Impact Of Virtual Learning Environment Education Essay

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The use of Blackboard platform has been adopted by many higher learning institutions. But a few studies have been carried out on its impact on students, lectures and organisations. This dissertation is about the impact of virtual learning environment software such as Blackboard in higher learning institutions; a case study has previously shown that the Blackboard software is being used mainly for administrative functions and not to its maximum capacity.

Acknowledgment

Though only my name appears on the cover of this dissertation, a great many people have contributed to its production. I owe my gratitude to all those people who have made this dissertation possible and because of whom my experience has been one that I will cherish forever.

My deepest gratitude is to my advisor, Dr.William Micheal Gasser. I have been amazingly fortunate to have an advisor who gave me the freedom to explore on my own, and at the same time the guidance to recover when my steps faltered. I am also thankful to him for encouraging the use of correct grammar and consistent notation in my writings and for carefully reading and commenting on countless revisions of this manuscript.

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Many friends have helped me stay sane through these difficult times. Their support and care helped me overcome setbacks and stay focused on my study. I greatly value their friendship and I deeply appreciate their belief in me. I am also grateful those who helped me in my research by providing feedback through the online questionnaires.

Most importantly, none of this would have been possible without the love and patience of my family. My immediate family has been a constant source of love, concern, support and strength for me. I would like to express my heart-felt gratitude to my family. My extended family has aided and encouraged me throughout this endeavor.

Contents

1 Introduction 6

1.1. Problem Statement 11

1.2. Target 11

1.3. Outcome and Actors 11

1.4. Scope and Scale 12

1.5. Ethical issues 12

1.6. Aims and Objectives 12

1.7. Thesis Outline 13

2 Research Methodology 14

2.1 Library Search 14

2.2 Online Journal Articles Search 15

2.3 Open Access Online Journal Articles Search 15

2.4 Web Search 16

2.5 Additional Literature 16

3 Impact of Using Blackboard Software on Students and Lecturers 17

3.1 Students 17

3.1.1 Students' perception 17

3.1.2 Students Evaluation of VLE Components 18

3.1.3 Blackboard versus Face to Face Teaching 19

3.1.4 Impact on Learning 20

3.1.5 Impact on Learning Outcomes 21

3.1.6 Impact on Society 22

3.2 Lecturers 22

3.2.1 Lectures' perception 23

3.3 Impact on IS Strategy 25

4.1 Students perspectives 27

4.2 Lecturers perspectives 30

5 Conclusion 36

6 Bibliography 37

Introduction

In recent years, the need for education has changed because of an increased demand for a highly educated workforce that will be expected to learn continuously (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). Education has become an un ending process in one's lifetime due to which the means of education are also being transformed in order to meet the expectations and to keep the continuity of education going. The learning which was initially done in a face to face environment, is becoming into an environment mediated by computers and digital technologies.

In 1886, the first president of the University of Chicago, William Rainer Harper wrote: "the student who has prepared a certain number of lessons in the correspondence school knows more of the subject treated in those lessons, and knows it better than the student who has covered the same ground in the classroom" (Harper, 1971, p. 12).

Since the 1970s, the Open University of UK, has pioneered the concept of modern distance learning by providing blended learning environments of face-to-face tutoring and course packages including audio- and video-based course material. Since the arrival of the Internet, educational net-based technology is evolving rapidly at universities worldwide (Mason, 2003).

However, the demand of virtual learning has ever so increased today, that we hardly find a student/tutor who doesn't use or know how to use the virtual learning softwares available. Some research has been done on learning by Virtual learning environments, and they show a variable perception of VLEs for both students and academic staff. In an evaluation of online distance education, Westerberg and Marald (2004) found that university managers and teachers perceived this kind of education as a means of reaching out to a higher number of students. Students, on the other hand, appreciated the opportunity to study in a manner more independent of restrictions of time and space, than traditional education on campus. Teachers experienced a heavy workload and high expectations to be accessible to students, while students perceived the pedagogical quality of online courses being lower, compared to courses on campus (Westerberg & Marald, 2004). The findings of high expectations of being available to students are confirmed by Zhang and Nunamaker (2003), who found that learners perceive more opportunities for communication with instructors in a virtual learning environment than in a traditional classroom.

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With these differing opinions in mind, it could be reasonable to wonder if learning by means of virtual learning environments is a phenomenon really accepted by teachers and students. This dissertation is being carried out to find out the factors influencing the impact of virtual learning environment for both the students and the teachers/turtors.

A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a software system developed to support learning and teaching in an educational environment. A VLE can work within an organisation via Local Area Network (LAN), over the Internet as Wide Area Network (WAN) and provide a collection of educational tools in order to facilitate assignments, communication, contents management and attendances.

VLEs can be used for distance learning or supplement traditional face to face classroom activities. A web page is a front end interface that is browsed by students and academic staff, the back end can constitute databases, web server and other relevant hardware and software tools.

Blackboard (c.f., Error: Reference source not found) is VLE software that supports and facilitates online learning and teaching.  It enables course content materials, such as lecture notes and lecture slides to be uploaded on the Blackboard site for easy access and downloads by students. It supports online communication between lecturers/tutors and students by the use of forums and discussion boards. It also supports online subject presentation and tutorials in a virtual classroom. Groups management is done via Blackborad in order to facilitate discussion and exchange of educational materials. Its is used in uploading and taking online assignments that involve automatic marking and feedback schemes also for posting announcements on a site and emailing students enrolled on a particular course. It helps students for scheduling course and assignment deadlines and tracking activities on a site and course work submission and its automatic acknowledgement.

Blackboard software is used by over 3700 education institutions in more than 60 countries Smith (2009). Many researches have shown that students' activities under Virtual Learning Environment are mostly based on administrative functions such as submitting assignments and reading messages in forums or newsletters. It has been found that students are only active and engage themselves in collaborative and interactive activities in own environment such as in social networking (e.g., Facebook and Myspace).

A study in Smith(2009) showed that although students value resources placed on VLEs such as Blackboard, they value more face to face contact with their lecturers or tutors. Lecturers play a very vital role in how students engage themselves with VLEs. Research in Smith (2009) has shown that majority of lecturers are replacing the existing methods instead of innovating new methods that will encourage students to enjoy collaborative and interactive learning methods. Another research has shown that some lecturers' use of Blackboard has enhanced their assessment of students work capabilities in the face to face classroom settings (Woods et al. (2004). In most of least developed countries, VLEs are regarded as inferior to face to face classroom settings.

If technology is appropriately used then it usually has significant benefits to our daily life. The same principal applies to the use of Blackboard. Appropriate use of Blackboard has shown to have significant benefits to both students and their lecturers. Some of these are outline below.

Traditional methods (face to face teaching) were compared with the use of Blackboard software for sociology students. It was revealed that students' evaluation compared favourably in the group that was using Blackboard with significant increase in perceptions of lecturer relationship and grading Koeber (2005)

The research in Campbell et al. (2008) found that participants on online discussion attained higher marks in their exams than those with face to face method. This showed that VLE was linked with greater achievements. It was shown in Hepworth et al (2000) that VLEs promote significantly greater critical thinking among students than traditional method of face to face classrooms.

It was revealed by APLU (2009) that learning outcomes via Blackboard were better than face to face instructions. It was found that 56% of lectures (with and without online experience) recommended online programs to at least one student. It was shown that over 80% of lectured with online lecturing experience recommended online programs.

Farquarson (2007) found that there was an impact on students' social experiences at universities by participating in online activities. It was suggested that this could be used as retention strategy since supportive peer groups are an aspect of students' engagement.

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There is clear indication of the effectiveness offered to students and their lecturers through the use of VLEs such as Blackboard. This is much derived from the aspects such as administrative learning and teaching tasks, for instance, managing and accessing content materials, communications or announcements such as forums or news, grading, attendances, assignments and feedbacks.

With VLEs there are benefits of flexibility and convenience of access at anytime and from anywhere, there is flexibility of communication and collaboration environment, this means that there is a large level of control passed to the student.

Problem Statement

How does Virtual Learning Environment impact students and academic staff in Higher Learning Education?

Virtual environment for learning can be considered as an enhancement of our traditional face to face classroom environment, however the impact of both is entirely different from one another and this dissertation is being carried out to highlight the positive and negative aspects as well as the impacts on students, teachers/tutors and over all higher learning education system.

Target

Given the problem statement in this study, the target audience is academic staff, students, VLE software owners and any researchers interested in VLEs and their impacts in HLE. The goal is to have a list of factors that VLE impacts students and academic staff in HLE institutions. The list will then be beneficial for future support and enhancement of VLE software such as Blackboard.

Outcome and Actors

The main outcome of this study will be the list of impacts of VLE on HLE institutes that can be used to promote and enhance VLE in learning institutions. The actors in this study are Blackboard software users i.e., students and academic staff.

Scope and Scale

The scope of this study will be limited to UK students and academic staff with experience of using Blackboard software. About 150- 200 participants will be consulted online in order to conduct questionnaire exercise.

Ethical issues

Ethical issues were taken into consideration in this study. There was no risk of exposing subjects to any risk as the only subjects were Blackboard users who were only asked questions about their experiences using Blackboard and those who took part in the survey were well informed and were well aware of the purpose of the survey.

No private or confidential data was required from customers during interviews or when their feedbacks were obtained from online forms. Still whatever data collected during this dissertation was kept confidential and used purely for survey and extraction of impacts of the usage of VLEs.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this project is to investigate the impact of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in Higher Learning Education (HLE). The interest is in the ways by which the VLE provides students' and lecturers' needs and means of supporting communication and the sharing of resources in HLE.

The project aims will be supported by the following objectives:-

To review the state of the art of VLE software and applications and its related technologies.

To review the implementation of VLEs and associated experiences of the stakeholders in the context of policies, strategies and priorities.

To study the impact of VLEs solutions implementation from the perspective of the students, researchers and lecturers.

To study the current debates and future directions of VLE such as social media and the impact of Web 2.0

Present the findings of this project as an MSC dissertation to the University of Gloucestershire

Thesis Outline

The remainder of this dissertation is organised as follows. Chapter 2 out lines the research methodology used in this study. The impact of Blackboard software on students and lecturers is described in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 presents case study and conclusions are given in Chapter 5.

Research Methodology

The aim of this project is to investigate the impact of a Virtual Learning Environment in Higher Learning Education. The interest is in the ways by which the VLE provides students' and lecturers' needs and means of supporting communication and the sharing of resources.

Primary data spotlight collection activity has been through questionnaires and through research by using resources such as the Internet, journals, and library. The questionnaires were conducted to students and lectures on their use of VLE software such as Blackboard. The questionnaires were only through online via a website.

Below are the kinds of initial article searched and conducted in the course of this study:-

Library Search

A library search was conducted using an advanced search in the ICT, social sciences and education sections. The keywords entered for the search are:

Blackboard

WebCT

VLE

The search results were read and relevant ones were selected for further evaluation.

Online Journal Articles Search

A methodical search was conducted, browsing peer reviewed articles published in the following online journals but not limited to:

Computers and Education

British Journal of Educational Technology

Open Access Online Journal Articles Search

A methodical search was conducted by browsing open access online journals, related to VLE using keywords such as:-

Virtual learning environments (VLE)

Course Management Systems (CMS)

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Blackboard/WebCT

Blended learning

The following journals were accessed:-

The Electronic Journal of e-Learning (United Kingdom)

The European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning (EURODL) (Europe)

The Journal of Distance Education (Canada)

Australian Journal of Educational Technology

Australian The International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society

Web Search

The following keywords were entered into a web search engine (google.com)

Distance learning

Blackboard/WebCT

VLE

E-learning

mobile learning

Web 2.0

Social media

Social software

Personal web

Personal learning environment

Open educational resources

Open source

Additional Literature

In addition, articles recommended by friends and supervisor were studied and relevant materials were extracted and used. Statistical software such as Microsoft Excel was used to analyse data obtained from questionnaires.

Impact of Using Blackboard Software on Students and Lecturers

Students

A two year survey in Midwestern University in USA by Lonn and Teasley (2009) found that 95% of students at the campus were using Blackboard and 95% of their activities in the Blackboard were based on communication and document management. Only 5% were on interactive activities such as Wikis, chat and discussion boards.

In New Zealand, it was found by Santhiveeran (2006) that the Blackboard was accessed 23 hours a day. The most popular environment was documents area where students could download lecture notes, slide and assignments. A research conducted by JISC (2007) in UK revealed that students are only interested with Blackboard features that meet their needs and sometimes only when they suit them.

Students' perception

Many students in HLE institutes were either born or have grown up during the digital age. This generation of students are excited by technology and perceive that VLE technology such as Blackboard software will always help in the education endeavour. These students do not think that Blackboard will ever complicate their learning curve MORI (2008).

There are few studies that have researched on students' perception looking at personal characteristics and how these affect students' ease of using VLEs such as Blackboard. Sun et al. (2008) found that learning anxiety on computers have negative influence on VLEs satisfaction. Lecturers' attitudes on VLEs will have positive influence on students' VLEs satisfaction.

Research conducted by Liaw (2008) found that perceived usefulness and satisfaction were the major factors that contribute to students' behavioural intention to use VLEs such as Blackboard software. It was concluded that effectiveness of VLEs can be influenced by a number of factors such as multimedia delivery, quality and interactive activities of VLEs. These findings also suggested that students' perceptions was that inappropriate use of VLEs software such as Blackboard is worse than not using the technology at all to support VLEs.

Students Evaluation of VLE Components

Sharpe et al. (2006) learned the use of VLE software such as Blackboard was positively overwhelming with respect to accessing course materials and as a supplement to traditional face to face classroom setup. The study by Mori (2008) showed that two third of students accessed course materials via the VLE and were very satisfied. Students also valued the use of discussion board found in the Blackboard and were satisfied by lecturers who played crucial roll in regulating them. At that time it was found that students were not much exposed to Wikis and were less comfortable with social networking site such as Facebook with their lecturers or tutors in them. My research conducted in UK with 50 students informally interviewed, all of the 50 students acknowledge the use of Wikis and hence it was concluded that, now students are familiar with wikis but still not comfortable with lectures in the social networking sites.

The study my Morgan et al (2006) established that the use of chat and bulletin board in Blackboard was effective in stimulating reflective learning in nursing students. Students said that they developed more reflective skills by the use of Blackboard than a face to face classroom.

Bridge and Appleyard (2008) found that assignment submission via Blackboard and feedback was positively received with 88% of students interviewed pinpointed that submitting course work via the VLE was time and financial saving and 93% preferred feedback via the Blackboard software.

Blackboard versus Face to Face Teaching

The study conducted by Oladiran and Uziak (2009) in Botswana found that the use of Blackboard was not preferred as solely use of teaching method. Students preferred Blackboard as a compliment to face to face teaching in a classroom. The recognised the power of IT in the learning, they accepted that the use of Blackboard further enhanced their IT skills and made them more independent in their thinking. In general it was found that the use of Blackboard improved the quality of their studies, this was perceived by 75% of the students interviewed.

Two conclusions were derived by the study of Benoit et al (2006). VLE is not generally superior to traditional face to face classroom setup, based on the amount of learning, and Students are consistently more satisfied the traditional classroom setup than with VLE. This is also supported by the research conducted by MORI (2008) who revealed that students still value face to VLEs classroom setup. But students are motivated to use VLE because it us flexible, can be accessed at anytime from anywhere and saves time. The study conducted by McGill & Hobbs (2008) proved that the VLE use is suitable in HLE institutes but not necessarily better than traditional face to face classroom setup.

Impact on Learning

The research by Benoit el al. (2006) found that using VLEs were consistently not very effective compared to traditional face to face instruction in terms of learning promotion and students preferred face-to-face teaching.

The study conducted by Arbaugh (2004) on an MBA programme showed that while there was minor change in students' perception of learning between their first online course on VLE and consequent courses on VLE, there were major positive changes in their learning satisfaction with the VLE as a delivery medium, their perceptions of students interaction, and the convenience and ease of use of the Blackboard. These findings imply that as students obtain transferable skills and knowledge in VLE, their perceptions of the VLE as a positive learning medium improve. Most of the major changes in these perceptions happened between the first and second period that the students attended in the VLE courses, which implies that students need to study at least two courses via VLE before concluding regarding courses delivery medium. Therefore, academic staff should pay special attention to first time students opting for a course via VLE in order to encourage their participation in following courses via VLE.

The study by Lonn & Teasley (2009), Attwell (2009) and Bricheno, Higginson & Weedon (2004) showed that in terms of impact on learning, VLEs showed some achievement in terms of enhancing communication, the areas of learning where VLEs had little impact were collaborative and interactive learning. In a research conducted in 20 educational institutions, Bricheno (2004) found that collaborative and interactive learning did not appear to have major changes in several institutions.

Impact on Learning Outcomes

The correlation between the use of VLEs and student grades has been researched very widely. Percival and Muirhead (2009) studied two groups of business and IT students at the University of Ontario in the Institute of Technology. One group was trained by traditional face to face method and the other one by VLE. Both groups were evaluated by the use questionnaires and there were about 40% of respondents to the questionnaires by both groups. The aim of the evaluation was to ascertain participants' use of VLE software such as Blackboard and assess the impact of VLE on overall grades. Just a small number of participants in both groups listened to the online pre-recorded lecture. Participants who listened to pre-recorded lecture obtained much better grades than those who didn't. VLE learning students made more use of electronic books and lecture notes, podcasts and discussion boards. Percival and Muirhead (2009) concluded that although today's students are conversant with internet technologies, it cannot be taken for granted that these students will automatically become accustomed to using these new technologies for learning. Students are required to familiarize themselves with the benefits of technology to their learning in order to make smooth transition from traditional classroom to online learning.

Impact on Society

Farquharson (2007) conducted an investigation on the impact of different modes of tutorial discussion on creating social relationships among students. Three modes of discussion were selected for comparisons: Blackboard online discussion software, Blackboard e-mail software and traditional face to face tutorials. The group with Blackboard discussions and email were more expected to increase friendship networks amongst their peers. In addition, older students reported a larger number of friendships. The findings suggested that, online participation in Blackboard activities might have an impact on students' social experience in HLE (Farquarson, 2007). This could possibly be used as a strategic approach to improve retention rates, since supportive peer networks are an important aspect of student engagement.

Lecturers

The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities in the USA published a document on the use of VLE such as Blackboard by faculty members (APLU 2009). In their study of faculty members at US universities, nearly a quarter of all faculties who responded were lecturing at least one online course via VLE at the time of the survey. Over a third of faculty members indicated that they have lectured online. Moreover, the most experienced faculty members, those with more than 15 years of lecturing experience, are giving lectures online at a rate equivalent to faculty members with less lecturing experience. About a tenth of all faculty members reported that they were in the process working on developing online lectures. The percentage of faculty members who have developed online lectures is nearly the same as the percentage of faculty members who have lectured online courses.

Woods et al (2004) showed that faculty members mainly use the Blackboard software as a course management or administration tool to make course material readily available to students and manage course grades and attendances.

Lectures' perception

Woods et al (2004) established that faculty members' attitudes were very positive when it came to the classroom administrative functions of the Blackboard software but their thoughts were neutral in terms of its instructional and psychosocial benefits.

It was found that females had more positive attitudes than males in terms of the Blackboard software's capability to improve classroom administration and promote a positive relational environment. Across all faculty members, 34% used Blackboard software to solicit a greater diversity of student opinions than is otherwise possible in the face-to-face environment and 60% agreed that certain features in the Blackboard system enhanced or elevated their assessment of student work and instructional capabilities in the face-to-face classroom setting.

It was also revealed that a total of 80% agreed that the Blackboard software helped them to clearly and efficiently communicate information about lecture requirements, and 60% agreed that the Blackboard software helps them better to meet the learning requirements of students. It was also revealed that 62% agreed that the Blackboard software helped them to better their time management in administration matters and 64% agreed that Blackboard software improved their students' ability to gain knowledge of course materials.

It was found by Lonn and Teasley (2009) that both male and female lecturers believed that the VLE technology improved teaching and learning but were more positive on the effect of it on their teaching than on students. Lecturers perceived that the finest advantage of the Blackboard software was how it enhanced and better their communication with their students. Very few female and male lecturers chose teaching or learning improvements as the most important advantage from using Blackboard software.

A study conducted by Mitchell and Geva-May (2009) explored attitudes towards, and attitudes affecting, VLE implementation. In recent years there has been greater acceptance of VLE by institutional decision makers, as evidenced by high levels of learning institution involvement, but greater faculty members' acceptance still lags behind. This gap affects the pervasive adoption of VLE. Mitchell and Geva-May (2009) proposed that faculty members acceptance of VLE is influenced by attitudes related to four factors:-

Intellectual reluctance, such as the concerns that students' perceptions that VLE is inferior to traditional classroom setup.

Support, such as training, time and help.

Change, in particular with regard to doubts the structure and operation of the educational institutions will change and hence threatens their posts.

Economy, where the greatest doubt was with the perception that more funding would be needed to support VLE.

Impact on IS Strategy

Internet access connectivity has revolutionized the education sector particularly on VLE. This is very important as the connection should be good enough to be able to create a virtual environment such that information can be accessed and shared without any delay or problem and securely.

Effects

Likelihood

Low

Medium

High

Negative

Avoid

Favourable

Beneficial

Table 1 Internet Access

Since VLE such as Blackboard software depends much on internet access, any breakdown will halt all activities that involve the information flow between lectures, students and institutional management. The likelihood of this to happen is medium but the effects are very negative and hence any learning institution should avoid this

to cause negative effects by having a backup communication strategy, this can be done by having more than one internet access providers and an automatic switch over once one access is lost.

Effects

Likelihood

Low

Medium

High

Negative

Avoid

Favourable

Beneficial

Table 2 Security

Modern communication like high speed internet connection comes with drawbacks. Security is the major drawback, privacy, confidentiality and integrity of private data flowing over the internet between lecturers, students and education staff offices poses security breach. With wireless internet access in almost every home in developed countries, the security issue becomes more crucial. The likelihood of this to happen is high, its effect is very negative and hence any learning institute with VLE as the mode of learning and teaching delivery should ensure strong encryption tools and detections are in place at all sides of communication.

Effects

Probability

Low

Medium

High

Negative

Favourable

Beneficial

Encourage

Table 3 Software

Collaborative VLE software plays a major role on the efficiency in education sector for keeping students and lecturers together. With these software, almost everything is automated, scheduling, notification and even instant messaging. The traditional message flows in an office is efficiently organised. These software packages are becoming very sophisticated as new technologies in processing and storage capacities of personal computers are improved. The likelihood of these packages to improve is medium and hence increased productivity in education sector, but its effect is very beneficial, hence any institution with VLE deployment should encourage any sort of design or development of the collaborative educational software.

4 Case study

4.1 Students perspectives

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an in depth view of important findings that have already been reported in recent years.

Students' perspective for VLE was studied by Stephen Lonn and Stephanie Teasley in 2009. This study does not concentrate solely on student perceptions but also cover academic staff perceptions. It makes particularly exciting reading as the study is focused on an organisational implementation of an open source VLE, and so it is interesting to see whether the perceptions of students and academicians are going to be different than those found in the use of commercial VLEs.

The study makes a point that VLEs are used mainly for the distribution and storage of course materials though they can be used for enhancing collaboration and interaction via tools such as discussion boards, chat rooms, wikis and blogs. It further points out that these tools permit VLEs to support constructive methods for learning and teaching. A key issue however is attaining students and academician's recognition of the opportunities provided by the tools. It reports that at the University of Wisconsin (Morgan, 2003) academicians reported that once they have had used the VLE they did commence to restructure their courses and finally their pedagogic approach. It also disputes that there are a number of other related studies but there has been a short of longitudinal studies which might spot how students and academicians change their beliefs and methods to the effective uses of VLE in learning and teaching.

The study is conducted at the University of Michigan where they found that academicians' development on VLE is voluntary and the use of the VLE is not obligatory over most of the institutions.

They addressed a number of key questions:

Does IT improve teaching and learning?

No major difference between students and academicians in terms of IT expertise.

Major difference with regard the use of IT. Students reported preferring a high level of IT use than academicians.

Which of the following profits from using information technology in your modules was most valuable to you: Content sharing, Assignments; chat, announcements; schedule, discussion, wiki, syllabus?

There was a major difference between academicians and students. The most popular answer from academicians was that it enhanced their communication with students, and for students the most popular answer was that it saved them time i.e., it was more efficient.

The top four functions selected by students and academicians as 'very valuable' were the same, if in a somewhat different order, covering content sharing, announcements, syllabus and schedule.

When analysing system event log files this seems to match the questionnaire statistics with 95% of activities being correlated to content, assignments, announcements, schedule and syllabus. Only 5% of events were associated with interactive and collaborative tools, discussion board and wiki.

For efficient communication, teaching and learning activities. Students and lecturers were asked to rate specific activities categorised as either 'efficient communication' or 'supporting learning and teaching'.

Lecturers tended to rate 'efficient communication activities' as 'very valuable,' more than students.

Teaching and learning activities tended to be rated as 'valuable' rather than 'very valuable' by both students and lectures.

In general, the study noted that both lecturers and students agree that IT enhance teaching and learning. However lecturers agree more strongly than students that IT can improve teaching and learning. The study suggests that student responses are possibly based on how the VLE tools have actually been used. The perceptions raised in this study of a non-commercial VLE such as MOODLE by students and lecturers are no different to the types of perceptions raised regarding the use commercial VLEs such as Blackboard.

4.2 Lecturers perspectives

The article of Woods et al. (2004) explored how far the Blackboard software assists and supports a blended learning method by examining its use and impact on three areas of teaching and learning:

The Blackboard software as a course management platform, used as an area to provide lecture notes, assignment, slides and other helpful learning materials as reading lists, syllabus, supplementary readings and external links. Also the use of the grade system, the test manager and the assessment tools belong partly too this area.

The Blackboard software as an assignment tool. How far does the Blackboard software encourage diversity, and inspire critical thinking and promote different learning styles before or after a face to face classroom session? Specific characteristics in this area are the discussion boards and test managers.

The Blackboard software as a tool for classroom society. How far does the Blackboard software encourage establishing relationships and interaction between course students and lecturers?

In order to respond to these questions a survey was carried out and sent to 50 colleges and universities in 2003 in a Midwest state of the USA (all learning institutions addressed were using Blackboard). The survey was done by 862 faculty members from 38 institutions; 59% of the respondents were male, and the majority of all respondents considered themselves as very computer literate. Almost half had taught with VLE such as Blackboard software and a significant majority (83%) had received training or help on how to use the Blackboard software. The main reasons specified for using the Blackboard software were:

Professional interests (65%)

Encouraged by colleagues (27%)

Encouragement of students (11 %)

The study indicates that the dominant use of the Blackboard software is in the area of course administrative matters. For instance:

75% regularly published their syllabi

81% sent numerous or sporadic emails to the whole class

59% used the grade systems

Less common use was made of the assignments tool (28%). Nevertheless 41% of respondents had conducted a quiz and 45% had used a discussion board to encourage debate and collaboration.

The Blackboard software was used less commonly as a pedagogic application. For instance, participants pointed out occasional use of the discussion board to continue in class discussion or to support discussion prior to a face to face classroom session. 22% used the group tools to partition students into discussion groups and about 6% used the live chat or virtual classroom features to discuss course content online.

The majority of the correspondents are to some extent neutral towards the expectation that the Blackboard software can encourage a classroom society. About 11% indicated that the Blackboard system was used to develop a stronger sense of classroom society and the majority (60%) pointed out they never used the Blackboard software for this purpose.

In conclusion, the Blackboard software seems primarily to be used as an administration and management tool as part of a blended learning method. The big number of the participants never used Blackboard software for more interactive course functionalities such as formative assessment and for virtual office hours. The study suggests that the Blackboard software seemed to be used to supplement traditional face to face classroom setup.

Suggestions For Further Research

From the findings of the thesis, five suggestions characterising the impact of

virtual learning environments were identified. These suggestions are interesting areas for further research on the acceptance of virtual learning environments.

Suggestion 1. The virtual learning environment should be used in a consistent way by teachers to enhance acceptance and learning among students. Teachers' volunteer on an individual basis on choosing the virtual learning environment proved to be an ordeal for the students . Teachers' voluntariness of use led to an inconsistent use of the virtual learning environment or to no use at all. As a result, students had to adapt to new approaches of use (or no use) of the virtual learning environment in every course. This was perceived as being very annoying. Conversely, in mandatory settings, students were generally pleased with the consistency of teachers' use of the virtual learning environment, while teachers were annoyed by being forced to behave in a certain way. Are there ways to compromise on voluntariness to appease both parties?

Suggestion 2: Text-based asynchronous communication enhances the quality of learning. It enables one-to-one communication between teachers and students and offers time for reflection and to enter deeply into course topics. Furthermore, students that are introverted or participate in a course given in a language, other than their native tongue, are able to "speak their mind" and share discussions and group work on equal terms. Therefore, students with reflective and abstract learning styles are hypothesised to appreciate and learn better from text-based asynchronous communication, than other students. To test this hypothesis further would be interesting.

Suggestion 3: Information could be accessed independently of time and space. Storing, posting and accessing course material and assignments by means of the virtual learning environment enhances the administration of courses. The general quality of teachers' course material has improved as all material has to be published digitally. Course material is constantly accessible from one source independent of time and space. The quality of "effective and dependable file archive" is a highly appreciated quality of virtual learning environments. But what happens to learning by means of the virtual learning environment if it is only used for administrative purposes?

Suggestion 4: The virtual learning environment lacks features for building relationships, and for creating dynamic and lively learning opportunities. Text-based, asynchronous discussions are perceived as being uncreative, slow and aiming only at cognitive tasks. Synchronous discussions are not used as a learning tool at the three case universities, and academic staff describes difficulties in creating lively asynchronous discussions that are active over a longer period of time. When the focus of the communication between students or between students and teachers are building relations or discussing personal matters, the virtual learning environment is left for other means of communication, such as talking face-to-face, telephone conferences or external electronic mail. Moreover, students with pragmatic and active learning styles can be hypothesised to appreciate synchronous communication by means of richer media. Synchronous communication is hypothesised to increase participation in online education (Hrastinski, Keller & Carlsson, 2007). Teachers could increase the relationship-building characteristics of the virtuallearning environment by using synchronous media (e.g. chat) or richer media (e.g. videoconferencing) to create a higher sense of presence and interaction. Hopefully, a lively and relationship-building learning environment will be easier to achieve with the development of web 2.0 and related tools of e.g. blogs, wikis and second life used for collaborative purposes, as well as information delivery. To explore how relationships can be built by means of these tools is an important issue for further research.

Suggestion 5: Informal learning from colleagues is important to develop knowledge of the features of the virtual learning environment and the pedagogical options provided. For academic staff, learning from colleagues informally in every day situations, such as coffee break discussions or observing another teacher's course, is a more influential learning tool than attending formal course sessions or reading manuals. From this perspective, it is important to provide opportunities for informal learning among colleagues, and for teachers to observe course material developed by other teachers in the virtual learning environment. To explore the learning outcomes of teachers having access only to formal learning sessions compared with learning outcomes of teachers frequently involved in informal learning, would be an interesting issue for further research.

These suggestions could presumably create a starting-point for a design theory on virtual learning environments. Furthermore, to create a complete design theory, the impact of what is the core of higher education, the academic subject matter, also deserves to be explored.

Conclusion

This dissertation has presented the impact of VLEs on students and lecturers in learning institution. The case study presented has shown that the Blackboard software seems primarily to be used as an administration and management tool as part of a blended learning method. The majority of the participants never used Blackboard software for more interactive course functionalities such as formative assessment and for virtual office hours. The study suggests that the Blackboard software seemed to be used to supplement traditional face to face classroom setup.

The study also concludes that both lecturers and students agree that IT enhance teaching and learning. However lecturers agree more strongly than students that IT can improve teaching and learning. The study suggests that student responses are possibly based on how the VLE tools have actually been used. The perceptions raised in this study of a non-commercial VLE such as MOODLE by students and lecturers are no different to the types of perceptions raised regarding the use commercial VLEs such as Blackboard.