Category Archives: VLE Basics

Teaching using a VLE #3 Let your students talk to you

The 3rd thing you need to do is to put up some contact details so that students can talk to you.

Young kudu with big ears (Kenya)

The easiest way to do this is to put your email address in the course so that your students can email you.  Its also a good idea to post your office location and office hours (i.e. when you are available to talk to students)

At this stage you have pretty much covered the basics of VLE use.  You can contact your students, they can get all your course materials and they can get in touch with you.  This would be enough to use a VLE to support your face to face teaching and you could add in more advanced things when you were ready for them.

However before you go I would just like to suggest one more thing that might save you time.  Add a blog or discussion board to your course for students to ask you questions  – a lot of the questions staff receive are asked by more than one student, so rather than having to email responses to several students, you simply answer the question the first time it is asked and other students will be able to see the answer. It may also help some students who would not have contacted you but who did have the same question.

You may also find that some of your students are able to answer a question for you, thus saving you even more time.

The only thing to worry about is managing student expectations – if you only plan to check the blog/discussion board twice a week, tell the students this!  Work out how much time you want to spend supporting your students and then plan accordingly, you don’t want to be spending hours of your time on this (most discussion boards and blogs have a “subscribe” function so you can be sent emails when something is posted).

Teaching using a VLE #2 Filing cabinet in the sky

Now this is an interesting one and has been something that learning technologists have been fighting against since teaching using websites first started.

Replacement filing cabinet

When an academic is given a course space the very first thought is “Great I will put all my powerpoints online for my students”.  Because for most VLEs attaching a file is as simple as it is to attach a file to an email it doesnt take long to upload all their lecture powerpoints.

However (although an improvement on not giving students anything) just giving the students the powerpoints is not really good enough.  Below is a picture of one of the slides from a powerpoint presentation I gave a year or so ago

This additional component of Blackboard allows provision of tabs, for example the Blackboard Help and e-reserves tabs, which can be used to target information at particular user groups.<br />similarly modules (html squares) can be visible only to particular groups allowing us to give a very different view of the same tab to 2 different users<br />In addition "organisations" allow Blackboard functionality such as communication and other tools to be used in contexts not directly related to credit-bearing units, e.g. for faculty or programme information or student societies.

Now if you had been in the room and had been taking extensive notes you might be able to say what I was talking about here.  Similarly if you are really familiar with the Blackboard Community System it wouldn’t be to hard to work out.

For anyone else it might be a bit more difficult.  However if I also included my speaking notes either as text or audio then it becomes much easier.

So (particularly if you already have your speaking notes in digital form) you should try to upload speaking notes with any presentation.

The second big mistake is to just dump everything up in one long long page which grows and grows as you add things to it.  Its a very good idea to get pencil and paper and just spend 10 minutes sketching out a rough idea of the structure of your course – you can always change your mind later.  Also don’t have too many levels of folders, clicking “lectures, Maths, Algebra, Polynomials, homework” would be rather annoying for your students.

The last common mistake (although I am seeing this a lot less often these days) is to

  • Create your first item – called “Week 1” attach a powerpoint called pres1 (with speaking notes called notes1)
  • Second item – “Week 2”, pres2, notes2
  • Third – “Week 3”, pres3, notes3
  • etc

The big problem with this approach is that it doesnt tell the students anything about what was covered in that week.  At a minimum give it an appropriate title, ideally include a description so it would look something like this

“Global Warming”
This week we look at the effects of global warming on British weather, why does a warmer planet mean more rain for the UK
Global.ppt, Globalnotes.doc

So in Summary

  • Plan a sensible structure
  • Give things appropriate names and descriptions
  • Remember you are not there to explain things so if something doesn’t make sense on its own add supporting documents
  • If you use something with your students, put it on the VLE so they can find it later

Teaching using a VLE #1 Talk to your Students!

I am going to write a short series of Blogs posts laying out what I think should be considered when using Technology (particularly Virtual Learning Environments) to teach.

Some of this will be stating the obvious and (if you are reading this blog) will be something you already know or do, but I want to start from the very basics.

So – the very first thing is to plan what key messages you are going to tell your students during the course.  You probably already know these they are the kind of things you would say at the beginning or end of a face to face session

Talk face

e.g. Dont forget field trip next week, Remember we have a test on tuesday, there is a documentary on TV this week that you should watch

Some of these you will know at the start of the course, some will come up during the teaching cycle.  You want to aim for 1 (or more) a week so your students have a reason to visit your course, which should help encourage student engagement with the wider course materials and build a sense of staff presence in the course.

Interestingly I was planning to link to some research/evidence that communicating to your students regularly helps with retention and attainment (see Ben Goldacre on why education should use evidence more) but I couldn’t find any – if anyone can please add it in a comment 🙂

I am guessing that telling your students things is so obviously helpful that no-one has ever thought to measure how helpful it is.