live sessions which can then concentrate on what they do best.       

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