Using the VLE as a Trojan horse


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Heard yesterday that the abstract I submitted for the HE Academy conference was rejected… so thought I might at least blog it! Authors: me, Alex Moseley, Nichola Hayes, Denise Sweeney, Alejandro Armellini and Jon Gunnell


The presentation aims to give an overview of an extensive survey being undertaken at the University of Leicester on the current uses and future plans for the use of our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Blackboard, as part of our upgrade to Blackboard 9.1.


Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are an established part of institutions’ core infrastructure. A number of benefits are evident: they offer a consistent/accessible environment for learners, they include tools to support communication and collaboration (such as forums, blogs and wikis), they provide a safe ‘nursery slope’ for academics to explore how they can use technologies to support their teaching, and they incorporate assessment and monitoring tools to enable them to evaluate learner progress. In addition, they can be used in conjunction with free Web tools to augment the core functionality offered by the VLE.


However, despite the evident benefits that VLEs offer, overall they are not being used to support learning extensively. Much use is little more than using the VLE as a content repository or what Oliver (2001) refers to as ‘Web page turning’. Academics lack the necessary digital literacy skills (Jenkins 2006) needed to make effective use of technologies, and see the VLE as additional work, rather than an integrated part of the learning experience. Furthermore, in research-intensive institutions there is a tension between teaching and research.


Leicester is currently in the process of upgrading to BlackBoard 9.1. We see this as an opportunity to help tackle the problems outlined above and as a mechanism for providing academics with the support they need to use the VLE more effectively. Essentially, we are using the VLE as a ‘Trojan horse’ to encourage staff to rethink their learning and teaching methods for the modern, online, student experience. As part of this work, we are undertaking an extensive survey of how academics and learners across the university are using the VLE. This will give us a rich picture of the ways in which it is being used (highlighting good practice), as well as insights into associated support issues. We are also finding out to what extent other technologies are being used by them. The survey consists of an online questionnaire, focus groups with both teachers and learners, and a series of interviews with key departmental pictures. We have the survey results and have started the process of carrying out the focus groups and interviews to be completed in Febuary 2012.


The presentation will report the findings and describe how we using these to improve support to academics in the run up to the roll out to 9.1. It relates to the ‘supporting staff to deliver student learning experiences of a lifetime’ theme.

Relevance to the audience

Effective use of technologies, and in particular VLEs, is a key concern for practitioners and policy makers in education. The presentation will be of interest to delegates as it articulates the strategy currently being adopted by the University of Leicester. The presentation will give a rich picture of the current use of the VLE, as well as a description of our future plans for increasing the use of technologies across the university.

Engaging the audience

The session will be a mixture of a presentation and audience participation. Delegates will be invited to share the approaches they are adopting to increase the use of technologies in their own institutions, as well as reflecting back on the findings and the approach Leicester is adopting.

How the paper links to HEA work

The paper relates strongly to the conference themes and also to the HEA’s work in terms of promoting the use of technologies more effectively. It is also a good example of adopting an empirically based approach to transforming practice, whereby the survey results are directly feeding into actual practice and promoting of the use of technologies across the university.


Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide, NYU Press.


Oliver, R. and J. Herrington (2001). Teaching and learning online: a beginners guide to e-learning and e-teaching in Higher Education. Perth, Edith Cowan University.




2 Responses to “Using the VLE as a Trojan horse”

  1. Mark S Says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’m sure there was much good to choose from, so many good topics had to be cut.

    This seems to relate to the story recently about the prof who had to re-tool his advice on integrating technology after it “didn’t work.” . It sounds like many were trying to stick-on technologies to existing practices rather than really finding purposes for chosen technologies, so the advice has been modified to stress purposefully integrating technologies.

    Not sure if Dr. McKenzie said it, but I saw in From Now On ( a few years ago a saying that’s stuck with me: toolishness is foolishness.

    Your approach looks like a smart and careful one. Good strategery, to quote a SNL spoof of our former president.

  2. Gráinne Says:

    Thanks for the comments and the link Mark!

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