July 09, 2008

Virtual Learning Environment benchmarking workshop

There seems to be a demand from universities for a more realistic, learner/teacher-centric evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments. How easy would it be to evaluate and compare the leading platforms? Perhaps we could just get them all together (users not vendors) in one room, on a set of screens, and do an evaluation? That’s what I am planning to do, with the aim of publishing the resulting findings, but also giving developers a chance to steal the best features from each system.

We have a nice shiny new experimental teaching space called the Teaching Grid. It has lots of projectors, nicely spaced out, with moveable partitions that can be used to create separate zones. My idea is this:
  1. Divide the room up into 6 zones, each with a screen, PC and projector.
  2. In each zone, display one of 6 different VLEs (WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, Sitebuilder/Warwick Blogs, and WebLearn/Boddington).
  3. Have a team of VLE users (teachers and students) & admins for each of the 6.
  4. Create a matrix of requirements, features, design patterns, and analyse each one accordingly.
  5. Present a list of 5 best aspects of each one.
  6. Allow each of the 6 teams to visit all of the others.

There will also be a “beyond the VLE” section, for features and design patterns that don’t exist in any of the VLEs.

We have the technology. I can get money for a lavish(!) buffet. All I need are representatives from unis that use each of the systems.

I’m aiming for mid-September 2008 for this.

Anyone interested?

- 3 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Chris May

    Intriguing, and potentially fruitful. But, do you think it will be easy/possible to separate the technical capabilities of each system, from the organisational structures of each institution? Is there a risk that institution A says ‘Blackboard is wonderful, because it does X’, and institutions B,C,D,E and F all say ‘Meh, we would never want to do X / our academics would never stand for X’ – and this dialog then repeats for each institution/platform?

    I don’t really know how much variance there is between the way different universities operate, though on the odd occasions that I meet people from other institutions I’m often surprised by the things that we each take as axioms of how HE works, which turn out to be totally false in another institution.

    Given the way in which development of a system reflects the organisation that does the development, I wonder if it’s even sensible to try and separate the platform from the practices, or if one should just examine the combination of both?

    09 Jul 2008, 14:26

  2. Robert O'Toole

    Yes. It’s not at all simple, and I think we will probably not get a complete picture in such a short time. But hopefully it will be worth doing, even if it’s just the start of an ongoing process.

    I think it’s worth approaching from two directions. In the lead-up to the event, i’ll ask people to identify a set of the most important activities (learning designs, admin taks) that they want out of a ‘VLE’. Students must be part of defining that list, as well as teachers and administrators. To start with I’m working with Oxford Uni (on-site and distance learning) and Oxford Brookes. We’re not too disimilar.

    We should also approach it from the other direction: what features do you see as important? (ie blogs, forums) – and what are the most important aspects of those features?

    09 Jul 2008, 15:02

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    14 Jul 2008, 19:12

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