At the BETT show this year there was a huge buzz surrounding the Google stand. Everyone was discussing the best way to use Google apps in the classroom and the upcoming Google Teacher Academy. VLEs and Learning Platforms were rarely mentioned, apart from the big names like Frog, but even their stand seemed considerably quieter than last year. I began to wonder if using Google Apps in school was the best way to engage students in online learning, or if reports of the death of the VLE are premature.
I have set up both Google apps and a Learning Platform in schools, and I have had very different experience with both. Google apps are fantastic to use with a class, there is definitely a magic moment when they realise that what they are typing is showing on their friends screen in real time. Once the novelty of this has worn off students soon realise what a powerful tool Google docs are. Group work becomes a breeze once all students can collaborate on one document, and group homework suddenly becomes possible for the teacher to set with the minimum of organisational hassle. The true magic moment is when students say to their teacher, “Miss, we are going to use Google docs for this task as it will be so much easier to share our ideas”.
All this sounds great, but should we throw out that expensive VLE and move over to Google apps? There are many reasons that seem to be pushing schools in this direction, not least the attractive price of of Google apps… free. However, the VLE can still benefit students in many ways. So accessing a page on the VLE to find out the latest homework or look at the lesson you missed when you were ill doesn’t quite have the same wow factor as Google apps, but for a student revising for their upcoming exams having access to the material their teacher used in their lessons is invaluable. Lessons and courses often take quite a long time to set up on the school’s VLE of choice, but once created the lessons can be tweaked and reused year on year and benefit a huge number of students. So is there a halfway house, sharing all the lessons resources on Google docs? In theory this sounds like an easy work around, students have access to all the materials, but the structure of a lesson is missing, its not an easy task for a student to find the lesson objectives and tasks they worked on and related homework in Google docs without having to open several documents and piece together the whole, the VLE is a one stop shop for all the information they need.
So what is the answer? Who is going to come out on top of this battle? Undoubtedly, Google apps for education is going to become more and more popular and will be adopted by many schools. But the true winners will be the schools that realise each of these tools has a place in the classroom. Google docs are a winner for collaboration and VLEs still have a place in providing a 24/7 school for students revising at home. Stop the fighting and use both technologies for their strengths. Using a broad range of technology in the classroom shows students to pick the best tool for the job at hand and not to assume one piece of software will be a panacea for all your problems.