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Why loosely coupled, freely available third party systems can be better

November 9th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

I remember three years ago having a debate with Alexadra Toedt at a SIGOSSEE meeting in Denmark on why I thought there was no future for VLEs. I was a bit torn between wanting to promote Open Source software alternatives to Blackboard and the like but also frustrated by the pedagogic restrictions of institutional systems for managing learning. Needless to say I convinced few people at best they thought I was well meaning but hopelessly impractical.Nowadays it is becoming almost respectable to predict the end of the VLE. But fortunately we have well developed alternatives to the VLE. In any case students are voting with their feet (or mouse). Better still we have an increasingly sophisticated argument not just as to why VLEs are bad (which I have to admit was the heart of my argument but why “loosely coupled, freely available third party systems” can be better. This is from The Ed Techie blog by Martin Weller:

  • “Better quality tools – because offering each of these loosely coupled elements is what each company does, it is in their interest to make them really good. This means they stay up to date, have better features, and look better than most things produced in higher education.
  • Modern look and feel – related to the above, these tools often look better, and also their use makes a course feel more modern to a user who is raised on these tools compared with the rather sterile, dull systems they encounter in higher ed.
  • Appropriate tools – because they are loosely coupled the educator can choose whatever ones they want, rather than being restricted to the limited set in the VLE. This is one of the biggest draws I feel – as an academic if I want a particular tool I don’t have to put a request in to IT and wait a year to get a reduced quality version, I just go ahead and use it.
  • Cost – using a bunch of free tools has got to be cheaper hasn’t it?
  • Avoids software sedimentation – when you have institutional systems they tend to embody institutional practice which becomes increasingly difficult to break. Having loosely coupled system makes this easier, and also encourages people to think in different ways.
  • Disintermediation happens – this isn’t really a benefit, just an observation. If a services can be disintermediated then it will be. In this case the central VLE system is disintermediated as academics use a variety of freely available tools.”

One Response to “Why loosely coupled, freely available third party systems can be better”

  1. Paul Driver says:

    I agree. I taught English at the British Council for a time, during which they were attempting to thrust their (as far as I know, now defunct) Global Village VLE onto teachers and students. I hated it. So did my students. It was clunky, restrictive and locked down. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with a host of ad hoc solutions which I can adapt to suit my students in a way that’s both practical and creatively stimulating.

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