25 Years of EdTech: 2009 – Twitter

[Continuing the 25 Years of Ed Tech series]

If the VLE was the big cheese of ed tech, then Twitter is the behemoth of third party tech that has been adopted in education. There’s probably too much that can be said about Twitter to do the subject justice, but it would be remiss to leave it out of my 25 years account. Founded in 2006, Twitter had moved well beyond the tech-enthusiast bubble by 2009 but had yet to become what we know it as today: a tool for wreaking political mayhem. With the trolls, bots, nazis, daily outrages, and generally toxic behaviour not only on Twitter but also on Facebook and other social media, it’s difficult to recall the optimism that we once held for these technologies. In 2009, though, the ability to make global connections, to easily cross disciplines, and to engage in meaningful discussion all before breakfast was revolutionary.

There was also a democratizing effect: formal academic status was not significant, since users were judged on the value of their contributions to the network. In educational terms, social media has done much to change the nature of the relationship between academics, students, and the institution. Even though the negative aspects are now undeniable, some of that early promise remains. What we are now wrestling with is the paradox of social media: the fact that its negatives and its positives exist simultaneously.

In education, much of the attention has focused on its use by educators to develop online identities. Step forward George Veletsianos, Bonnie Stewart, Katy Jordan, Catherine Cronin and Cristina Costa amongst many others who have made this a really rich area of research. The paradoxes are evident in much of this work also: educators use it to enhance their work, share resources, gain information, develop networks, but also feel stress, uncertainty and pressure relating to its use.

The use of Twitter to teach is perhaps less well documented. At the OU my colleague Andrew Smith does some interesting work in using it to create a community for distance ed students, and the very successful #PhDchat hashtag has been used to create a global, informal community. It is now part of the mainstream of university communication channels, and often integrated into support functions also. But it’s effective use in education is still often an isolated practice – and given its issues maybe that’s a good thing, as mandating or privileging any use comes with myriad issues.

As with Facebook, one of the issues students found in using a social media platform where they combine their personal and academic identity, they suffer from ‘context collapse‘. One minute you’re discussing the best place to get cheap lager, and the next your professor has popped up saying ‘here’s an interesting article on Derrida’. It’s disconcerting. But this is a reflection of what Twitter does for education as a whole – the context between the university and the rest of society is collapsed. That may be no bad thing generally, but when it means flat earthers arrive in your geology discussion to insist the world is not, you know, round, it raises problems which we are still incapable of solving. Twitter context collapse is like one of those black hole visualisations – cat pictures, sports discussion, funny memes, feminist movements, supportive communities, nazi trolls, conspiracy theorists – they’re all collapsing in and in this academia is one small part. Regaining and retaining its own sense of identity and values while deriving some of the benefits of context collapse – that’s the challenge.

Models of online & flexible learning

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been doing some work with Dominic Orr and Rob Farrow in behalf of the ICDE, looking at various models of open, online and flexible technology enhanced learning (what we labelled OOFAT). The full report is out now, and I humbly suggest it is the best (OOFAT) report you will ever read.

When ICDE set out this work they were very clear about two principles: it should address the range of how open, online and flexible models are being used, and every institution should be able to recognise themselves in the model. So, in contrast to many types of ed tech analysis it is not proposing one perfect solution which all should aspire, nor is it based on some uber high tech start-up in California. The intention was to be disgustingly practical.

With this in mind we developed a conceptual model, and an in depth survey. From this, we devised six OOFAT models, which represented how institutions globally were adopting aspects of OOFAT:

  • OOFAT at the centre, where OOFAT is not implemented for one specific purpose, or market, but as an integral part of the institution’s overall mission
  • OOFAT for organisational flexibility, where OOFAT supports flexibility of higher education provision across all aspects of the conceptual model
  • content-focused OOFAT model, where providers concentrate on the element of content development and delivery specifically
  • access-focused OOFAT model, where access to content and support is set as the focus of OOFAT implementation
  • OOFAT for a specific purpose, where OOFAT implementation is developed for one very specific function or market and not right across the institution
  • OOFAT for multiple-projects, where very different initiatives are undertaken by the provider experimenting with different aspects of the OOFAT model and not as part of a unified strategy

Allied with what providers were doing was their business model underlying it. We identified five of these:

  • Fixed core model, where providers maintain a legacy approach to their products and services and to their target market, although they may be innovating in other areas
  • Outreach model, where providers maintain the same products and services, but are innovating in the dimensions of target group recruitment and utilising new communication channels
  • Service-provider model, where providers maintain a focus on their target group whilst particularly innovating in the areas of product and service and communication channels
  • Entrepreneurial model, where providers adopt innovative strategies for the areas product and service, target group and communication channel, i.e. they aim to be transformative in their services and provision
  • Entrepreneurial model with fixed core, where providers maintain a legacy focus to their core services (teaching and learning), but focus on being innovative in all other areas

For me the key to the report is section 9, which combines the theoretical model and findings to offer a step by step guide for any institution to review their own strategy. This starts by reviewing their current approach (ie which of the 6 OOFAT models is the best fit), then asks them to consider which model they would like to move to (using a database of the case studies to help). Finally the appropriate business model is selected to realise this. I think the most important aspect in this is not that our models are exhaustive (they’re not) or the only representation, but rather that the model itself and this way step by step guide surfaces conversations about the practical adoption of technology and open models which are not value laden. It is not that one model is ‘better’ but rather in order to best meet the needs of any institution and its learners there are different approaches. Having a framework within which you can have these conversations which is devoid of silicon valley economics and digital buzzwords is the real takeaway from the report.

Emotions, artefacts and education

Books galore

I’ve been having bits of this conversation with various people, so I’m going to try blogging it as a way of clarifying the mess in my head (a little).

During the recent OU Crisis™ one of the elements that kept arising on twitter discussions was students and staff saying the shift to online was flawed, and there was a strong preference for books. Similarly, in nearly all of our student surveys the components of a course that score the highest satisfaction are printed units. As one of the early proponents of online education at the OU, I used to resist this narrative, dismissing it as people sticking with what they know. But I have come to rethink that over the years.

The argument is often couched in terms of pedagogy, and the big benefit touted for print was being able to study on the move (the “OU student studying on the bus” became something of an overworked cliche). But with fairly pervasive mobile devices and access, that argument doesn’t carry as much weight now (there are some groups, eg learners in prisons for whom print if often beneficial). And yes, many students find reading off screen difficult. But that is partly habit and partly poor design if we are creating courses that are the equivalent of printed units online. Generally, the pedagogic benefits of online and digital for distance ed students are superior. I’m not making a claim about face to face campus education here, but a similar fondness for face to face tutorials over online ones can also be found as for print over online. The problem is attendance at online is far higher than face to face – so what people say they like and their behaviour are not necessarily the same thing. It’s a bit like opera – I like the fact that it exists, but I’m going to be found watching Netflix.

But I think these sorts of arguments, while valid, dismiss a very significant factor of being a (distance ed) student – namely the emotive element. As I’ve mentioned before, I started re-collecting vinyl recently. I could make an argument that it is about audio quality, which would be analogous to the pedagogy argument for print, but let’s be honest, it is an entirely emotional attachment to an artefact. I like having the physical object, just as some people need to have a physical book in order to feel they have read it. We should not dismiss or underplay the importance of this in education.

To consider the role of this emotional aspect, let’s look at just one issue, namely student retention, although we might think of performance, satisfaction or skills also. We know for instance, that students who form social bonds with others are more likely to complete their studies. We also know that student retention is lower for online courses as compared to courses utilising traditional methods of delivery. Chyung, Winiecki & Fenner found that the main factor which contributed to the decision on whether to continue or withdraw was the student’s level of satisfaction with the first or second course in the programme. Specific reasons for withdrawal included:

  1. dissatisfaction with the learning environment
  2. divergence between professional and personal interest and the structure of the course
  3. low confidence in distance learning
  4. hesitations about successfully communicating online
  5. lack of competence in utilising distance education software
  6. feeling overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge and information

Now a text book or printed unit that a student feels a connection to could help address 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 in that list. A text is something students feel familiar with already, and by establishing an emotional connection with the content of the course, they might overcome any subsequent issues.

It’s not the case that we should shift to print, and for instance, it might be different at Masters level than at level 1. Online probably _is_ better to realise many of the pedagogic benefits of distance learning, but the emotional attachment, comfort, security and manifestness of a physical object can usefully help support the online aspect. This might be the most important benefit that open textbooks could offer – making high quality, adapted textbooks economically viable to provide the benefits of the physical artefact, even if most of the actual teaching and learning then takes place online.

25 Years of EdTech: 2008 – eportfolios

B is for Buzzcocks

[Continuing the 25 Years of Ed Tech series]

Like learning objects, e-portfolios were backed by a sound idea. The e-portfolio was a place to store all the evidence a learner gathered to exhibit learning, both formal and informal, in order to support lifelong learning and career development. It is an idea that has significant impact for education – instead of recognising education at the level of qualification, ie that it is a degree in Chemistry, say, it allows a more granular recognition of specific skills, linked to evidence.

But like learning objects — and despite academic interest and a lot of investment in technology and standards — e-portfolios did not become the standard form of assessment as proposed, although in some areas their uptake has gained significance. Many of their problems were similar to those that beleaguered learning objects, including overcomplicated software, an institutional rather than a user focus, and a lack of accompanying pedagogical change. I went on a rant about them in 2011, and I think these issues still remain:

Over-complication – because we are developing software to suit a range of stakeholders, feature creep becomes inevitable. The question of ‘how simple can we make it’ is not one that is usually asked. So for eportfolios we find we need new standards to export and move between institutions, ways of locking down items so they can be verified, means of providing different views for different audiences, etc. In a blog the answers to these problems are already in place.

Institutional, not user focus – a related point is that we end up developing solutions that are sold or selected by institutions (see also VLEs). An institution has a very different set of requirements to an individual. However, if you want eportfolios to work, then it’s individuals that need to like them and be motivated to use them. This emanates from an institutional tic, which is the need to own and control systems and data.

Focus on the tool, not the skills – having developed our overly complex, institutionally focused tool, it now requires a good deal of training for students to use it, since it isn’t very intuitive, and they didn’t know they wanted it anyway. So it becomes a tool that is focused around a particular course, often with credit attached to it. In short it becomes a tool used inside education only. There is little focus on the more general skills which are actually the main benefits: sharing content, gathering and annotating resources as you go, becoming part of a network, reflecting on work, commenting on others, etc. In short, the sort of skills that make for a good blogger.

Lack of social element – the eportfolio often becomes institutionally branded and focused, and because it is has been designed by educational technologists who are probably a bit sniffy about all this social software business, doesn’t allow for much of the easy social elements found elsewhere. This can be functional (eg is embedding easy), but more often it is cultural – the culture of blogging is one of openness and reciprocity, whereas eportfolios are tied into a more academic culture of individualism, plagiarism and copyright. In this environment the social element does not flourish.

Educational arrogance – maybe arrogance is too strong a term, but eportfolios demonstrate a common mistake (in my view) in educational technology, which goes something like “Here’s some interesting software/tool/service which does most of what we want. But it’s not quite good enough for higher education, let’s develop our own version with features X and Y”. In adding features X and Y though they lose what was good about the initial tool, and take a long time. Blogs are good enough for eportfolios, if what you want from an eportfolio is for people to actually, you know, use them.

Although e-portfolio tools remain pertinent for many subjects, particularly vocational ones, for many students owning their own domain and blog remains a better route to establishing a lifelong digital identity. It is perhaps telling that although many practitioners in higher education maintain blogs, asking to see a colleague’s e-portfolio is likely to be met with a blank response, whereas we can all find colleagues with active blogs. But if we consider eportfolios as an instantiation of a more general approach of rethinking assessment and recognition, and then reimagining courses and pedagogy to take utilise this, then they are more interesting.

[If you want a different 2008 take, Jim Groom offers up edupunk for that year].

25 Years of EdTech: 2007 – SecondLife

[Continuing the 25 Years of Ed Tech series]

Online virtual worlds and Second Life had been around for some time, with Second Life launching in 2003, but they begin to see an upsurge in popularity around 2007. Colleges and universities began creating their own islands, and whole courses were delivered through Second Life. While the virtual worlds had strong devotees, they didn’t gain as much traction with students as envisaged, and most Second Life campuses are now deserted. Partly this was a result of a lack of imagination: they were often used to re-create an online lecture. The professor may have been represented by a seven-foot-tall purple cat in that lecture, but it was a lecture nonetheless. Virtual worlds also didn’t manage to shrug off their nerdy, role-playing origins, and many users felt an aversion to this. Interestingly these Dungeons & Dragons roots for ed tech keep recurring, when CMC was new, we had MUDs and MOOs. I’m not disparaging this, I’ve read as much Gary Gygax as the next nerd. But when these roots are so evident, it can be a barrier to those who aren’t so inclined. What this raises is the question of scalability – does every ed tech have to be suitable for everyone? Does it matter if some people feel put off by it? Does this advantage some groups and disadvantage others? These are genuine questions, and SecondLife is not special in facing them.

The technology could be glitchy as well, which meant that many people never made it off Orientation Island in Second Life. The problem here then is that the technology becomes a focus, the predominant topic of conversation. That is fun to explore if ed tech is your interest, but do the technology issues and the nature of the different environment get in the way when you’re teaching calculus, say?

However, with the success of virtual and augmented reality such as Minecraft and Pokémon Go, more robust technology, and more widespread familiarity with avatars and gaming, virtual worlds for learning may be one of those technologies due for a comeback. Like many other applications of ed tech, the pattern may be one of over-enthusiastic initial adoption, when it is applied as a universal tool, to more selective appropriate application now that enough general familiarity with the technology has be acquired.

The stuff ain’t enough

Fireside Chat#2

UNESCO have a call out for responses to their Draft OER Recommendations. I will post something there, but when I was considering it, the recommendations touched on a bigger problem that I feel is repeatedly overlooked in OER, which is that the resources are a necessary starting point, but they are not an end point. Particularly if your goal is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education
and promote lifelong opportunities for all”, then it is the learner support that goes around the content that is vital.

And on this, the recommendations are largely silent. There is a recommendation to develop “supportive policy” but this is focused on supporting the creation of OER, not the learners. Similarly the “Sustainability models for OER” are aimed at finding ways to fund the creation of OER. I think we need to move beyond this now. Obviously having the resources is important, and I’d rather have OER than nothing, but unless we start recognising, and promoting, the need for models that will support learners, then there is a danger of perpetuating a false narrative around OER – that content is all you need to ensure equity. It’s not, because people are starting from different places. The sorts of learners you might envisage using OER in an equitable, lifelong learning scenario often lack the confidence or necessary learning skills to make effective use of them. I’ve blogged about costs in relation to MOOCs, but it bears repeating for OER – supporting students is by far the most expensive part of open education. But it is also the most impactful. So, if UNESCO really want to realise their aim of equitable education, they should foreground the need for support to accompany OER, otherwise it’s more of the ‘build it and they will learn’ fallacy.

25 Years of Edtech: 2006 – Web 2.0


(All you needed for a web 2.0 business was a logo, a disregard for users’ data, an aversion to vowels and a business plan that ended with “Get bought out”)

[Continuing the 25 Years of Ed Tech series]

The “web 2.0” tag gained popularity from Tim O’Reilly’s use in 2005, but not until around 2006 did the term begin to penetrate in educational usage, for example, this piece by Bryan Alexander highlighting the relevance of social and open aspects of its application. From one perspective it was simply a practical term to group together the user-generated content services, including YouTube, Flickr, and blogs. But it was also more than just a useful term for a set of technologies; it seemed to capture a new mindset in our relation to the internet. In his essay, O’Reilly set out the seven principles of web 2.0, which some took to be commandments handed down in stone (2.0) and the web 2.0 boom took off—followed by the consequent bust (it transpired that you did need a business plan after all).

Just as the fascination with e-learning had seen every possible term prefixed with “e,” so the addition of “2.0” to any educational term in the late 2000s made it fashionable. The collapse of the web 2.0 boom, and problems with some of the core concepts meant that by 2009 it was being declared dead. Inherent in much of the web 2.0 approach was a free service, which inevitably led to data being the key source for revenue, and gave rise to the oft quoted line that if you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product. As web 2.0 morphed into social media, the inherent issues around free speech and offensive behaviour came to the fore. In educational terms this raises issues about duty of care for students, recognising academic labor and marginalised groups. In the ‘anyone can make a web 2.0 business’ rush, the privileged Bro culture of Silicon Valley was reinforced. The utopia of web 2.0 turned out to be one with scant regard for employment laws, diversity or social responsibility. Get big numbers of users quickly and get bought out by Google was the only business model that really survived, and in that case, you don’t care about building long term relationships with a community.

Nevertheless, at the time, web 2.0 posed a fundamental question as to how education conducts many of its cherished processes. I wrote a rather pretentious paper on the implications of web 2.0 on Higher ed (what was I on with phrases like “the Topography of Formality”?), but some of the questions raised here are still relevant. Peer review, publishing, ascribing quality — all of these were founded on what David Weinberger referred to as filtering on the way in rather than on the way out. While the quality of much online content was poor, there was always an aspect of what was “good enough” for any learner. With the demise of the optimism around web 2.0, many of the accompanying issues it raised for higher education have largely been forgotten. But they were never really addressed, for instance while the open repository for physics publications, arXiv, and open access methods to publication became mainstream, the journal system is still dominant, and largely based on double blind, anonymous peer review.

Everyone (including me) is rather embarrassed now by the enthusiasm they felt for web 2.0 at the time, like one of those films that loads of people froth over and then a year later, deny ever liking (I’m looking at you La La Land). While this is understandable given the ridiculous hype that accompanied it, and the more we’ve come to appreciate the associated problems, there are still some core issues in terms of practice that education could benefit from, if they were stripped of the venture capital context. Integrating the participatory culture that web 2.0 brought to the fore is still a challenge and an opportunity for higher education.

25 Years of EdTech – 2005: Video

YouTube icon

[Continuing the 25 Years of Ed Tech series]

YouTube was founded in 2005, which already seems surprisingly recent, so much has it become a part of the cultural landscape. As internet access began to improve and compression techniques along with it, the viability of streaming video reached a realistic point for many by 2005. YouTube and other video sharing services flourished, and the realisation that you could make your own video and share easily was the next step in the democratisation of broadcast that had begun with the web. While its use in education was often restricted to broadcast, this was instantiation probably comes closest to the original learning objects concept. As the success of the Khan Academy illustrates, simple video explanations of key concepts that can be shared and embedded easily met a great educational demand.

However, the use of video by students in higher education is still not a standard assessment form. This may be one area where secondary education performs better, with group video projects common place. In some disciplines such as the arts it is more common, but in 2018, it is still the case that text is the dominant communication form in education. While courses such as DS106 have innovated in this area, many students will go through their education without being required to produce a video as a form of assessment, and we have not fully developed the critical structures for this medium that are accepted for text. We know what a good essay looks like, but are less sure on what constitutes a good video (perhaps we need someone to reclaim it). But it remains an area that allows for creativity and fun for students.

For academics, the ability to be a broadcaster was appealing. Unfortunately, talking head videos are rarely exciting, and once the novelty had worn off, it was clear that skills relating to video production were required. But even so, the threshold to entry was dramatically lowered. You could now produce nice videos to accompany a paper, which might reach different audiences, or live stream conferences to amplify the event, or embed video teaching content in your course, or create video blogs. The use of video is still done poorly more often than it is done well, and for your own sanity never look at the comments on YouTube, but it has become a valuable additional tool for educators, learners and researchers since its democratisation in 2005. Except this one, which is rubbish:

Sensible Ed Tech

Looks historic in black & white!

Following the OU’s recent tribulations I have reflected that, as an ed tech academic, much of it was related to the implementation, or the perception of, technology in teaching. In this the OU is not alone – increasingly the strategy of any HEI is determined in part (sometimes a very large part) by its relationship with technology. And herein lies a problem. Most VCs, Principals, Rectors, and senior managers are not well grounded in ed tech. It is also an area which is subject to extreme views (for and against), often based on emotion, romance, and appeals to ego. I would like to therefore propose a new role: Sensible Ed Tech Advisor. Job role is as follows:

  • Ability to offer practical advice on adoption of ed tech that will benefit learners
  • Strong BS detector for ed tech hype
  • Interpreter of developing trends for particular context
  • Understanding of the intersection of tech and academic culture
  • Communicating benefits of any particular tech in terms that are valuable to educators and learners
  • Appreciation of ethical and social impact of ed tech

(Lest that sound like I’m creating a job description for myself, I didn’t add “interest in ice hockey” at the end, so you can tell that it isn’t)

An example of this came by way of a post from Tony Bates after a keynote at the OU. I respect Tony a lot, and I think many MOOC providers would be well served to read his work, particularly on costs of elearning. But I think he got this wrong, and it captures some of the reason why the Sensible Ed Tech role is required. Tony talks about a ‘fixation on print as the ‘core’ medium/technology’. This seems a very outdated view of an institution which has a large Moodle developer community, supports over 100,000 online learners, has all courses online, has won awards for it’s OpenStem Lab, has millions of visitors a year to OpenLearn, etc. I would also add that the OU has a team model for course production, so whilst any academic may be print focussed, their views will be mitigated by other academics, the learning design team, and learning technology specialists, which means a course does not end up as just the embodiment of one perspective.

This isn’t (just) me being huffy about not acknowledging this, but rather this mischaracterisation of the problem itself becomes part of the problem. The previous VC kept talking about digital by design, as if in contrast to an analogue by design approach currently. That simply wasn’t the case (as someone who has studied 2 OU masters, and worked across all faculties with the Learning Design project, print isn’t as foregrounded as this attitude makes out). It is certainly true that some disciplines do have a print preference, and Tony is correct to say that often a print mentality is transferred to online. But what this outdated view (it was probably true 10-15 years ago) suggests is a ‘get digital or else’ mentality. Rather, I would argue, we need to acknowledge the very good digital foundation we have, but find ways to innovate on top of this.

If you are fighting an imaginary analogue beast, then this becomes difficult. For instance, Tony does rightly highlight how we don’t make enough use of social media to support students, but then ignores that there are pockets of very good practice, for example the OU PG Education account and the use of social media in the Cisco courses. Rolling these out across the university is not simple, but it is the type of project that we know how to realise. But by framing the problem as one of wholesale structural, cultural change starting from a zero base, it makes achieving practical, implementable projects difficult. You can’t do that small(ish) thing until we’ve done these twenty big things. And those big things (or big shifts if you like) are much more appealing to the ego of senior management (and cynically, look better on a CV). So, step forward Sensible Ed Tech Advisor, who whispers, rather like John Le Mesurier in Dad’s Army “do you think that’s wise?” (do I win most up to date cultural reference with that?).

I would also suggest that the sort of “get on the ed tech bus or else” argument that Tony puts forward is outdated, and ineffective (I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past). And as Audrey Watters highlights tirelessly, an unsceptical approach to ed tech is problematic for many reasons. Far more useful is to focus on specific problems staff have, or things they want to realise, than suggest they just ‘don’t get it’. Having an appreciation for this intersection between ed tech (coming from outside the institution and discipline often) and the internal values and culture is also an essential ingredient in implementing any technology successfully.

25 Years of EdTech – 2004: VLE

It’s 2004 and the big cheese of Ed Tech is finally here – the VLE (or if you’re American – pants, I mean, LMS). Like many practitioners in ed tech, I have an ambiguous relationship with VLEs. They are a bit like the boring, faithful hound when a new puppy arrives. Everyone is excited by the new thing, and the old dog is in the corner with its flatulence wondering why no-one is making a fuss.

The VLE provided an enterprise solution for elearning for providers. It stands as the central elearning technology, despite frequent proclamations of its demise. Prior to the VLE, elearning provision was realised through a variety of tools, for instance a bulletin board for communications, a content management system and home created web pages. The quality of these solutions was variable, often relying on the enthusiasm of one particular devotee. The combination of tools would also vary across any one university, with the Medical School adopting a different set of tools to engineering, which varied again from Humanities, and so on. As elearning became more central to the provision, both for blended learning and fully online, this variety and reliability became more of an issue. The VLE offered a neat collection of the most popular tools, any one of which might not be as good as the best of breed specific tool, but good enough (the good enough wins out being a recurring theme in ed tech). It allowed for a single, enterprise solution with associated training, technical support and helpdesk to be implemented. The advantage of this was that elearning could be progressed more quickly across an entire institution. However, over time this has come to seem something of a Faustian pact, with institutions finding themselves locked into contracts with vendors, and famously providers such as Blackboard attempting to file restrictive patents. More problematically, the VLE has come to be the only route to delivering elearning in many institutions, with a consequent loss of expertise and innovation.

In 2004 I became the OU’s first (and some might say, worst) VLE Director. We had precisely the issue of diverse provision, with an in-house system for course content, the FirstClass conference system and a variety of other tools. Advocates of these will insist they are better than any VLE, but after a review, we opted for the Moodle platform. This permitted enough customisation while providing an agreed infrastructure. The OU has been a great contributor to the Moodle community, and the adoption of a VLE really accelerated our uptake of elearning (I don’t want to hark on about this, but we were a digital university long ago, if people cared to look). But, like many universities, the effort in developing, maintaining, training on the VLE is a large drain on resources, which is often related to the associated structures and admin around it. It’s an unsexy role often, making sure stuff works for thousands of students, and it doesn’t get the credit it deserves in ed tech circles. But there is a balance to be struck between allowing freedom, innovation and experimentation and the core functions. It may be a question of time – education moves slowly, and now that we are at a level of stability with the VLE, more experimentation can happen around the fringes. It’s not trendy, but we should give the VLE respect, and a little love.

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