Saturday, December 8, 2007

Virtual Learning Environments from Blackboards to SMARTboards

Online learning is an interesting phenomena. As I've learned of endless possibilities of teaching and learning through this course and good old blackboard now seems so stilted and artificial. There is no interaction and it takes a series of clicks to find resources related to projects or activities. In spite of being version 7.0, it is very Web 1.0 - ish (I often wonder if people think the same of other internet software platforms that I know well).

A meaningful virtual learning environment puts the learner in control. Rather than going through a series of prescribed activities, chats that are graded based on "asking meaningful questions", inserting a certain number of quotes from the reading, or writing at a graduate level, why not turn the course loose to exploration and discovery through networked communities that share common interests? Why keep students limited to one course over a prescribed time period rather than letting them jump about as their desires to discover and learn grow? Instead of a facilitator lurking in the shadows just to add a grade to discovery, why not ask leading questions that will help the learner reach his/her learning goals?

When teachers and administrators have the luxury of learning this way, leaving behind the ivory tower of inaccesible kings and queens, the classrooms and schools they lead will become dynamic, personalized networks of learning. Instead of dividing learning by catgorized subjects, these inspired educational leaders will integrate inquiry-based learning, answering and asking questions the same inquisitive way that started and fed a Renaissance in Europe. Students will not have to choose between music and athletics; rather they will see both as integral parts of their lives and cultural traditions that define their learning goals.

And while I'm dreaming, I fit into a size six dress this morning as well You'll notice that the Santa made of condoms underwent a virtual diet as well). The beauty of dreams is that they only require action-based faith - that work that is motivated as if the dream has already come true.

Interstingly, Mohamed Amine Chatti doesn't percieve a need for a top-down integrated system, rather that users understand how to blend the various resources out their for their own use. Works for me! It starts with a 3-tabbed home pages, one which is iGoogle, in Internet Explorer; it broadens to a different homepage in firefox to distinguish between personal and work-based projects. A day end ususally finds at least 5 different windows with any range of tabs in each; a track record of a schiozphrenic working and learning pattern.

David Delgado uses this visual representation to show his virtual learning environment, joined by Elgg:

I hope I have the unrelenting courage to speak to this need with my colleagues. We are in a position that approximates the influence of an educational institution. Time to put the end user/learner in the driver's seat and help them discover the tools that keep them intrigued.

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