The digital transformation of the classroom

Keri Beckingham looks at how VLEs and the Cloud have become key fixtures in the classrooms of today as we embrace the digital age

Across the country, more and more classrooms are utilising Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and the Cloud in order to improve the student learning experience – but why are providers choosing to adopt these advances in digital technology and what impact is it having on education today?

VLE vs the Cloud  

VLE or the Cloud – when it comes to choosing one, which solution is best? Seb Francis is Co-founder and Director of Titus Learning, providers of VLEs and a range of online learning tools. He believes a mixture of the two should be used, and says: “We like to think that the discussion is not ‘Cloud or VLE’, but ‘Cloud AND VLE’, where we see the two platforms seamlessly integrated so teachers, students and parents can get the best of both worlds.”

Commenting further on the importance of integration, Seb says: “Staff, students and parents are expected to use more and more systems, and we don’t want the login and management process to become harder. Therefore, it’s also important to see which integrations are available for synchronous logins, and user management in order to make things easier.”

Time to get creative

Anna Dutton is Head of Education at Kaltura, an open-source video platform. She has worked with many education providers across the UK, and speaking about one of the benefits that she has seen, says: “I love how creative people become when they start to use Kaltura. For example, I worked with some student teachers who were asked to create their own content, and what was produced was of such high quality that it could have been used in a professional media capacity – it was fantastic!”

Looking outside of the classroom 

Seb Francis also believes that the benefits of digital technology extend far further than the classroom. He says: “We also see some great uptake by parents who are able to log in to the VLE, view school news, see any homework their child has to complete, and even view data from the Management Information System (MIS). This means they’re constantly kept in the loop with their child’s progress, and don’t just have to rely upon the termly reports or parents’ evenings.”


Taking the first leap

When it comes to rolling out the digital system, Anna Dutton has some words of warning. She says: “Universities can invest in a lot of software and services, but if the user experience isn’t right, then all you have is a bunch of tools. When you build a solution, it’s so important to have a strategy for the end user experience in mind so you don’t get stuck. 

“A lot of universities we are working with have adopted this approach and it has been impressive to see, but all institutions should be working in this way in order to maximise the effectiveness of what their VLE can do. In this way, they can save money and effort and get a better overall result too.”


Manuel Frutos-Perez, Director of Learning Enhancement for the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences, talks about the use of blackboard VLEs and Kaltura at the University of the West of England (UWE):

“We’ve had blackboard VLEs at UWE since 2003. It was a big project for us at the time as the main thing was to ensure the interaction between the VLE and other systems such as student records, in order to provide context for students. Moving forward to 2014, we then became clients of Kaltura which has helped to increase the interactivity of the VLE and has also made it a lot easier for staff and students to be able to create videos. 

“We have done lots with Kaltura over the last three years – for example staff have been able to use their webcams to create videos that relate to the courses they are teaching. In addition, over the last 18 months we have also been experimenting with video in assessment contexts. An example of this is when a group of nursing students took part in a role play assessment, where they were required to record and submit a video as evidence of their skills which made the assessment process much easier to manage. 

“In my opinion there is definitely still a clear need for universities to have VLEs. The convergence between the Cloud and VLEs is very beneficial and it means that users get the best of both worlds. It provides a good contextual provision for the benefit of students and makes the job of academic staff a lot easier. There are many limitations to what we can assess on paper, but with videos these are gradually lifting and now there is so much more that we can do to enhance the overall student experience.”

Rooks Heath College

Craig Ring, Pastoral Leader for year 7, music teacher and Head of Canvas at Rooks Heath College, speaks about his school’s use of Canvas’ VLE software:

“I love fact that Canvas is a cloud-based VLE, which means that I can access it easily from home in just one click. The system integrates with Google apps which has been really helpful too. It stops the restrictions of the classroom and means that students can now do group work at home, and integration with Microsoft means they can use programmes such as PowerPoint or Word too. 

“There’s also a greater opportunity for teachers to expand how they plan lessons, which is another big advantage. With it now being reported that some teachers are working 60 hours a week, being able to save time on admin tasks and focus on teaching, in the classroom and beyond, is fantastic.  

“Already I have seen the impact that Canvas has made at our school. The previous VLE was just used as a storage area for files, however now Canvas is used to benefit learning, save time, give greater efficiency, encourage change and allows us to collaborate with other schools across the world too which provides a great opportunity for students.”