Virtual Learning Environments
This Digistory focuses on the use of a Virtual Learning Environment at St Pius X School to facilitate student collaboration and learning.
Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) are a group of web pages which allow users to upload content, links, resources and multimedia and often include communication and collaboration tools such as discussion forums, email, chat, blogs and wikis. Some systems are hosted on an intranet and cannot be accessed from outside of the school, however many are hosted on the internet and can be accessed, with the correct password, from anywhere and at anytime.
We make classroom pages where we have links to literacy activities or maths activities and we have photos of the kids working, we also have children’s work and there are forums where children can reflect and write what they’ve learnt. (Years 3/4 Teacher, St Pius X School)
These systems are also known by many other names including Content Management Systems (CMS), Managed Learning Environments (MLE), and Learning Management Systems (LMS).
Some examples of these systems are:
In Queensland, all government schools have access to Blackboard which they use as part of their online learning strategy called The Learning Place. In Victoria, all Catholic Education school have access to myclasses. This means that teachers in these schools can upload resources and set up activities such as discussion forums and blogs for their students to access from anywhere and at anytime.
We can put links to websites on there, we can put photos of student’s work, we can do forums where children are discussing different topics, I can put up notices to the students and they can reply to me, it’s immediate so the students can go on straight away and find what they need to know. (Years 3/4 Teacher, St Pius X School)
S1: We use it for our Integrated Studies.
S2: And Maths.
S1: The teacher puts in like stuff that we can get into that can help us.
S3: Like rubrics.
S3: And we have games, like Maths games.
S2: We have a class page and then we have a global warming page, and a multicultural page, and [other] different types of pages that we have to go on.
Q: And do you use that much? Do you actually go and look at it?
S1: That’s when we need to look at it. Like if we’re stuck on something.
(Years 5/6 Students, St Pius X School)
Although the tools on offer provide teachers with the advantage of anywhere and anytime learning it should be noted that not all students have access at home.
The use of a VLE and expecting students to be able to complete their homework or projects using the VLE from home has the implicit assumption that students have internet access at home.
In the case of St Pius X School, the principal pointed out that having internet connectivity is not a financial possibility or priority despite the potential of the VLE:
They can log in at home and... do their projects and communicate with the teacher from home. That would work everywhere around us but it won’t work here. Some families do it, they’re the ones who’ve got the [money] to run the broadband but other.. so we have to have that technology here for them. (Principal, St Pius X School)
In this case the principal was driven by a sense of social justice to provide all students with the opportunity to engage with online communication and collaboration tools which the VLE offered. His focus was supported by the reported benefits of using the VLE system.