All 4 entries tagged VLE

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October 13, 2005

Blackboard and WebCT to merge

According to this press release the two VLE vendors Blackboard and WebCT intend to merge. Hard to overstate what a big deal this is in the e-learning space; it's the equivalent of Microsoft and Apple merging, or Adobe and Macromedia… oh, wait.

Then again, how much difference will moving from two vendors to one really make? Institutions which switch from WebCT to Blackboard or vice-versa are very rare, because the cost and effort involved in migrating content is so great as to discourage the change in all but the most extreme scenarios. But it does mean that institutions considering a VLE for the first time will have essentially one commercial product available to them, without even the current possibility of weighing up the pros and cons of two competing systems, and perhaps using the existence of one as a bargaining tool with the other.

It also means, of course, that the arms race that exists when there are two companies competing with similar products in the same market will just disappear. The incentive to innovate will be gone, because there'll be no pressure to invent new features that the other guy doesn't have. And the next obvious consequence of that, I think, is that institutions should get ready, in a year or two, for some well-above-inflation rises in the annual subscription rates. If Monty Burns was CEO of Blackboard right now, he'd be rubbing his hands togther and saying "Eeeeeeexcellent…".

Slashdot has a thread on this which is interesting because there appears to be nobody who has used either system who has a good word to say about it, either in terms of its features and interface, or in terms of the engineering quality of the application.

September 12, 2005

VLE woes

Writing about web page

This is an amusing, if cautionary, tale about the fate of a home-grown VLE (presumably the Boddington system) at Leeds University. It starts out happily enough, with people doing local development work that met their own needs and the needs of their colleagues, but then descends into a mire of power struggles, takeover bids, and the eventual replacement of the local system with a commercial package - allegedly at a huge cost increase over the local package. It's a useful reminder that building tools which are useful and which users like is not necessarily enough; you have to build tools which are politically acceptable, and, as important but perhaps trickier, you have to build them in a way which is politically acceptable.

In some universities if you look at factors that affect the decision
making about software selection for VLEs, educational, technical and
practical factors are less significant than considerations of career
progression of the big players, rivalry between departments and the
constant drive for change – not for the benefits that change might bring
but to provide change managers with a steady stream of things to change
and take credit for. Nowadays a manager that manages steady evolution
of success based on success gains no kudos – change is required to show
off their skills and so they all want to be change managers. Discrete
periods of dramatic change can be neatly written up for a CV because
they have distinct beginnings, action packed middles and definite ends.
It's all the better if there is resistance to the change because it just
provides opportunities for the exercise of higher level change
management skills.

August 16, 2004

The seats are bolted to the floor

Writing about web page

My new favourite analogy for VLEs:-

The analogy I often make with Blackboard is to a classroom where all the seats are bolted to the floor. How the room is arranged matters. If students are going to be having a class discussion, maybe you put the chairs in a circle. If they will be doing groupwork, maybe you put them in groups. If they are doing lab work, you put them around lab tables. A good room set-up canít make a class succeed by itself, but a bad room set-up can make it fail.

That's dead right. You can change the appearance of BlackBoard, you can turn its various functions on or off. But you can't escape the fact that it's got a pedagogy built right into it, and the pedagogy is US-based and centred around the role of the instructor (and I say instructor rather than teacher or academic deliberately).

July 14, 2004

E–learning is the VLE!

Writing about web page

A thoughtful article from the always-reliable Auricle e-learning blog.

Select a senior member of faculty or the executive and ask them to tell you about e-learning in the institution. The chances are that early in the response will come back the name of whatever VLE; "Of course we've got e-learning – we've got product xyz to prove it!"

And a related point which I've personally observed to be true at various institutions:-

How much so called e-learning is really a proprietary VLE being used as a convenient content repository? If so, such services should surely be provided by simpler systems not attracting annual licensing fees?

It's a delicate balance between politics and pedagogy. Sometimes it could actually be politically advantageous to be able to simplify the e-learning equation down to "E-learning = VLE". But you'd have to be pretty indifferent to the actual costs, needs and benefits involved in e-learning to regard that as a factor which could override actually implementing the right tool(s) for the job.

Footnote: Referenced in the article is an absolutely excellent paper called "A technical framework to support e-learning". It's a Word document and can be found here; it's insightful, well worth a look and makes me revise my previously hardline "JISC don't do anything useful" stance. More on the paper later.

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