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Pete Roythorne on 'virtual learning' tools

You've probably heard the term virtual learning environment, but would you know what one was?

Technology agency Becta defines VLEs as: "A software tool which brings together, in an integrated environment, a range of resources that enable learners and staff to interact online and includes content delivery and tracking." Any the wiser?

Basically, VLEs aim to support learning and teaching activities across the internet. They do this, first, by providing teachers with tools to create stimulating and educationally sound resources quickly and without the need for developing technical skills, and, second, by providing pupils with a huge pool of resources, support and information that can be accessed via the web.

A typical VLE will include features such as: l communication tools like email, bulletin boards and chat rooms, online forums, intranets, electronic diaries and calendars;

* tools to create online content and courses;

* online assessment and marking - often in the form of multiple-choice tests on subjects;

* controlled access to curriculum resources;

* shared work-group areas for students to upload files;

* support for students through communication with tutors and other students, and provision of materials such as course information or frequently asked questions;

* student tools - individual student web pages, "drop boxes" for uploading coursework, electronic diaries and calendars.

A VLE can be used for anything from quick, easy distribution of course materials and providing a channel of communication between students, teachers and outside contributors, to the delivery of complete online courses with fully integrated activities that can be classroom independent.

Schools report using VLEs in a number of ground-breaking ways, eg, bringing the classroom to excluded or ill pupils, or to a pupil who misses a lesson. One teacher even worked this the other way by posting work to her pupils while on her sick bed.

VLEs play an important role in extending learning outside school, as they provide access to curriculum materials from any internet-linked computer, allowing pupils 247 access and giving them a forum to share their own views and knowledge and support in a way that is engaging and encourages them to develop their own learning.

They also act as a way to hook parents into the school community, as they can monitor their child's progress and help with their studies out of school.

Not a replacement for the classroom environment, but a worthy addition.


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