The title may be a misnomer – the revolution is already well under way, digital is mainstream and is everywhere. All aspects of our lives now contain some hint of digital. From grocery shopping, weather forecasts and transport to every facet of entertainment, there is some part of it that relies on and benefits from digital connectivity.
For younger generations, this is the norm – those born since the mid-nineties have not known a world without the World Wide Web. Children born in the last 10 years have grown up with the sum of all human knowledge at their fingertips. For those of us who were born in earlier times and who have seen these changes happening, it is an unfamiliar concept to try to hold to.
We may wax lyrical about the time before digital but let us not allow this to distract from what is in the here and now. Broadband speed and quality has been added to the list of essentials to check when moving house, not just gas, water and electricity. Digital has allowed us to enhance what we as humans have always done – communicate, collaborate and create.
Education is a sector that has not been the quickest to embrace digital technology – but it is now catching up and fast. Many educational establishments are using online learning platforms for schools as standard and interactive whiteboards are increasingly found in every classroom from primary school upwards. The children being taught today are already as savvy with this tech as their teachers and all levels of education must keep up with the pace of development or risk being seen as irrelevant by their students – it’s a difficult enough task to hold a classroom’s attention without this added burden.
This is why digital learning platforms and more specifically virtual learning environments are key to giving educators the best opportunities to engage and teach their students. There are things that a digital education platform can just do better than a traditional one. Channels for communication between student and teacher are part of the package and this is paramount when so much of a teacher’s time is taken away from students with non-teaching duties. Completed work is instantly accessible to teachers without students having to physically hand it in – all backed up and safe from hungry dogs. Dynamic digital learning platforms allow instant feedback for students with adaptive learning to give help where and when it’s needed. They also allow for seamless changes to the learning material and presentation for teachers. And don’t forget all that human knowledge can be embedded in most online learning platforms for schools as well as external links created to whet the appetites of the more curious so they can explore further.
More specifically for those teaching filmmaking – digital really does have to be the platform of choice. Get your students used to working this way from the very start – after all, almost every part of filmmaking happens in a digital environment, the only analogue parts happen in front of the camera.
More and more universities and schools are choosing to use Virtual Learning Environments, or “VLE”. (For those uninitiated on what these are; virtual learning environment platforms deliver learning materials to their students via the Internet. The main famous examples include Open University, Coursera and Google Classroom)
With this increasing demand in Virtual Learning Environments for teachers, we need to be weary, especially as the industry is always changing, due to how quickly technology itself is changing. Many teachers are coming up with inventive means of using VLEs, which in theory are a good way to engage with your students; they enhance the construction and reconstruction of knowledge as well as the formation of habits and attitudes, all within a framework which is increasingly common in both our personal and professional lives, the Internet!
However, as it is such a recent area of education, many studies are still investigating whether students are benefitting (in real terms) from this shifting learning landscape. The Polytechnic Institute of Bragança and the University of Minho recently conducted one such study – with the aim to find a quantifiable correlation between the use of virtual learning environments for students and those students’ performance.
Using a sample size of 6347 students, researchers investigated relations between the number of accesses to the VLE and students’ performance (quantified through 3 numerical results: the number of course units the student passed or failed, the total number of units they were registered for, and the mean of the marks they obtained).
The main findings from the report:
- The number of accesses to the VLE were diverse, ranging from 0 to 1532 per student
- There is a positive moderate correlation (0.6) between the number of accesses and the number of course units passed (i.e. The more a student accessed the VLE, the more likely they were to pass)
- However, for those that didn’t pass, there was a very low negative correlation between the number of accesses and their mean marks.
Separating the 6347 students into 5 percentile groups, based on the number of accesses to the VLE, also yields interesting results; for example, the higher the mean of the group’s accesses to the VLE, the higher:
- The number of course units in which the student is registered
- The number of units they passed
- The percentage of units they passed relative to the units they are registered in
- The percentage of course units the student passed.
It was also found that the higher the mean of the group’s accesses, the lower the percentage of students who failed all the course units is.
In must be noted that these results cannot be over-generalised, as the sample concerns only one higher education institution. However, these results show almost unanimously the positive correlation between VLE use and performance.
Read the full report here.
First things first, let’s just say it: we think that digital learning and teaching are here to stay. The use of digital technology in education might only be a recent phenomenon, but it’s one that’s already having profound effects on how we teach, how we learn and how students succeed.
So, rather than yet another piece on whether we should digitise our classrooms at all, let’s take a look at whether the change is likely to stick.
Digital and mobile learning is a reflection of a huge societal shift
Digital and mobile learning are, rightly or wrongly, taking over the classroom. Growing numbers of school boards and individual teachers are moving with the times and using digital sources to teach, and digital environments to work in. But this isn’t simply a change within education; it’s anything but. It’s a reflection of the way that society is heading more generally.
Smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs are a part of every home in a way that was unimaginable even just twenty years ago. They offer convenience and flexibility that was completely unheard of not just in education, but in nearly every aspect of life. As humans, we’re never ones to give up something convenient unless something more convenient comes along. We gave up fax in the 1990s, not because we didn’t want to communicate any more, but because email came along. So societal change isn’t going anywhere, its only likely to accelerate as it always has done.
Digital learning in the classroom is backed up by some big names
Since the digitisation of classrooms reflects not just a niche change, but a whole societal restructuring, it’s no surprise that some big names in business are sitting up and taking note. Hundreds of businesses just like Quickclass are moving with the times, and making VLEs and apps that can both help push this digital revolution forward, and help you to benefit from it.
And, naturally, it’s not just us. Probably the biggest name to have stepped into the market is Google, who are famous for trying to get their finger into almost every pie going. Google have created Google Classroom; while we don’t think it’s the best VLE out there, it’s a sign that the big guys are very interested for their own variety of reasons.
Digital learning and teaching benefit everybody
Allowing your students greater flexibility to do their work is only of benefit. It allows them to study and work wherever they choose, alter the pace of their learning to suit their needs, and even completely change how they learn. This sort of student led learning isn’t a new idea, but digital learning and teaching allows it to blossom like never before.
And the use of a virtual learning environment doesn’t just benefit students, it benefits teachers too. VLEs allow teachers to better organise their work load, share marks more easily with both students and parents, and find and share a wide variety of learning and support tools all through one interface. As we’ve said elsewhere, we believe that teachers and the digital classroom are the perfect match, and that this change is here to stay.
If you weren’t aware, Google have created their own virtual learning environment called Google Classroom. It’s a decent VLE, with a number of useful features. So far, so good!
But are we not as aware of the Google Classroom disadvantages as we should be? The New York Times recently published an article on precisely this topic, titled How Google took over the Classroom. It all sounds very dystopian, although to a teacher, it might sound like a lifesaver.
As per the reporter, a social science class in Chicago starts out with each student grabbing a Google-powered laptop, and opening Google Classroom; then they write their essays in Google Docs.  And that one school isn’t alone, because more than half of America’s primary and secondary school students use either Gmail or Google Docs. That’s an incredible thirty million children.
The benefit for students is ease of use; the benefit for teachers is to have everything under one umbrella, information shareable between devices. But what else do we get?
What do we get?
There’s no doubting that Google Classroom is a well put-together online learning platform. As a virtual learning environment goes, it has a number of excellent features. It’s accessible from any number of devices and is easy to use, has a nice clean interface, and speeds up marking and review, just like other VLEs.
Google Classroom’s virtual classroom software is also another of its advantages. If you’ve never encountered anything like that before virtual classroom software is a synchronous learning solution, or in English, a VLE that operates in real time. So, they commonly feature live chat that can be used by students and teachers, for instance. It’s designed to simulate the classroom environment, but entirely online.
Google Classroom reviews paint a mixed picture, as reviewers understand the excellent symmetry and ease of use of everything that Google offer, but others are worried about just how ubiquitous Google are becoming in class. But Google Classroom reviews shouldn’t be the only thing we judge their software on.
What’s really in it for Google?
One of the key Google Classroom disadvantages is… As an online learning platform, Google Classroom stands alone as the one with outstanding privacy concerns. Indeed, a number of Google Classroom reviews point out these privacy concerns; as do hard hitting articles on NPR  and Recode.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation lodged a complaint not too long ago with the US Federal Trade Commission, accusing Google of collecting personal data on students.  The accusation is that when students log in to Gmail with their account, they log into their YouTube and Blogger accounts at the same time. The EFF say that Google then gather that data and use it for advertisement purposes. 
The benefits are great, but the Google Classroom disadvantages are simply too serious for many schools and parents. Schools shouldn’t be a testing ground for future customers, or a place for gathering data on potential consumers. That’s why we recommend considering alternative education platforms before you go all out with Google.
This isn’t the first or the last time we’re going to extol the virtues of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) for schools. The main benefit of a VLE for teachers is that it helps you to organise all learning and course materials and cut back on the vast reams of paper we all had to wade through before. But for students, it can have a very real effect on attainment. Let’s examine what the latest research says are the main benefits of VLEs for teachers, and for students.
Different levels of access
The 2017 study The Influence of Virtual Learning Environments in Students’ Performance found that the number of times students would access the VLE varied wildly from between zero to a maximum of 1532 for the courses examined in the study. But within this range, they found that students’ use of the VLE would fall within a general set pattern: grouped into five levels, these were around 10, 60, 100, 200 and 400. This suggests that apart from a small subset, engagement with the VLE was generally good.
Now, this study was carried out at a higher education institution in Portugal. Generally, universities have so far better understood the benefits of the virtual learning environment for teachers than secondary and primary schools; so the takeaway message here is that genuine engagement really can be achieved. This is, of course, a different story in say, a secondary school; students take far more subjects, and do less self-led research than university students. But that just plays into the true benefits of a VLE.
Similar marks, but more passes overall
This particular study actually didn’t find a positive correlation between the number of accesses to the VLE, and the mean marks received on a particular course. So, for instance, whether a student accessed the VLE a hundred times or a thousand times didn’t actually affect their mark. This result certainly surprised us, but it makes sense when you think about what VLE brings to the table.
What this study did find was a correlation between the number of accesses and the number of courses passed. This suggests that students who make the most of their VLE have a broader range of success than their peers. So while the VLE didn’t help these students to achieve better grades in particular subjects, it did help them manage their workload better, so that they could take on and pass in more courses. This means that the main benefit of a VLE for teachers is that it helps students tackling a large range of subjects, all at once.
If you want to boost your students’ attainment, then, encourage their engagement with a VLE. It doesn’t have to be fun, but it does have to be useful: there has to be a good reason for students to access it. Fill it with useful information and links, things that will genuinely help your students, so that they can better deal with taking on so many subjects simultaneously.
Google aren’t satisfied with owning (and monitoring!) half the world. Google Classroom is one of their latest ventures, and it’s their first stab at e-learning and mobile learning software. It’s a decent first attempt, but we think there’s a really important thing they get wrong. The basis of any amazing VLE has to be education, education, education: but true to form, Google’s Classroom is designed with advertisers in mind just as much as students. Read on to find out exactly what we mean.
What do Google get right?
The very many tools that Google offer are popular for a reason. Typically, they bring out the best of new technological advances, and add their own twist. Take Google Drive: it was introduced in 2012, right at the beginning of the cloud revolution, and it cemented its place in the market both because of the omnipresence of Google- everyone has a Gmail account- and because of its genuine functionality. As of 2017, Google Drive holds over two trillion files and has 800 million active users.
Google’s Classroom is their attempt to force their way into the emerging VLE market. It has many of the features commonly found in virtual learning environment software, and offers the same sorts of benefits: it saves time and paper, organises classwork in one place, and enables quick and easy communication with students. The other Google Classroom pros are its simplicity- it’s very easy to navigate- and its compatibility with Google’s other apps. Apart from that, it’s all par for the course for e-learning software.
Google Classroom vs other VLEs is therefore not much more than a personal choice. Perhaps you like the idea of your students finding it easy to use because of its compatibility with many of Google’s apps for Android and iPhone. Perhaps that doesn’t appeal to you. But where Google’s Classroom succeeds as an effective VLE, it fails because of Google’s insistence on pandering to its advertisers.
What do Google get wrong?
The problem is that like many of Google’s offerings, their focus isn’t always on providing a great service to you, but providing a great service to their advertisers. Remember, everything that you Google search is collected, collated and sold to advertisers so that they can better market their products. The websites you find through Google search, or visit on Google Chrome, are similarly analysed.
This is where Google’s Classroom falls down. Google make almost all of their profits from their Google Adsense service, so it’s no surprise that they want to monetise as many of their offerings as possible. But this really is fundamentally incompatible with e-learning software, which should always be for- well, learning, not marketing. Put simply, the monetisation of Google’s Classroom is a step in the wrong direction.
Teaching in the digital age can be challenging. With both the emergence of technologies being introduced into education as well as students’ growing digital literacy, some teachers may find it difficult and even intimidating to incorporate digital platforms in their classrooms. Virtual learning environments make this task easier. We at Quickclass believe that VLEs are most effective when paired with traditional education formulas, incorporating this platform into your students’ curriculums. Here are three methods worth considering to make the most out of your VLE.
1 – Using a VLE to open communication and improve collaboration
A fear that often plagues teachers when introducing VLEs in their curriculum is losing student engagement. However, VLEs and other digital education platforms can help increase communication between teachers and their students as well as boost peer collaboration and activity.
With forum and chat room functions on VLEs, teachers are able to provide another platform for students to get in touch and voice their questions or concerns. VLEs also allow teachers to give their students in depth assessment feedback without taking up class time. Between classes and work, many students find it difficult to dedicate time to meeting up in groups. VLE forums also allow students come together for group projects and activities online instead of needing to always find a way to meet within their often busy schedules.
2 – Setting clear expectations
Digital technology and VLEs allow you as a teacher to set out clear guidelines for your students and help outline your expectations of your class. By integrating a VLE into your curriculum you are given the perfect opportunity to set clear expectations for your students. By setting lesson outlines as well as stating desired project outcomes, your students are able to clearly appreciate what’s required from a certain project or assignment. VLEs are also great portals for uploading practice exams and previous assessments so your students can fully gauge what they should be aiming for. You can also upload class schedules and entire curriculums so students can stay on top of their timetables and know what to expect throughout an academic year which not only allows for a better learning experience but also ensures awareness of your expectations.
3 – Using data to guide learning
Educators are generally advised to base their lessons on data. It can be increasingly difficult to flesh out lesson plans when each student varies in learning practice and preference. Here, a VLE comes in handy. By uploading further resources for your class, each student can decide on their preferred method of learning by accessing the tools you provide digitally in addition to the lessons and information you deliver in class, creating a well rounded experience for your students. By supplying your students with supplemental information, you also allow them to continue expanding their learning outside the classroom as well as feel they are more actively involved in their own educations.
VLEs are a wonderful way to supplement many already successful teaching models. Students can find a nurturing and collaborative environment online and can access it from anywhere, whether at school, home or even on the go.