What is a virtual learning environment? Oh, blah, can I or should I really define it? Ick. It’s hard to say, but let’s give it a shot.
A virtual learning environment (VLE) happens online. A VLE is geared towards a group of learners, not just oneself as a blog might be. A VLE is a place where this group of learners can interact with tutors, each other and course materials. So, a ning network set up and used well for a class could be considered to be a VLE. Students with a set of blogs that are all linked to each other, and are used to post work and comment on each others’ work could be considered to be a VLE. Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are examples of VLEs.
There, does that make sense? It’s of course not an extensive explanation and as the literature says, it can be hard to define. It might be easier to say what that a VLE is not just a virtual world, despite the fact that the use of the word ‘virtual’ might strike up that image. A VLE is not restricted to any one type of online environment – it can be text based, or three dimensional. There are different ways to define what ‘virtual’ itself means, but I’m not going to do that here. It’s too late on a Saturday night
As I have been reading about VLEs for the subject I’m doing, what they are and how they can be used, one thing that will stay with me is something I read in Pierre Dillenbourg’s paper. He states (on page 5) that:
What is specific to virtual environments compared to any information space is that it is populated. The users are inside the information space and see a representation of themselves and/or others in the space.
I now cannot shake the image of literally being inside a network – like a little human, or actually a group of little humans, wandering around the inside of a social network, like a ning network or even Facebook. Next time I attempt to create a VLE for students or perhaps even some teachers, I know this little image will stay with me. How does it help me to think more deeply about a virtual learning environment?
Well, for the moment, when I think of VLEs I firstly think of a social network (ning style) because that it what I plan to focus on when it comes to doing my thesis – the potential of social networking in the Chinese language classroom.
Thinking of the information space as populated means that the information in that space is shared – not just in receivership, but also in production. If the information space is populated, I better be careful of the information I add as I don’t want to be wasting the population’s time! If the information space is populated, I don’t have to do it all myself, maybe other little humans have some information for me. If the information space is populated, then don’t we all as inhabitants, have a responsibility to maintain it? Improve it? Construct it? Create it?
What does all that mean to you? Anything at all?
A social network as a populated information space in the language classroom – what would this look like? how would it work?
- Using a social network in a language classroom would be of course to set it up as some sort of virtual learning environment with the overall goal of engaging learners so much so that they spend much more time on task than classtime allows for them.
- This space would have to be somewhere they are happy to ‘live in,’ and grow in as learners. It would have to be attractive enough to them so that the population could be maintained. I imagine they would be happy to be there if they could present themselves the way they wanted to, add their own stuff, get hold of stuff that their peers have created, and navigate the space easily.
- I imagine also that it would work best if perhaps the language they are learning was not necessarily the focus of the environment, but rather a vehicle to accessing the environment. If they had to ‘unlock’ the mystery of the language or the ‘game’ of the language in order to access other information or functionalities in their information space, perhaps they would be more inclined to learn to use the language more effectively. I’ve got Year 8 in my head as I think about this.
These are just initial thoughts. I’m thinking out loud, but seeing as it is a Saturday night, maybe I should just be opting for that glass of wine!
But one last question – as a member of an information space, as part of its population, does this change how you receive or treat information? does it change your expectations of information or the likelihood that you are to engage with it? Yes, yes, I hear the next question….what do you define as information?
Good god, where’s the bottle opener….
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