There seemed to have been rather a lot of discussion in 2009 about whether the VLE or Virtual Learning Environment was alive or dead (including the ALT-C 2009 debate), and the rise of the PLE (Personal Learning Environment).
I’m very interested in PLEs and informal learning and have blogged and vlogged about the concept.
I’ve perhaps been less interested in VLEs. They seem to serve an institutional purpose, but always seemed to constrain the means students use to express their learning and, therefore, the learning process itself.
However, I’ve recently had cause to look at the area of VLEs. Doing this process I asked myself, “What if you wanted to use VLE technology to provide an environment for open learning?” Well, two things have caught my interest in answering this.
The first is ATutor. I began to amass information about ATutor and rather than let that work go to waste, I decided to write it up here in the hope that it might be useful to others.
When considering the available VLE products, I was interested in the potential of utilizing OpenLearn resources; this led me to consider interoperability standards. The significant standard on the rise for educational requirements is the IMS Common Cartridge, driven by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. This seems to be more significant to education than the SCORM standard, which from my reading of the information, is more appropriate for distance learning and training, and is primarily significant for the US Government and Military training purposes. Common Cartridge aligns much more with a blended learning approach, though is still useful for distance or purely online learning.
Well, by early January 2010 there were only two products that conformed to the IMS Common Cartridge standard, one of which was ATutor.
First I needed to look at the content from an OpenLearn module, so I downloaded one in Common Cartridge format from the Open University site, and then something to look at it with. I found the use ‘as is’ Common Cartridge Builder software (zip file) and downloaded it. I was able to easily unzip and import the OpenLearn module, look at the folder structure and add to the content if I wanted. That seemed very easy.
So how would the same module load into an open demo version of ATutor? I logged into this demo version, and even without unzipping the module was able to import it into ATutor. That too was so easy. Atutor comes with a Common Cartridge editor built in, so creating interoperable content should be easy (I haven’t tried this out yet). I was beginning to think I was onto something here. What if I could create a community using ATutor and import Open Educational Resource (OER) modules and allow access to anyone who wanted to learn from them? Plus I could create my own courses and then make them available as OER. This could possibly encourage others to do the same.
As ATutor is developed out of the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC) at the University of Toronto, accessibility of the software is a primary concern. So ATutor conforms to these accessibility standards:
- W3C WCAG 1.0 (AA)
- W3C WCAG 2.0 (pending release)
- W3C ATAG 2.0 (pending release)
- Section 508 (US Rehabilitation Act)
There is also an ATRC Web Accessibility Checker so content can be check for accessibility as it is being developed.
ATutur runs on Apache, PHP and MySQL, so nothing too surprise there. I installed a working version of ATutor onto a server running Apache 2.0.63 – PHP 5.2.10 – MySQL 5.0.85 in a little over two hours. The only problem I encountered was that I couldn’t log into the Super Administrator account, not sure why, but I amended the password in the database and everything was fine.
Core releases occur in June/July and December to not interfere with general institutional run courses.
Because of the open ethos of ATutor, there are links from their support website to Open Educational Resources (a vlog post about OER). And significantly, there is a module available to integrate MERLOT resources into ATutor hosted courses.
MERLOT is a leading edge, user-centered, searchable collection of peer reviewed and selected higher education, online learning materials, catalogued by registered members and a set of faculty development support services. MERLOT’s vision is to be a premiere online community where faculty, staff, and students from around the world share their learning materials and pedagogy.
MERLOT’s strategic goal is to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning by increasing the quantity and quality of peer reviewed online learning materials that can be easily incorporated into faculty designed courses.
I’m interested in using ATutor to create an open learning environment open to anyone to use; with OER course content and with the integrated social network facility for collaborative learning. This could become yet another componet of someone’s PLE. I’ll play around with my installations some more and then start to populate it with some courses.
Which leads me on the second system that has caught my interest. At the time I’m writing this there doesn’t seem to be a vast amount of information available about NIXTY (it’s not publically released yet; I’m on the list for the private beta), but what I have come across has made me very interested in the concept. NIXTY is another Learning Management System (LMS). However, it seems to be going to offer an environment that provides a place to integrate formal and informal learning. The learning processes can be sheltered for an institutions needs, but there is also the potential that learners informal activities can be brought within the NIXTY environment. Also, with a view to the way learning could be going, there is the potential to integrate other Web 2.0 technology with this LMS. It gives learners a place to present their informal work as well.
I was trying to think of a metaphor for NIXTY this morning, and what popped into my head was an old pirate galleon. The main part of the ship is the institutional section, with all that contains, but should you want to walk the plant there is a vast ocean of other resources to you investigate and use for you learning. I await developments in this area with eager anticipation.
Oh and I read NIXTY is working to becoming IMS Common Cartridge compliant.
Additional Links via Diigo:
Some VLE is Dead links: