Ahh… a part of me has been wanting to write a title like that for so long… If only I had the Ring of Power…
I’ve been thinking more and more about the direction being taken in some jurisdictions at the moment in regards to solving the problems we all have with technology integration in schools, in particular on the moves toward a Virtual Learning Environment. I understand that what they’re looking for is a single framework that will allow staff, students and parents of schools to access classwork, deliver and participate in lessons, collaborate, share and generally connect with one another in an easy to use space. This is a desirable goal, but I wonder about the approach companies that are going to tender for this might take to such a problem. Schools are very different beasts to the corporate sector, and unlike businesses that generally work in well defined industries, sectors or divisions, the way teachers work can be so vastly different that trying to come up with an all-in-one solution that works for everyone is going to be pretty much impossible, IMHO.
So many of our schools have IT departments or sections that end up being managed by a non-educational authority or personnel, and unless these people are willing to actually delve into the deep, dark, unfathomable depths of IT use in schools, most of the time the solutions and ideas they throw about are sound in the corporate world, but come up against a heap of difficulties in the education sector. Universities tend to get away with it a bit more – their clientele area a little older, expected to be “responsible adults” and their teaching methods somewhat more traditional as a general rule – but schools don’t.
So can a VLE-type solution cope with all this? Well, in my mind there’s only one way such a solution would work – make sure what you’re providing is not restricted to specific technologies (make sure it uses open standards, for example), and ensure that accessibility and ease of use are of utmost importance. Allow teachers to change the way things operate – if they have the skills, why not add functionality to it that can then be made available to others? If they don’t have the technical know-how but they do have the ideas, hook them up with someone that could make it a realist. With technology moving so quickly all the time, it doesn’t make sense to lock yourself into a specific arrangement now that leaves you at the mercy of the developers. Social networking is a big deal (though some would argue it’s almost saturated already), but who knows how that is going to evolve in the next 3 years?
What the VLE should be is a system that exists solely to link other things together. It doesn’t have its own blogging system, or its own social networking tools. Nor does it have its own specific implementation of video-conferencing, or online classroom delivery. All of these tools are already out there – all it needs to do is draw all of these things together so that teachers and students who don’t know what is out there have easy access to the tools they need to come to grips with the connected world around them.
I mean, the biggest and best VLE in the world already exists – it’s called the Internet. It does, however, suffer from one very significant problem (that is only going to get worse), and that is that its size and lack of order can make it a scary place. This is the problem that VLEs need to overcome – they need to be the sieve that helps us filter out the useful from the useless, the factual from the fictional. That in itself would be a lesson worth its weight in gold. And that’s a lot of gold.