[:en]The VLE Wonderland[:cy]Y VLE Wonderland[:]

[:en]When I joined the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team in the Swansea Academy of Learning and Technology (SALT) at Swansea University, I was looking forward to making the most of my previous educational and professional experiences in a job which seemed tailor-made for someone with my background. I have a degree in History but have spent most of my career working in IT, developing systems and services for public and academic libraries. Throw a primary PGCE, 20 years or so of programming experience and a genuine love of education and technology into the mix and you have the makings of an academic developer, right? Sure, I knew I needed to refresh my pedagogical understanding (when I did my PGCE, Learning Styles [1] were all the range and I had been diagnosed as an aural learner – probably because I didn’t take notes during lectures) but I had thoroughly wonderful new colleagues who were more than happy to share their own experiences, thoughts and opinions, and direct me to useful articles, websites and contacts.

Ironically, despite joining a Technology Enhanced Learning team whose primary support function was to maintain and develop Blackboard, the most conspicuous gap in my knowledge was that of the VLE. As a student and practitioner, I had never really used one! [2] My undergraduate degree began in 1999 and though I attended a university which was at the forefront of the digital curve, material such as reading lists and course handbooks were handled at a faculty level via bespoke but efficient websites. I began my PGCE in 2007 and though the institution had Blackboard, I used it sparingly, downloading the odd document such as the course handbook. I did not use it to submit assignments or access course related content as most of this was provided in printouts by subject lecturers. Finally, as a software developer, though I was tasked to integrate our reading list output into Blackboard in 2012, I designed a JavaScript widget which was platform agnostic so I was not required to develop anything more than the most basic understanding of our VLE. It may be coincidence but these periods roughly overlap with the snapshots taken to represent technological advancements by Linda Clarke in her review of VLE related articles in “Technology, Pedagogy and Education”: the period “which comes after the introduction of the Internet to education, but prior to its widespread availability and use”, a period of “renewal and renovation” typified by a “transition to the Internet” and finally a period of “learning in the social web” typified by the integration of “web 2.0” technologies such as blogs and wikis [3].

I had originally intended this blog post to be a complete record of my search for a pedagogical understanding of the VLE but as I composed a mind map of the topics I’d need to cover, I realised that I’d have something approaching a thesis if I took the red pill, stayed in Wonderland, and found out how deep the rabbit hole went. I’ve therefore decided to use this post to highlight some of the themes I would like to explore in more depth.

Neo is presented with a choice from “The Matrix”, Directed by The Wachowski Brothers, Warner Bros. 1999.
Neo is presented with a choice from “The Matrix”, Directed by The Wachowski Brothers, Warner Bros. 1999.

The first thing I learned as I began to read through articles, blog posts and policy documents is that there is little agreement on what exactly constitutes VLE pedagogy. Whilst the primary developer of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas, is convinced the VLE is informed by a social constructivist pedagogy [4], other commentators have argued that VLEs are pedagogically neutral because pedagogy “is a decision made by teachers, not systems”. [5] If there is no inherent VLE pedagogy, it’s certainly true that like all technologies, they are neither neutral nor unbiased; they come with “propensities, potentials, affordances and constraints that make them more suitable for certain tasks than others”. [6] As a programmer, I had worked with some talented user experience and user interface developers who alerted me to the science and psychology behind a good website. [7] A VLE is no different; its design will have a massive impact on how it is used. Whilst there appears to be a dearth of articles which take a holistic view of VLE pedagogy, there is no shortage of material exploring constituent parts such as blogs, wikis, quizzes and assessments. The same can be said for the types of learning a VLE can facilitate (e.g. blended, flipped, active). Does the sheer conceptual size of the VLE (with all its plugins, add-ons etc) make it impossible to analyse in a coherent manner? Are we better accepting the pedagogy of its constituent parts as sufficient for our understanding? The more I read about VLE pedagogy, the more I realised I was perhaps overcomplicating things; I was focusing on conceptual frameworks but ignoring the rich and practical evidence base which recorded fellow colleagues success and failures in their use of a VLE.

Coming from a programming background, I was interested to find out if there were any standards which a VLE might be compared against. In my previous job, I might have been more concerned with how many simultaneous http connections the Blackboard servers could handle or if the site was compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines but now I wondered how one could tell if a VLE was having a positive influence on teaching and learning? Following this tunnel, I came across technology models such as The Three Tier Technology Use Model (TUM) [8], the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) Model [9] and SAMR [10]; they weren’t benchmarks per se but did provide insights which would be useful in understanding how the VLE could be most effectively integrated into teaching and learning. I was already convinced that pedagogy should precede technology when deciding how to teach a particular topic but examining these frameworks highlighted the fact that some developments in technology should lead to a reconceptualization of teaching and learning practice because they make possible things which had previously been inconceivable. [11]

The most useful case studies I have come across describe a journey which begin with VLEs which are little more than digital landfills and end with coherently structured content, delivered in the most appropriate means for the desired learning outcome. These journeys are replete with challenges but consistently highlight that the most truly remarkable potential benefits of using a VLE can only be realised together with institutional and personal change, for staff and student alike. [12] What does the gold standard in a VLE look like? For me, an exceptional VLE will offer a truly personal teaching and learning experience; it will allow students and teachers to learn, teach and interact in the manner which suits them best. It will therefore need to be flexible, adaptive and capable of responding to an individual’s preferences and circumstances, delivering content based on desired learning outcomes and learning analytics developed and informed by domain experts.

Indiana Jones searching for the Gold Standard VLE from “Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, Directed by Steven Spielberg, Paramount Pictures, 1981
Indiana Jones searching for the Gold Standard VLE from “Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, Directed by Steven Spielberg, Paramount Pictures, 1981

I’ve been at SALT for four months and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. At first, it was quite daunting as I wondered how I would ever bridge the gaps in my understanding, particularly after I was introduced to my new colleagues and found out everything they were involved in! As others have said before me [13], the team seemed to be speaking a different language. Thankfully, I have been given a lot of leeway to build on my own knowledge and experience; I have read around subjects which have peaked my interest such as active learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality and have met some of our remarkable lecturers and teachers who have helped me to understand the academic landscape of Swansea University. Most importantly, I’ve been made to feel very welcome by new team – I don’t think my mug has been empty of tea since I started!

[1] See Is the Learning Styles ‘Myth’ Important? by Philip M. Newton and Mahallad Miah for more details:  https://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00444

[2] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8Kyi0WNg40

[3] Linda Clarke (2013) Virtual Learning Environments in teacher education: a journal, a journey, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 22:1, 121-131, DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1475939X.2012.731632

[4] https://docs.moodle.org/34/en/Philosophy

[5] http://thereeddiaries.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-pedagogy-of-insert-your-vle-here.html

[6] Koehler, M. & Mishra, P. (2009). What is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)?, Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9:1, 60-70, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/002205741319300303

[7] e.g. see https://www.sitepoint.com/ux-designer-actually/ and https://uxplanet.org/the-psychology-principles-every-ui-ux-designer-needs-to-know-24116fd65778

[8] e.g. Shu-Sheng Liaw (2008) Investigating students’ perceived satisfaction, behavioral intention, and effectiveness of e-learning: A case study of the Blackboard system, Computers & Education, 51:2, 864 – 873, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2007.09.005

[9] e.g. Mishra, Punya & Koehler, Matthew (2006) Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge, Teachers College Record, 108, 1017-1054

[10] e.g. http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.html

[11] e.g. Helen Beetham (ed.) (2013) Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing and Delivering E-learning, Routledge

[12] e.g. See Gleadow R et al (2015) Design for learning – a case study of blended learning in a science unit, F1000Research, 4:898. DOI: http://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.7032.2

[13] See Darren’s post on joining SALT – https://salt.swan.ac.uk/6147-2/[:cy]Pan ddechreuais yn nhîm Dysgu a Gyfoethogir gan Dechnoleg (TEL), Academi Dysgu ac Addysgu Abertawe (SALT) ym Mhrifysgol Abertawe, roeddwn yn edrych ymlaen yn fawr i wneud  mwyaf o’m profiadau addysgol a phroffesiynol mewn swydd oedd wedi ymddangos wedi creu ar gyfer rhywun gyda fy nghefndir.  Mae gennyf radd mewn Hanes ond rwyf wedi treulio rhan fwyaf o’m gyrfa yn gweithio mewn TG yn datblygu systemau a gwasanaethau ar gyfer llyfrgelloedd academig a chyhoeddus. Felly, wrth gyfuno TAR cynradd, ugain mlynedd o brofiad rhaglennu a gwir cariad tuag at dechnoleg ac addysg, dyma’r nodweddion o ddatblygwr academaidd, siŵr? Roeddwn yn ymwybodol bod angen i mi adnewyddu fy nealltwriaeth pedagogeg (pan wnes i fy TAR, roedd Arddulliau Dysgu [1] yn boblogaidd iawn fe ges i ddiagnosis o ddysgwr clywedol – siŵr a bod achos nad oeddwn yn cymryd nodiadau mewn darlithoedd) ond roedd gen i gydweithwyr newydd ffantastig oedd yn fodlon rhannu profiadau, meddyliau a barn eu hun a chyfeirio mi tuag at erthyglau, gwefannau a chysylltiadau defnyddiol.

Yn eironig iawn, roeddwn yn ymuno â’r tîm Dysgu a Gyfoethogir gan Dechnoleg a’u cefnogaeth gynradd yw cynnal a datblygu Blackboard. Dyna le oedd y bwlch mwyaf yn fy nealltwriaeth, hynny o’r amgylchedd dysgu rhithiol (VLE). Fel myfyriwr ac ymarferydd, nid wyf wedi defnyddio un yn iawn! [2] Dechreuwyd fy ngradd israddedig yn 1999 ac er i mi fynychu prifysgol oedd ar flaen gyda thechnoleg,  roedd adnoddau megis rhestrau darllen a llawlyfrau cyrsiau yn cael eu trafod ar lefel cyfadran. Dechreuais ar TAR yn 2007 a hyd yn oed bod gan y sefydliad Blackboard, nid oeddwn yn defnyddio’n aml ond i lawr lwytho dogfennu megis llawlyfr y cwrs. Nid oeddwn yn cyflwyno aseiniadau nac edrych ar gynnwys y cwrs gan fod y darlithwyr yn rhoi copïau ar bapur. Yn olaf, fel datblygwr meddalwedd, roedd gen i’r dasg o integreiddio allbwn ein rhestr ddarllen i mewn i Blackboard yn 2012. Fe wnes i ddylunio teclyn JavaScript oedd yn blatfform agnostig felly nad oedd angen i mi gael mwy na dealltwriaeth sylfaenol o’n hamgylchedd dysgu rhithiol (VLE). Efallai ei bod yn gyd-ddigwyddiad ond mae’r amseroedd yma yn croesi’n fras gyda’r cipluniau a gymerwyd i gynrychioli dyrchafiadau technolegol gan Linda Clarke yn ei adolygiad o erthyglau’n glwm â ‘VLE’s’ yn “Technology, Pedagogy and Education”: y cyfnod “which comes after the introduction of the Internet to education, but prior to its widespread availability and use”, cyfnod o “renewal and renovation” nodweddion gan “transition to the Internet” ac yn olaf cyfnod o “learning in the social web” wedi nodweddu gan gyfaniad “web 2.0” technolegau megis blogs a wikis [3].

Yn wreiddiol roeddwn yn bwriadu i’r blog yma i fod yn recordiad o’m hymchwil i ddeall pedagogeg o’r VLE. Wrth i mi greu map meddwl o’r testunau bydd rhaid i mi ymdrin â, sylweddolais byddai’n troi i mewn i thesis. Felly, rydw i wedi penderfynu defnyddio’r blog yma i uwch oleuo rhai o’r themâu hoffwn archwilio mewn dyfnder.

Neo is presented with a choice from “The Matrix”, Directed by The Wachowski Brothers, Warner Bros. 1999.
Neo is presented with a choice from “The Matrix”, Directed by The Wachowski Brothers, Warner Bros. 1999.

Y peth cyntaf i mi ddysgu wrth ddechrau darllen trwy erthyglau, blogiau a dogfenni polisi yw nad oes cytundeb ar beth yn union olygir pedagogeg VLE. Tra bod datblygwr cynradd Moodle, Martin Dougiamas, yn sicr bod VLE yn cael ei lywio gan addysgeg adeiladol gymdeithasol [4], mae sylwebyddion eraill yn dadlau bod VLE’s yn bedagogeg niwtral oherwydd bod pedagogeg yn “decision made by teachers, not systems”. [5] Os nad oes pedagogeg VLE hanfodol, mae’n wir, fel pob peth technolegol nid ydynt yn niwtral nac yn ddiduedd; maent yn dod gyda ‘ “propensities, potentials, affordances and constraints that make them more suitable for certain tasks than others” ’. [6] Fel rhaglennwr rydw i wedi gweithio gyda defnyddwyr profiad a datblygwyr defnyddwyr rhyngwyneb talentog wnaeth dangos i mi’r wyddoniaeth a’r seicoleg tu ôl i wefan da. [7] Nid yw VLE yn wahanol; bydd y dyluniad yn cael effaith mawr ar sut mae’n cael ei ddefnyddio. Gan fod prinder o erthyglau sydd yn cymryd agwedd gyfannol o bedagogeg VLE, nid oes yna ddiffyg o adnoddau sydd yn archwilio cyfansoddion megis blogs, wikis, cwisiau ac asesiadau. Gall yr un peth cael ei ddweud am y mathau o ddysgu gall VLE hyrwyddo (e.e cyfunol, trosi, gweithredol). A yw’r maint cysyniadol o’r VLE (gyda’r ‘plugins’ ac ‘add-ons’ i gyd ayyb) yn eu gwneud yn amhosib dadansoddi mewn ffordd gydlynol? Ydyn ni’n well i dderbyn rhannau cyfansoddol y pedagogeg yn ddigonol i’n dealltwriaeth? Y mwy rydw i’n darllen ynglŷn â phedagogeg VLE, y mwy dwi’n sylweddoli efallai fy mod i wedi gor-gymhlethu pethau; roeddwn i’n ffocysu ar fframweithiau cysyniadol ond yn anwybyddu’r dystiolaeth ymarferol a chyfoethog oedd yn recordio fy nghydweithwyr ar eu llwyddiant a methiant gan ddefnyddio VLE.  Gan fy mod yn dod o gefndir rhaglenni, roeddwn yn llawn diddordeb i ddarganfod os oedd unrhyw safonau byddai VLE yn cael ei gyffelybu yn erbyn. Yn fy swydd flaenorol, efallai byddaf yn fwy pryderus gyda sawl cysylltiad http cydamserol mae gweinydd modwl Blackboard yn gallu ymdopi â, neu os yw’r wefan yn cydymffurfio gyda ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’. Ond nawr, roeddwn yn llawn rhyfeddod sut oedd yn bosib dweud os oedd VLE yn cael effaith bositif ar ddysgu ac addysgu. Wrth ddilyn y meddyliad yma, fe wnes i ddarganfod modelau technoleg megis ‘The Three Tier Technology Use Model (TUM)’ [8], ‘The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) Model 9’ [9] a SAMR [10]; nid oeddent yn feincnod ond roeddent yn darparu mewnwelediadau defnyddiol ar gyfer deall sut gall VLE cael ei integreiddio’n fwyaf effeithiol i mewn i ddysgu ac addysgu. Roeddwn wedi darbwyllo’n barod dylai pedagogeg blaenori technoleg wrth ddewis sut i ddysgu testun arbenigol ond roedd yr archwiliad o’r fframweithiau hyn yn tynnu sylw at y ffaith y dylai rhai datblygiadau mewn technoleg arwain at ailgyhoeddi arfer dysgu ac addysgu oherwydd eu bod yn gwneud pethau’n bosibl a oedd yn annhebygol o’r blaen. [11] Yr astudiaethau achos mwyaf defnyddiol rydw i wedi darganfod yw’r rhai sydd yn esbonio siwrnai yn dechrau gyda VLE fel safle tirlenwi digidol ac yn gorffen gyda chynnwys strwythuredig cydlynol, wedi’ trosglwyddo yn y ffordd fwyaf priodol ar gyfer y canlyniad dysgu. Mae’r teithiau yma yn orlawn gyda sialensiau ond wastad yn uwch oleuo’r buddion nodedig o ddefnyddio VLE a’r potensial o ddefnyddio VLE ynghyd â newid sefydliadol a phersonol ar gyfer staff a myfyrwyr. [12] Beth mae’r safon aur mewn VLE yn edrych fel? I mi, dylid VLE arbennig cynnig profiad dysgu ac addysgu personol; bydd yn galluogi i fyfyrwyr ac athrawon i ddysgu, addysgu a rhyngweithio mewn ffordd sydd yn gweithio orau iddynt. Bydd rhaid iddo fod yn hyblyg, addasol ac yn gallu ymateb i ddewisiadau ac amgylchiadau myfyrwyr, gan drosglwyddo cynnwys sydd wedi selio ar ddeilliannau dysgu a dadansoddiad dysgu wedi datblygu gan arbenigwyr parth.

Indiana Jones searching for the Gold Standard VLE from “Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, Directed by Steven Spielberg, Paramount Pictures, 1981
Indiana Jones searching for the Gold Standard VLE from “Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, Directed by Steven Spielberg, Paramount Pictures, 1981

Rydw i wedi bod yn SALT am bedwar mis ac rwyf wedi mwynhau pob munud. Ar y dechrau, roeddwn wedi digalonni wrth bryderu am sut roeddwn i yn mynd i wella fy nealltwriaeth yn enwedig ar ôl siarad gyda fy nghydweithwyr newydd a darganfod yr holl bethau roeddent ynghlwm gyda! Fel bod pobl eraill wedi dweud cyn fi [13], roedd petai fod y tîm yn siarad iaith wahanol. Rydw i’n ddiolchgar fy mod wedi cael y cyfle i adeiladu ar fy nealltwriaeth a fy mhrofiad; rydw i wedi darllen o amgylch pynciau sydd wedi codi diddordeb i mi megis ‘active learning’, deallusrwydd artiffisial, rhith realiti a realiti estynedig. Rydw i hefyd wedi cwrdd â darlithwyr ac athrawon ffantastig sydd wedi helpu i mi ddeall meysydd academig Prifysgol Abertawe. Yn bwysicach, mae fy nhîm newydd wedi croesawi mi yma – nid ydw i wedi bod allan o de ers dechrau![:]

Leave a Reply