Investigating the adoption of the virtual learning environment (VLE) for teaching and learning in higher education

McAvinia, Claire (2012) Investigating the adoption of the virtual learning environment (VLE) for teaching and learning in higher education. In: AISHE-Conference 2012: Responding to Change: Effective Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30th & 31st August 2012, Dublin City University, Ireland..


Recent literature in e-learning research has asserted that technologies are under-used in higher education, and that higher education institutions are failing to engage “digital native” students. Specific criticisms have been made of the virtual learning environment (VLE) as perpetuating a passive and transmission-based approach to teaching, instead of supporting constructivist and active learning methods. Meanwhile, much has been made of the power of Web 2.0 technologies to bring about the transformations in teaching and learning which the VLE has failed to deliver. This paper examines whether there is evidence to support the claims about the shortcomings of the VLE, and whether we have adequately examined the place of new technologies in campus-based institutions. Drawing on the findings of a doctoral study, the paper presents an analysis of the use of the VLE by teachers and students. Using Activity Theory (Engeström, 1987), activity systems were modelled for each group of participants in the research. The Activity Theoretic analysis showed that VLEs were being used predominantly to support existing teaching and learning activities, rather than to transform them. However, there was appropriate use of the VLE in terms of the activities of people teaching, and they were beginning to develop new ways of using the VLE to mediate their activities. These findings challenged the claims that there has been limited use of the VLE. Students constantly interacted with all of their courses via the VLE, and used it as the starting point for coursework and assessments. But students did not necessarily want greater use of technology within their courses, and technology alone was not a trigger for change in teaching and learning practices. These findings will be presented and discussed, and it will be suggested that e-learning supporters, as well as academic developers, may need to forge closer relationships with academic departments in order to identify suitable points for development which could be mediated by new technologies.

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