For quite some time it's felt like everyone is against the VLE. The cool thing to do is to rip it apart and be 'disruptive' (a term in itself which I hate). Remember 'the VLE is Dead' debate? These go beyond Blackboard Vs Moodle Vs Whatever. Often the debate is about the actual presence of any restrictive, centralised, corporate, closed, VLE. But I have many issues with these debates and as Sheila points out, getting rid of the VLE would cause mayhem.
Now I don't mean to pick apart Jim and Brian's post here as I respect both of them massively, but there are just too many points that I disagree with - so what I have to say here is less about me disagreeing with them in particular, but more with these popular debates that have been circling for a while.
The notion that the closed VLE encourages silos is hugely false. Yes I'm an advocate of openness as well but the culture within HEIs is not all that open. Yes there are certain places doing good stuff and some wonderful people doing amazing work, but by and large the 4 HEIs I've worked at over the past 10 years balk at the idea of putting their content 'out there' (and even more so at level 7 where content == CPD income). I've worked on funded OER projects but beyond the scope of the project and its funding period, rolling that innovation out wider is unbelievably difficult. So no, the VLE doesn't encourage silos, it is the modularisation of education which is inherently silo based, and thus is reflected in the system which serves and supports it. A drastic change to the structure, administration and teaching of higher education will be followed by a more reflective/reflecting system.
Something else I disagree with is the view of doing everything possible to 'minimise reliance on an enterprise VLE'. This is awful advice, not least because generally, the institutional support is there to ensure the system is available and working. Those free and open services you might come to rely on could start to charge (as we've seen many times) or even worse, close shop all together. That would also be relying on academic staff to be skilled enough to find and use an open site to publish on, and then confident enough to be able to migrate content to a new platform when shit hits the fan.
On a related point, I kind of recognise that VLEs don't encourage wider digital literacies or web skills, they only develop skills that are useful to that setting and irrelevant when the student leaves. Well, to some degree this is true, but navigating a 'clunky' VLE is not a million miles away from navigation a clunky web, and the practice of communicating in a VLE forum is not a million miles away from interacting on some other platform. So there is some transferability there, but that situation wouldn't be any different if we used Wordpress or anything else out there - we'd be conditioning people to a particular system. Furthermore, D'Arcy highlights his 'Law of eLearning Tool Convergence' which is relevant, in that: "Any eLearning tool, no matter how openly designed, will eventually become indistinguishable from a Learning Management System once a threshold of supported use-cases has been reached". I believe this is true. The very nature of education and its accountability and quality processes demand control. Going off piste just wouldn't work!
The reality of 'disruption' in education is not what many commentators suggest. Yes MOOCs have got the attention of the media and of many VCs, etc, but to think that they will completely transform education is a huge falsity. What was the last thing to truly disrupt education - and I mean to disrupt it so much that it fundamentally changes learning, teaching and assessment? The web as a whole, yes. An individual system, not so much.
I think many commentators have to be either utopian or dystopian about technology in HE. Considering those at either end of a continuum, you'll find 'Reality' somewhere in the middle. Technological advances will seldom have a truly disruptive effect on higher education because it is not a tech industry. It's a people industry. And as such, the success of any technology will ultimately depend on a) how it's implemented and b) how it's received by the people that use it (students and staff). That's not to say technology doesn't or won't have an impact, but we're talking about higher education here. Things take waaayyy toooooo long to change!
The Reed Diaries by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License