Making virtual a reality

We caught up with Jared Stein, VP of Research and Education at Instructure, who gave us the latest updates on Virtual Learning Environments

Are educational establishments still wary of ‘the cloud’?
Educational establishments are rapidly embracing the benefits of cloud technology. For many organisations, achieving success through cloud services may mean adapting workflows and perceptions. Unfortunately, ‘cloud’ remains an ambiguous term to many, and some use the term without a clear definition of what actually differentiates true cloud services from traditional locally hosted systems, or even from legacy hosting models. 

Is the cloud a reliable option when compared to solid infrastructure?
True cloud systems have proven to be as or more reliable than legacy models because they provide computing resources that, when properly employed, scale both vertically and horizontally, provide burstability to support peak user load, and data redundancy that extends beyond any single data centre or geographical region.

How are VLEs transforming teaching and learning?
Virtual learning environments add significant flexibility to both instructor and learner by providing online tools that let learning happen outside the constraints of a physical classroom.

✥Digitisation of materials provides greater reusability.

✥Online assessment tools provide greater measurability of learner progress.

✥Communication tools that leverage text, audio and video facilitate rich feedback and discussion can lead to greater interactivity and deeper dialogue.

✥Mobile access encourages learners to engage more frequently, using tools that are already a part of their life.

✥Automation can help students and instructors maintain focus and attention on the most important learning tasks.

✥Data can provide insight into the effectiveness of learning design, and even to predict student performance based on past behaviour. It also provides learners with a window to reflect upon progress toward their goals.

All of these capabilities are not necessarily exclusive to the VLE, but the best VLEs will streamline workflows for instructors, students and administrators by bringing a variety of tools – both native to the VLE and from real-world, external services – into a single, easy-to-use experience. The VLE is simply a toolset. For many, it’s a mission-critical toolset, therefore the VLE must be both powerful and simple while being fully secure and reliable. But in the end it’s educators and instructional designers who determine how the VLE is used to transform teaching and learning.

How can VLEs aim to be more familiar to users?
Virtual learning environments should make the most important tasks and interactions as simple as possible by focusing on efficiency of the user experience. A VLE’s tools for teaching and learning should be elegant in their workflow and encourage human interaction in order to delight users and enrich the experience of teaching and learning. When feasible, VLEs should also incorporate or integrate with the real-world tools and services that users are already familiar with.

The almost forced use of VLEs can be seen as a ‘task’ in many establishments. What is your response?
It is understandable that educators and learners have felt that required use of VLEs is burdensome, because legacy VLEs have been hard to learn, slow, unreliable and disconnected from the technologies and services that they normally use every day. VLEs like Canvas have confronted that legacy by focusing on providing a great user experience for everyone. One that provides the maximum benefit for the least amount of effort, and that lowers technological obstructions so people can focus on the interactions that lead most directly to learning.

About Instructure

Instructure, Inc. is the company that developed the Canvas virtual learning environment (VLE) to make teaching and learning easier for everyone, everywhere. Canvas empowers learning in every context with open, usable SaaS technologies. And through Canvas Network, Instructure provides a cloud platform where teachers, learners and institutions worldwide can connect and chart their own course for personal growth, professional development, and academic inquiry.

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