Teaching ESL in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

Blended Learning: Writing for the Real World is now at approximately its halfway point. Here are some of my thoughts thus far.

Tools: Without a doubt, it’s the tools that are going to be the biggest challenge in developing and implementing a VLE. Let’s have a look at the tools used in my flipped classroom.

The PC: Our language lab is running Windows XP. Windows XP is not the best tool to use. We have browser issues constantly, and although I can upload and input course content, much of the content is delivered through Adobe Flash. Again, I’m sure there is much more coherent technical jargon that can explain the issues much better than the words I know, but I’ll give it a shot.

When certain parts of the LMS are selected by clicking on them, a timer appears. This timer is without end. It never loads. An error message never appears. It’s like this black hole in the LMS that can NEVER be accessed in the computer lab, or anywhere at school for that matter. So I can never test the content (which might be one of the SCORM activities, or any other module that links learners to any kind of interactive task).

Our Technical Support guy has indicated that at some point in the future, the computers will be updated. That’s fantastic. It just doesn’t do me any good at the moment, and I’ll tell you why.

The learners need a lot of guided support, at least initially. In the lab, during classroom time, I focus on particular elements of the LMS, such as the dropbox, the quizzes, the discussion forums, etc. They have to demonstrate mastery of these functions in order to access the program outside of the classroom. Now some of these we can do; some we cannot. Long-answer quizzes, for example, will not load in the language lab.

BLOGS: In one of the articles I sited in an earlier entry, I mention one that explores using different internet resources in an ESL classroom, including blogs, forums, wikis, etc. Only three of my learners were able to create a blog, remember how to log in, remember how to create an entry and how to post it. No one else was able to do so.

In my LMS, there is a blog tool. I know, because I googled it. I just didn’t know where it was. I sent in an email to our DELC (district e-learning coordinator) on the first day of the program, but only just now got a response. I also called the HELP desk, but was misdirected. One of their first instructions was to click on the “Blog tool” on my dashboard. Problem – there was no blog tool on my dashboard. They then suggested that it needed to be added by those who created my course.

*Big sigh* I thought that creating blogs on a free site like this one would be a real benefit to the learners, but it was a huge failure and needed to be abandoned, otherwise we’d be spending the first half of every class problem solving the various blog issues. I decided, then to use the “dropbox” tool in the LMS.

DROPBOX: This is one of the tools that does not require the most recent version of Adobe in order to run. Learners have to know how to create a document in WORD, save it, upload to their “locker”, then put in their dropbox. Three learners are able to do this. (Guess which three? Yup – the same ones who had previous success with their blogs).

There are some challenges in developing a blended learning program, but there are some advantages as well. Even though the majority of the learners are struggling, they *are* learning and they are becoming more computer literate. I can certainly see the pros to using a VLE and I plan to develop other VLEs this August for my Retail Program and the Canadian Citizenship Preparation Course using Moodle, since I won’t have access to D2L after this course.

I’ve signed up for Moodle, but I need to figure out how to use it. Watch out, Moodle, I’ll be blogging about you next!

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About jenniferartan

ESL instructor in London. Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Blended Learning. Learning Management Systems. TESL Ontario Webinar Manager. Edutech Conference Junkie. Smartboards. Reluctant Techie.
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