I’m finally going to post this as I’ve had it sitting in draft for a few weeks. James Clay blogged about VLEs today, so it seemed like a good idea to share my thoughts too.

So…VLEs, Learning Platforms…what’s the point? Surely you can get it better elsewhere? for free? Is this the best it can be? It’s all empty!Aren’t we only doing it to meet some target?

As you may know, I have spent the past two years of my life training primary school teachers in using our VLE, Studywiz. It’s had ups and it’s had downs, but the VLE is a very useful tool. I am a regular on Twitter and I speak to excellent ICT teachers all of the time, but how many of them have bothered with a VLE? Not many. Why? Maybe it doesn’t do what they want it to, maybe it isn’t customisable enough, maybe they were already doing it beforehand.

For the techy teachers out there, I can understand why they might want to sidestep the VLE issue. They’re already blogging with their class so why do they need a paid-for system to do it? They can go get free versions of 4 or 5 different tools that will be better than the VLE, so why bother? But how many teachers are VERY confident with ICT and can manage this?

In my experience, having everything under one roof is a great starting point for many teachers. 95% of the people I train have never thought about learning online, I know 1 school and a couple of random teachers that were blogging here in Hampshire. This is rising slowly, but VLE training has helped to show these teachers what is possible. Many of them are just starting to put links online so that their children can access websites and resources. How would you do that without a VLE? Use a website that only 1 person can update? A delicious account maybe? What about for the 5 year olds? The VLE is great for younger children as you can include sound and/or tools like Voki to give them clues and directions of what to click on and why. From using sound and microphones in training, teachers have seen how easy it is and now they’re off to record it with their class. Fantastic. Very basic for most people, but for some, it’s a breakthrough.  Even though general confidence in ICT is rising, there are still an awful lot of teachers out there who are not ICT confident! I have trained some recently who do not know how to access their email. One asked what I meant when I said ‘Google it’. These people will be taking my words and ideas and cascading it back to the rest of their staff.

One thing the VLE gets used for, is as a launchpad to other things. Children start at the VLE and from there they can watch te embedded video from BBC, discuss it in the forum and then go off and create a Prezi which can be embedded so others can assess it. I’m not sure about other VLEs, but our one is fantastic at embedding HTML and other content whether it is a Google Streetview, a Voki, a wordsearch or Animoto. This is the bit that people get excited about. The VLE itself has some basic tools which work well, but being able to drop in a Google Form or a Bubbl.Us mindmap is a real winner.

We’ve focussed on the learning bit a lot here in Hampshire and we try to show as many ways of using it for learning as we can. There’s no point showing a tool without good reasoning about why to use it. After all, we’re not meeting a target, we’re showcasing our children’s learning! Quite often people say that they haven’t started using the VLE yet due to Ofsted being just around the corner (aren’t they always?). Why not be pro-active and celebrate your achievements online instead? Don’t shy away from them, push them in the inspectors faces and let them be amazed that your children are writing online and creating content for others.

What about benefits for teachers? We’ve been sharing ‘finished’ resources for a few months now here in Hampshire, but the next step is to try and get some teachers to plan and collaborate together from the start. So many teachers are doing the same thing and planning the same topic, it would be great if they could work together! This should be happening more and we hope to have something in place to enable this soon.

The potential is there, VLE or not, but using a VLE is a good starting point for many teachers who had never had the chance or inclination to do this type of learning before. Some teachers are now enthused about the potential and come to training buzzing about what they will find out next!

So what do you think of VLEs? Do you have one? If you do, why? Was it to meet a target? Was it because learning is made easier?

If you don’t? Why? Is it because of money? Are you doing it all already?

I’d be interested to hear from people outside of Hampshire to see what they think about using VLEs in primary schools.

Update – Here are some Becta case studies