Saturday, 24 October 2009

Web 2.0 tools in VLEs - Just not that good

I found this great slideshow.

Thanks David Hopkins for your post - Presentation: Moodle; an alternative to Blackboard for Web 2.0. (not that it's likely he will see this). The learning point for me is the around the question of using free standing Web 2.0 tools or a VLE with its own tools that could be characterised as Web 2.0. The slideshow stated, quite rightly, that an integrated tool offers less quality in terms of features but offers greater control and less risk.

The first to say is that, almost entirely, there is no choice for most higher educational institutions. They get a VLE - control and integration is a given. It's viewed mostly from a content viewpoint. Tools, web 2.0 or whatever, come secondary. I think if the learning opportunities presented by the tools were the priority there would be more consideration paid to the choice being discussed.

Moving on from that slightly depressed footnote, back to the issues of pure Web 2.0 and those integrated in VLEs. Here's the tension: Web 2.0, by definition, has a spirit of openness and sharing. VLEs are about control and walling the learning behind closed doors. You can take the mechanics of a tool like blogging, but walling it in away from the blogosphere changes its essence. The social side chopped off at the edge of the institution. This is far more of a difference that just having a few less features in the VLE version. By taking the social almost organic nature away from the concept it becomes an altogether inferior representation.

And what about the risk. Risk is always the first thing people think of - often becoming the reason for not using something. These risks are always overstated. But what is the risk in this context? I think this is what the slideshow is referring to is the risk of things breaking down or disappearing. Yes, this is true. Websites can shut down and you have no control over how they develop. However, this is rarely down without warning and there are always equivalent tools to use. Also, in the Web 2.0 world websites die for a reason - mostly because they just aren't that good. Moving to different version is probably a better option anyway. Certainly what you don't get is 90s looking interfaces and navigation that some VLEs possess (BLACKBOARD!!!!). In any case, costly VLEs with costly hosting have been known to fail. One of the ones I work on took a week off at the start of term a couple of years ago.

For any educational institutions, there's also the issue of ownership. A VLE is owned and not simply customised. A manifestation of the controlled, walled physical environment. So when I introduce an educator to a Web 2.0 tool outside the VLE, I'm chipping away at this notion. Well, I tell myself that anyway!

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