By Emma Claydon
In this post we’ll be looking at how you can encourage your class to become more responsible for their learning and work productively online. It will cover:
- What is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)?
- What VLEs do?
- Why do you use one?
- How do you use it with rolling registration?
What is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or a learning platform gives you virtual access to classes, class content, tests, homework and assessments. It’s also a social space where students and teachers can interact without having to exchange contact information, which of course is important from a safeguarding point of view.
VLEs are one of the basic components of distance learning but can also be used for blended learning, which is a combination of face to face and distance learning, and that’s how I’ve been using it for the last two years. Basically, a learning platform is a safe and secure environment that is reliable, available online and easily accessible to many users.
What do VLEs do?
VLEs are mainly used for four purposes:
- Content management: This is the creation, storage, access to and use of learning resources
- Curriculum mapping and planning: This may involve lesson planning, assessment and personalisation of the learning experience
- Learner engagement and administration: This allows managed access to learner information and resources and tracking of progress and achievement
- Communication and collaboration: This can be done through emails, notices, chat, wikis and blogs.
There are plenty of functions and you can decide what you need it for and how it best meets your needs and those of your students’.
Why do you use one?
When I was doing my Grad Dip TESOL at Brighton university back in 2012, we used the VLE ‘Blackboard’ to access documents like timetables and reading lists and of course to submit our assignments. I remember thinking how easy it had made my life as I could access everything in one place. Of course this kind of access is normal these days but it was a totally different experience to when I did my undergraduate degree.
Whilst doing the Materials Design module of the Grad Dip TESOL I worked at a school that didn’t have any IWBs and I started thinking about how I could help my students to become more autonomous and do more outside of class. With such a range of IELTS resources online of varying quality, I was keen to make recommendations. I’d keep giving out web addresses and suggesting materials but with rolling registration it was hard to be consistent. So I was on the lookout for something.
At around the same time I was unable to go to IATEFL in Glasgow, so I was keenly following it on Twitter and it was Sandy Millin’s presentation ‘Go Online: Getting your students to use Internet Resources’ that first introduced me to Edmodo. You can access Sandy’s original presentation here.
As my entire class had smart phones in class or tablets / laptops at home, it didn’t matter that I had no IWB access at school, so I started using Edmodo straight away as a place to keep all of my favourite IELTS resources.
To begin with, I created an account at www.edmodo.com and then made a library of resources by adding links to folders. Then I created a group called IELTS and gave out the group code to my students. I had created my first online class and used it solely for content management purposes.
Since then I have created a number of groups including CAE, Business, General IELTS and Teachers. I’ve also worked in school that have IWBs and it’s great being able to refer to posts or resources during class as well. For more details you can watch the introductory webinar here.
Teacher’s may often reject the idea of setting up their own VLE if their institution doesn’t have one as they see it as extra work and more hassle. So yes, initially there is a small investment of time to create folders and add resources but once that’s done, maintaining it with new or interesting content is minimal.
How do you use it?
As I’ve said I use it for content management and communication purposes so I’ve organised my library into folders such as ‘Speaking’, ‘Listening’, ‘Reading’, ‘IELTS Topics’, ‘Dictionaries’ and ‘Videos’ and then added links to my favourite resources like TedTalks, Radiolab and BBC podcasts. Each time a new student joins the class I give them the access code. Once they have signed up and joined the group they can then download the free app for their phone or tablet.
So, I mainly use Edmodo for:
- Sharing resources used in class (e.g. a hand-out or sample of an essay)
- Setting homework (e.g. posting a link to a Ted Talk I want them to listen to and summarise)
- Reinforcing grammar / language / topic from the lesson (e.g. sending them a relevant news article / video)
- Promoting resources requested by students (e.g. particular language or exam strategies they wanted)
- Sending sound files from monthly speaking mock tests
- Sending reminders, notices or updates (e.g. room changes)
Students can also use it to ask the teacher or the group a question, they can also share resources they find and to have a discussion online.You can also get students to submit work online and you can track their progress. However you use it, you need to be clear on what you want it for and how it can enhance the overall learning experience. Students are able to choose their level of engagement so by controlling the content and promoting certain resources, you are guiding your students towards useful resources. Of course not all students use Edmodo and some can be reluctant at first, but when they see what others are doing they usually realise they are missing out and soon get involved.