The spread of the internet has affected all areas of learning.
This website is an obvious example but the demands made on educators
in the face of the new technologies and their applications are
such that there is need for some guidance. Since such guidance
is essential if we are to be effective it follows that such
a text can be of value to ecological and environmental educators.
In fact since so much ecological material is available online
texts like this should be seen as essential rather than adjunct
basic premise of the text is that virtual learning environments
(VLEs) are a key part of modern university work (and by extension,
preparation in senior schools) and that all academics need to
know how they work and how they can enhance the learning experience.
This is far more than a nice website - it is a fundamental re-design
of how we interact with students, colleagues and the knowledge
systems we use currently. It's also worth saying at this stage
that there's very little that can be done through technology
that can't be achieved through standard human interaction but
the difference is in the quality of delivery and ease of operation.
To some extent, this line is the subject of the opening chapter
which seeks to draw the reader into the terminology and concepts
of VLEs (including a bewildering array of terms). Chapter two
moves on to see VLEs as part of the same innovation curve that
other products follow. It argues as well for some carefully
thought out plans before rather than after rolling out a VLE
to ensure it survives. Chapter three gets down to planning by
showing some of the (generic) tools that can be used to create
a VLE and the range of stakeholders this will involve. It also
discusses the ways in which pedagogy is affected by choice of
VLE. Chapter four takes the VLE into the outside world where
it meets the social networking and communications technologies
that our students take for granted but which many educators
are less sanguine about using. It's clear that we must embrace
or at least acknowledge the wealth of communication modes there
are and that they already influence our students. What's important
now is that some decision is made. Chapter five helps in this
respect by outlining some of the factors that need to be taken
into account and the people whose needs should be considered.
VLEs are not islands but are connected to other institutional
systems. Chapter six describes some of these and argues for
the VLE to be put in proper context. This means that a decision
must be made and that ad-hocracy does not produce a robust system!
Chapter 7 delves into the murkier world of standards and specifications
and gets the reader to consider some of the parameters they
want their system to work within. So far, discussion has focussed
on the program but of course this is just a vehicle for learning.
Bearing this in mind, chapter 8 looks at the ways in which a
learning strategy can be made that ensures outcomes are met.
Again, there's a level of planning here and this is something
that must be understood - successful learning needs a plan and
computer-based learning probably needs two! Chapter 9 looks
at a range of "open source" products. These are products
which are built by communities rather than companies. The slogan
"free as in free speech, not free as in free beer"
is appropriate because although "free" to obtain there
is an expectation to put something back into the system if possible.
Certainly this reviewers VLE of choice, Moodle, is given a brief
but reasonable assessment and the mention of a very active community
forum is a key idea. Next we move on to personalisation - the
idea that more advanced users (i.e. the university students
for whom this text is aimed) can create their own types of content
and interaction. Chapter 11 goes into some technical material
which seeks to theorise the use of the VLE in terms of the types
of pedagogical interaction it supports. The value of this is
that it expects the user to pay more attention to precisely
what is happening and what outcomes might arise from this. The
final three chapters look at some examples (the UK's Open University
being the first - fitting for an institution where alternative
modes of learning have been seen since its inception); some
future developments and the ways in which VLEs may be headed.
is an excellent introduction to a very complex subject. It's
extremely well written giving the beginner something to work
with while allowing the more experienced user to benefit from
the brief but information-packed chapters. All key areas are
covered and whilst this book won't set up your hardware it will
allow you to make better educational choices in the new technological
environments. Overall this is an excellent overview of the topic
and one which should be standard reading in all education courses.
One of the definite must-buys of the year!