Virtual learning environments are too often little more than a “repository for PowerPoint slides” and fail to enthuse students, a seminar has heard.
A technology-themed Westminster Higher Education Forum event was told that universities should consider using social media or business-orientated software to engage with students instead.
Peter Tinson, executive director of the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association, said that there was “a lot of bad use of VLEs”. Too many are “a repository for PowerPoint slides and the like”, he said. “It’s almost [as if] institutions said ‘you must have an online element’ and that was the response, the minimum in order to comply.”
A few universities have turned their VLEs off because they are so underused, the event heard.
In response to a suggestion that universities should engage with students on social media sites that they already used, such as Facebook, Mr Tinson said that students were “reticent” to allow their institutions to “meet them in their space”. The focus should be on tying use of VLEs to pedagogical innovation, he argued.
But Lawrie Phipps, senior co-design manager at Jisc, said that the response to using social media for academic purposes was “more nuanced” when universities presented it as an opportunity to learn and connect with coursemates, not lecturers.
Mr Phipps added that VLEs were never used in the workplace, where sharing platforms such as SharePoint and Google Apps were more common. “We need to start using more of the technologies that are in the workplace,” he said.
The event, held on 24 June, also debated the digital capabilities of students and staff.
Mr Tinson said that undergraduates were “always online but rarely possess the skills to use the technology effectively in their learning”. Similarly, staff need to understand how to use technology to develop new teaching and assessment models.
The solution, Mr Tinson suggested, was to make digital skills training credit-bearing for students, and to incorporate digital activities into academics’ performance reviews.