If a clunky VLE (see part one of this series) can cause no end of heartache to a teacher desperately just trying to get on with it (and consequently lead them to thoughts of abandoning all technology to draw slideshows on Shakespeare using a stick out on the muddy playing field), then one that works, and works well, is an absolute joy to behold. It can speed up and improve learning, increase communication and understanding, and act as a link between home and school (as well as a multitude of other things besides).
Also, on a purely selfish level, it can make a teacher’s life a heck of a lot easier.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I care about that other stuff as well – learning, kids, all that palaver, but I’m not above asking ‘what’s in it for me?’. If a system can streamline some of the things I do and make the day go by that little bit more easily, then I’m going to jump right on board with a ticket in hand. For me it doesn’t have to be ‘pedagogically transformative’ or ‘paradigm shifting’ (in fact, when I hear those terms, it often makes me die a little inside) but if it can augment my practice, then that often frees up time for some of the finer things in life. Finer things such as giving me some thinking space to come up with a way to get an idea across, or letting me create a resource that’ll be really useful, or giving me enough time to sit and have a second cup of coffee.
(The coffee thing is probably the most important quite frankly).
Because a good VLE system not only does the things it’s supposed to do reliably and with a minimum of fuss, it also acts as an enabler in relation to other aspects of the job.
Easy organisation and access of resources means you don’t have to chase a kid down to make sure they got the worksheet they conveniently ‘misplaced’ 4 times.
If you’re not chasing a kid down then you’re free to do other things.
Integrated organisational tools for the students allow them to take the impetus when it comes to the management of their learning, and not always look to you for guidance with the minutiae. If they’re doing it for themselves then they’re leaving you to crack on.
Tracking and progress tools lets you identify at which point a student is exceeding expectation or flags up when they might be struggling, without having to go through endless records to try and find that info.
If you’re not struggling with records then you’re doing something more useful (which is just about anything else apart from struggling with records).
A good VLE frees a teacher to concentrate on perhaps some of the more essential things that go on in schools; planning, relationship building, the drinking of coffee. It can shift focus from repetitive, mundane tasks to actual learning and, in the best cases, go further – it can help a teacher minimise unnecessary workload and get them out of the gates on an evening that much sooner. OK, so that’s not about the kids or the learning, but nevertheless it’s a very exciting prospect all things considered.
In my last post in the series next week, I’ll shift the focus away from wonderful teachers and place it on the students (who can be a little bit wonderful too, when they’re trying really hard).
Tom Starkey is an educator and consultant based in Leeds. He’s written for the Times Educational Supplement and Teach Secondary magazine. He tweets at @tstarkey1212 and writes at stackofmarking.wordpress.com.