Virtual Learning Environments
Benefits of using a VLE
The use of VLEs in traditional classrooms has been shown by the research literature to offer significant advantages to both students and teachers. These advantages include: flexibility in anytime, anywhere access; increased writing, understanding and presentation skills; improved motivation and engagement; support for self-paced study; development of different learning styles with higher order cognitive thinking; sense of authenticity of purpose by engaging with real texts and issues; greater participation, including collaboration, through communication tools such as discussion forums (BECTA, 2004).
The myclasses software suite enhances the ability of schools to integrate Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) across the curriculum…and is different from other products as it not only supports existing teaching practices but also presents an interactive approach to ICT in the classroom. myclasses supports collaborative programs aimed at building learning communities and helps teachers benefit from the work of others thus minimising ‘reinventing the wheel’. Research has shown that high quality digital curriculum resources increase student engagement and motivation, and help teachers to reinforce the teaching – two key ingredients for improving learning outcomes. (Carey, 2004, p. 2)
These benefits of using a VLE was supported by St Pius X School which uses a VLE called myclasses. The teachers reported improved reading, increasing motivation through authenticity of texts, and greater independence n their students’ work from years 2 through to 6. For instance one teacher pointed out that the VLE allowed her curriculum to become more student centred:
I uploaded resources onto the My Classes page and the children go to that My Classes page and they access all that information and it really keeps them busy. They’ve been able to plan, they’ve been able to research using all that information. (Years 5/6 Teacher, St Pius X School)
Another teacher pointed out that engaging students in online communication has provided an authentic literacy activity:
We've got our own little forum set up [and] they’ve got their own chat room... A reading task can be that they go on and have a bit of a chat to each other about [their] books... It's quite humorous, but I just want them to get used to reading on the screen. (Years 2/3 and 3/4 Teachers, St Pius X School)
The VLE allowed students to interact with each other as well as the teacher. One example of this was year 5/6 students providing clues about planets which the year 3/4 students had to guess. This activity was a part of a unit of study on the solar system. The discussion forum area was used by the year 5/6 students to give clues to the year 3/4 students who would negotiate either a question or suggest a possible answer:
When we were in Grade 3/4 the Grade 5/6s would put up clues about space. Like we had to guess the planet and we – they’d put up clues on the MyClass’s page and we’d have to go and read the clues and think of the planet... each week they’d do a new planet but they’d only give us some clues.... They’d type up words and then we could type back. If we thought it was Jupiter we’d type back, ‘Do they have a lot of moons?’ or something and they’d answer yes or no. (Years 5/6 Students, St Pius X School)
This simple activity was identified by the student focus groups to have been motivating in their interrogation of the solar system unit of study. Due to the peer audience it was felt to be an authentic challenge and through the use of the discussion forums the entire class could take ownership of the answer. Similar activities could easily be done with participants from outside of the school.