English staff and duo - Home
At the start of 2001-02, many of us had little or no concept of
what a VLE was. Although all departments had been circulated with
introductory information about the VLE, the print-outs had not grabbed
our attention, and had failed to give us any impression that we were
looking at something relevant to English teaching. Those of us who
had noticed them at all had taken 'Blackboard' to be purely a tool
for administrators, and none of us had felt moved to sign up for
one of the early training courses. Our office staff, similarly, had
assumed that the system was designed solely for lecturers and had
seen nothing particularly useful in it for them.
During the previous year, a few of us had slowly become aware of the existence
of duo through students' comments, and through hearing colleagues
mention it in other departments; but its possibilities only came
alive when one of us saw it demonstrated on a training course.
That the university technologies team has been very active in attempting
'outreach' into the more indifferent departments suggests that
we were not the only ones slow to respond.
'If you don't really know your way around it, you assume
it's no use.'
(Postgraduate teaching assistant)
Responses to initial proposal
Proposals for introducing the VLE stirred up various currents of apprehension
in the department. Previous IT ventures had been purely of an individual nature, whereas the proposed project
would potentially affect everyone. However, we realised that, as
other departments were already fully engaged with the platform,
we could not insulate ourselves for ever. During the project, we
emphasised the freedom of individuals to use the system at any
level, and highlighted its course-management aspects rather than
its 'e-learning' elements.
Survey Summary - Responses
to introduction of VLE
Our survey of colleagues in March 2003, some eighteen months after
these first debates, shows that apprehensions have not entirely
gone away. The survey included some colleagues who had been absent
on research fellowships during the introduction of duo, so may
also represent the responses of those at an earlier stage of encounter.
Whereas much of the encouragement to use VLEs highlights 'innovation',
our responses suggest that the hope of creating more time is of
more immediate import. We avoided questions (sometimes seen on
more general e-learning questionnaires) that premised a deficit
in non-VLE approaches: e.g. 'I hoped it would improve my teaching'
or even 'How has the VLE improved your teaching?'. We offered instead
'..is giving me ideas for working in new ways' - a question which
encompasses course management. Teachers who have always reflected
on their teaching and value and imaginative approaches rightly
feel offended at implications that using a VLE will be a road-to-Damascus moment in their pedagogical development. They might well
feel, besides, that it is the day-to-day pressures (including 'new initiatives')
which take time away from teaching and deplete the energies.
These views --positive and negative -- were not confined to single individuals,
but were shared by members of the project team and expressed by
other staff in informal feedback.
Negative views included the following:
- counter to the model of learning on offer (we are not distance providers
and should not imply that a VLE is a substitute for face-to-face
- counter to staff's individual practices - especially the perceived
requirement to produce handouts in electronic form - no time!
- health (yet more time spent in front of a monitor and using key-board)
'I'd be reluctant . . . for students to feel they don't
need to come into the department. There are advantages
in coming in . . .'
Colleagues saw duo as potentially very useful to students, but in perceptions
about its value as a teaching support, the following featured strongly:
- prospect of easy use
- swift communication with groups
'Course-building can also be a pleasure; it can be a
form of recreation.'
Signpost: Although many experienced
VLE users report that creating electronic resources for students
is immensely time-consuming, the message from our survey is more
optimistic: that, provided you keep it
simple, using a VLE to manage
a course can save you time.
'It's very easy to use. I had a fair amount of confidence with
computers before, but I've undertaken no formal training.
If anyone does have a fair amount of confidence with
computers, they'll find duo has many useful features.
There's a very useful range of facilities, for example,
being able to direct email to single users, selected
students, or the whole lot. It's very useful to me as
a part-time tutor and is tremendously time-saving. I
can circulate material before a lecture and it saves
me having to come in to the photo-copier.'
(Visiting part-time colleague)