The Ten Commandments of the VLE

This morning I went to my old school to talk to a group of trainee teachers about making the most of online spaces for teaching and learning. My old school is now a training school for student teachers, and is the Lead School in the local Catholic Teaching Alliance, a group of schools who provide school-led training through School Direct.

This year’s intake for Secondary trainees delightfully included several former pupils of mine, who’d been my guinea pigs in my early Moodling days. However, I’d gone back to talk in general about teaching online, e-Learning and VLEs – but without the online, the e and the V  since, as many have said before, the internet is now so embedded in our day to day experiences in and out of the classroom that it’s ALL learning, wherever we are, and whatever we’re using. We began by talking about how, as a modern teacher you’d never dream of inflicting on your students a  ”Death by Powerpoint” session – so why should you think it’s OK to do it on your learning platform? It’s not.

Image Zac Martin

They then got together in pairs and discussed what they understood by certain key terms and current “buzz words” they’re likely to meet.  For my part, I was interested to learn that they were aware of “open source software” (gratifyingly from their schoolday ICT lessons) and “Flipped learning” (as they’d had a session on it previously elsewhere), but they were a bit unsure about “MOOCs” and didn’t even know how to pronounce “gamification”, although the concept appealed when they found out more. They made a valiant stab at “App smashing”  and even “Social constructionism”, which I threw in as a teaser for later on.

Following a five minute dash through 20 years of internet-based education, from early LMS incarnations such as WebCT to modern “lite” versions like Edmodo, I then asked them to think about what they might include in whatever online space they might have in their future school. It might not be Moodle; it might be a different learning platform, or they might  even end up going it alone…but what did they think would be useful?

“Putting on past papers and revison materials”, “uploading the worksheets we did in class so they don’t lose them”, “showing them videos” and “linking to  useful websites for our topic” were the (fairly predictable) suggestions from the group. This lent itself beautifully to my explaining the difference in Moodle between resources and activities, the former  being the worthy materials they thought their students would appreciate, and the latter providing  the interaction which could actually develop learning. So we looked at what VLEs and their little siblings typically offer, from discussion tools, to homework tools, to quizzes, all to a greater or lesser extent of complexity. I then  asked them in their pairs to think of examples of how using those tools in their subject might extend the learning done in their shiny new classrooms.  Self-marking quizzes were considered to be a quick way of testing subject knowledge, summative assessment, not much effort needed by the teacher….hmm… so to shake things up a bit, and add some confusion-based hilarity,  we looked at how poorly designed quiz questions can give students an unfair advantage and how to design smarter quiz questions instead.  They had ten  minutes to do that famous “context-free quiz” and justify their responses.

You too can answer this question!!!

Of course, along with designing good questions, you need to have informative and detailed feedback. (In fact you need feedback everywhere, on everything – check out this slide from Martin Dougiamas’ recent keynote speech  ”Give feedback on the feedback” )

slide – Martin Dougiamas (click to see keynote as pdf)

Moodle’s quiz lets you give detailed feedback and more; to misquote insurance companies, “other quizzes are available” – but probably with fewer features. Which led us on to how our teachers of tomorrow planned to use their online space. If the height of their aspiration was  putting on their lesson presentations and worksheets, while that was valuable in itself, it wasn’t going to move the students forward online. If they didn’t want to move them forward online, then fine. But if they hoped to use the power of the internet to draw in  their students, engage them and get them continuing their learning once they leave the classroom, they needed to focus on stuff that gets them (as I call it) “typing and swiping”.  Cue the so-called “Martin’s Five Laws” of Social constructionism and a chance  to explain that the Moodle, at the very least, was purposefully designed to get learners building their learning together.  In their face to face environment, learners are involved in group work, pair work, collaborating on a project, presenting to the class, reflecting on their progress, giving and receiving constructive feedback. So why not also online?

Dutifully at the end of the session, I reminded them they’re training in Catholic schools in a Catholic Teaching Alliance and are hopefully a tiny bit holy… so for their deliberation and well-being we finished by considering the Ten Commandments of the VLE and why it’s in their interests to keep them:


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