My colleagues Sheila and Wilbert have developed five conceptual models of Distributed Learning Environment (DLE) for institutions. In the briefing paper, they discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each model and provide some examples of current applications. This timely work should be really valuable in helping institutions and educators to rethink how VLE and social software tools could be used effectively to support teaching and learning within institutions. For example, my colleague, Stephen and I in the IEC at the University of Bolton are developing a course for students who are studying a Masters degree in Educational Technology in universities in China. Both our Chinese partners and colleagues in IEC would like to explore new ways of teaching and learning in a technology enabled environment and the possibilities of developing online learning programmes collaboratively between institutions in the UK and China. At the moment, the University of Bolton is running a new Moodle elearning site and exploring how to integrate the Wookie server for plugging in various widget applications into the institutional VLE. This fits well with the “Model 1” of DLE which is illustrated in the briefing. For our Chinese online course, there are several aspects in relation to the course design and delivery and how this could be implemented through a variety of available technology:
- The course will be co-designed and co-delivered by the IEC team and our partners in China, therefore Moodle will be used to prepare and develop course material collaboratively and monitor teaching and learning process and carry out assessment.
- The course will be published online so that anyone can follow the course and join in the activities (in China or elsewhere), but only students from the partner university will be able to gain credits after successfully completing the course.
- Learners will be encouraged to critically evaluate and use social software tools outside the institution VLE to build their personal learning environments. For example, they can post their blogs on WordPress, create group collaboration sites on Wiki and build shared resource collections with Delicious.
- Presentations from lecturers will be pre-recorded with subtitles so that learners can watch wherever and whenever they want and hotseat sessions will be held online by using conferencing software or virtual classrooms to discuss issues with experts.
- Widgets will be used to add additional functionality to the existing VLE to enhance teaching and learning experiences online. Furthermore, some specific widget applications will be developed to support learning activities which are designed to meet particular educational purposes for the course.
To me, this course provides a good case study for exploring how an institutional VLE can be extended to provide an open and shared learning space and a protected private space for preparing the course itself and carrying out the assessment. It also presents opportunities to investigate how widgets and web-based tools can be used to support both personalised learning and collaborative teaching and learning within and beyond institutions.