This level 5 Community Development programme in an

This proposal aims to incorporate
Blackboard as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) into a QQI level 5 Community
Development programme in an Adult and Community Education Centre in Tallaght
West. This proposal will provide a detailed overview of a VLE and will also
explore a rationale for this proposal which will include relevant literature on
the current economic climate, technology and education and the challenges and
opportunities for using VLE’s in community education. 

Community education and
further education has changed dramatically in Ireland due to austerity and the
vast changes in teacher training, accreditation, assessment and funding. These
changes have presented a range of challenges for the community education
sector. Community educators are currently under resourced and a VLE could
support financial and time resources for both the learners and the tutor of
this programme.  Community Education
works with the most marginalised people in society and in turn provides a range
of tailored wrap around supports to maintain student engagement and retention.
These include supports in relation to childcare, employability, additional
learning needs, physical disabilities, mental health and providing access to
education for students in rural or remote areas.  (AONTAS, 2004)

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This proposal aims to
highlight how using a VLE (Blackboard) will support a wider range of students
with diverse needs.

Virtual Learning
environments are a form of blended learning, a model that combines face to face
lecturing with an online learning component.  Bates (2015) acknowledged that learning
management systems or VLE’s are an element of blended learning in that they can
comprise of short visits to a college campus for face to face training, combined
with a platform to support time off campus to study and engage with content,
peers and tutors online.

 Information obtained from the Texas Educating
Adults Management System documented, that adult learners that engaged in
blended learning outperformed learners that only attended the traditional face
to face classroom. Virtual learning environments can offer some stimulating
features for learners and teachers. The online component can be offered
synchronously (accessed any time) or asynchronously (as the teacher is
teaching). This proposal aims to include a synchronously model within a further
education programme.  (Rosen et. Al 2013)

 ‘A good VLE
makes planning your courses easier, brings digital communication with your
students into one easy platform, and allows you to incorporate any form of
media you want into each class and assignment. Both you and your students can
benefit from the new features and capabilities the tools bring into the
classroom.’                                            (Gutierrez et
al., 2018)                       

Blackboard Virtual
Learning Environment

Blackboard is a virtual
learning environment, a password-protected online system for supporting
teaching, learning and assessment, as well as blended learning and eLearning. A
Blackboard Course is an online extension of the classroom space accessible by
both learners enrolled in the specific course and the lecturer who is
responsible for teaching the course.                           

Blackboard has a wide
range of tools that can support student learning and engagement. These tools
include announcements to keep students up to date with information, staff
contact information, all information relevant to the module, assessment
information, and all tutor materials (handouts, PowerPoint, videos and
worksheets). Tutors can also provide online quizzes, blogs, journals to support
learner engagement and discussion boards to support peer collaboration.  (Edshare.soton.ac.uk, 2018)

Economic Context

As
Irelands emerges from recession and into economic recovery there is a large
focus on the lack of skills in relation to the labour market. It is recognised
that technology is essential in supporting the growth of the economy. Digital
skills have been highlighted as vital for Ireland’s future in both high end ICT
jobs and it is now valued as a basic core competency in all employment sectors.

Ireland’s
past responses to this issue has been to expand higher education to ensure the
skills for the economy are achieved. There has been little focus on the
potential of further education and training to utilise the competencies for
employees in the workforce. However If Ireland is to compete globally we must
expand the delivery of digital skills to all areas of education. (FIT, 2014)

 

Ireland’s National Skills Strategy
2025,
highlights key goals which include Education and Training providers providing
skills and opportunities that are relevant to the needs of the learner, society
and the economy with a strong focus on digital inclusion that will support the
skills supply for the economy.

Bates
(2015) highlights key skills and competencies needed for today’s world. Initially
students need to develop communication skills. This is not just in terms of
reading, speaking and writing. Students need to become familiar with digital
communication skills in order to engage in employment activities. This could be
creating a video for a sales pitch, marketing information to large audiences or
using online communication tools in the workplace.  Students furthermore have to become
independent in working out what they need to know and how they can access that
information. Teamwork and flexibility are also vital skills and companies now
depend on online collaboration and possibly work virtually with colleagues and
clients. The most fundamental skills are knowledge management. This includes
research, sharing of ideas over the internet and ensuring reliability in their
knowledge. One of the key skills is to support learners to find, evaluate,
analysis and apply information.

 

The
introduction of Blackboard as a VLE would support digital literacy skills. This
would also support students and tutors to move from traditional modes of
learner to new modes in this current digital space. An example of that would be
the transition from closed private individual systems to a broader open social
space for in which educational resources are openly available and therefore can
support a range of students unique learning styles and also support greater
engagement of non- participating students. 
(Beetham et. al 2013)

 

Prerequisite for
blended learning

Prensky (2001) identifies
the digital paradigm shift as contributing to a shift in the way students think
and process information. He distinguishes the difference between digital
natives and digital immigrants. He understands that digital immigrants will
adapt to digital technologies, they will not obtain the level of digital
literacy as digital natives. He argues that a key challenge is that tutors that
are digital immigrants are struggling to teach digital natives as there is an
assumption by tutors that digital natives will learn in the same way that
digital immigrants have learned in the past. Tutors need to be trained and
educated in the complexity of blended learning and the different ways in which
digital natives access and retain information. (McMahon, M.2016)

Bates further sees
the importance of integrating blended learning into education programmes due to
the current digital age and the rapid pace of technology development in
individual’s daily lives. The internet has created a paradigm shift in
education. Bates
believes that a key component of blended learning as the interaction
between learners, tutors and online resources within the unique context of the
internet and these elements are essential to online learning.

As reputed above, there
appears to be an assumption that digital natives have already acquired key
digital skills from their interaction with computers, gaming and the internet.
(Prensky, 2005)

However in some
disadvantaged communities where community education practice is located, this
may not be the case. A recent article in the Irish Times shows that just over
one-third of households (34 per cent) in Tallaght West do not have a personal
computer. This figure drops to 28 per cent for Tallaght as a whole. (Census) This
would indicate that there is a digital divide in areas of disadvantage and
students may not have access to the skills or devices to support digital
literacy. (The Irish Times, 2018)

The
use of a virtual learning environment can support students to develop digital
literacy skills and create opportunities for students to develop digital
readiness skills.  As stated above
students are faced with the increasing expectation to have or acquire digital
readiness skills in technology rich environments in both education and
employment. 

Challenges

If
students are to engage in a virtual learning environment, tutors and students
need to be supported to develop the following skills prior to a blended
learning programme;

·        
How to access and return to the VLE.

·        
How to use tab browsing

·        
How to click on links that may take them
outside of the VLE

·        
How to create and save a user ID and
password

·        
Be familiar with the navigation of
websites

·        
How to scroll down a page

·        
How to save written work                                                      (Rosen
et. al 2013)

·        
 

In areas of disadvantage it is also vital that institutions
provide the necessary supports for students to engage in a blended learning
programme. Blended learning cannot happen if there is no access to the
technology and resources that they need to engage online. In contrast to this,
blended learning will support other students that have access to technology at
home and therefore support individuals that have issues with childcare,
mobility or social anxiety. Once access to technology and digital skills is
provided students can then begin to develop technical and communication skills
which will support an increase in confidence and they can utilise those skills
in a range of learning or employment contexts. VLE’s also provide the learner
with the opportunity to make informed choices on the use of technology on their
own or within a group setting. The development of these skills can pave the way
for learner’s to create their own learning choices and strategize their own
learning. (Beetham et. al 2013)

A well-kept virtual
learning environment should support all different learning styles which may not
always happen in the traditional classroom. 
The introduction of a VLE can support student engagement. Tutors need to
be educated in developing and managing materials for blended learning. One of
the main considerations is the cognitive load theory which explores memory in
three key areas – the intrinsic load, germane load and the extraneous load. VLE’s
can support student engagement in the use of multimedia tools online. However,
tutors should keep multimedia videos short as students tend not to watch longer
videos and may not engage with the content if the video exceeds 6 minutes.  A conversational style is also recommended
when using multimedia as it can create a sense of social partnership which
leads to greater engagement and effort .(Brame, 2016)

In conclusion, the introduction of
a VLE into a Community Development QQI programme delivered in a community
education setting would be a fantastic resource and tool for both learners and
educators alike. The blended learning model has the potential to support
retention rates and student engagement due to the diverse components on the VLE
and the fact that learners can access information from any location at any time
which supports different learner needs. It has the potential to eliminate
geographical barriers and reach learners in rural areas. It can be cost
effective for students as it eliminates travel costs and for tutors in that
information will be online so printing won’t be needed as much and once the
content is uploaded it can be tweaked to suit different cohorts of students. It
has the capacity to create a community of online learners. It works with a
range of learning styles and also increases digital literacy in the classroom
which in turn will support employability opportunities for learners and further
align with policy on Adult and Community Education.. (Hamad,
2017)

Additionally detailed
planning must be completed before integrating a VLE into the classroom. It is
evident that tutors need to be aware of the changing patterns in which students
learn and to be mindful of the cognitive load. It is essential that prior to
integration tutors and students are giving the appropriate training and
guidance to promote a positive experience of a Virtual Learning Environment in
the programme.