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The purpose of this paper is to investigate how the use of VLE can enhance or support assessment for learning in mathematics for the special education needs KS4 students'. The virtual learning environment (VLE) is an electronic system that can provide online interaction of various kinds that can take place between learners and tutors, including online learning" and assessment (JISC, 2003). It is a learning platform that supports teaching and learning programmes, such as AfL (assessment for learning). This platform also encourages personalised and collaborative learning, enabling students to carry out peer and self assessment. The research question was: "How would Virtual learning Environment (VLE) enhance assessment of learning in mathematics for the special education needs (SENs) students in KS4 school sector"?
Keywords: Virtual Learning Environment (VLE); Assessment for learning; Teaching methods; Mathematics, Key Stage 4; Secondary education sector.
The way academic practices in higher, further and school sector education responds to influence of computer networks and technology is rather central to immediate and future role of educators in creating a viable teaching and learning environment. T. Fuller and S. Soderlund argue that the process of legitimising knowledge (Justification) is a social process, and whereas knowledge is related to social action, information is conceived as a flow of messages enabling the creation of knowledge (T. Fuller and S. Soderlund, 2002). The driver of academic practices by virtual learning is that of the creation of one's own knowledge which amplifies the process of creating meta-conceptual understanding. Today, technology resources are vital to creating environment that is interactive and personalised, and web-based information systems including online data resources has continued to be more prevalent in our educational activities. Students, teachers and school administrators face the growing challenge of accessing data from a variety of sources (James Greenwood, 2010). It is now a common place to find a multitude of WebCT-based systems in a typical school, college or academy environment that teachers and students are required to use as part of their daily routine (James Greenwood, 2010). This can be a frustrating experience for some and a time consuming process for others, given that each system may have a separate username and password. Recently, most schools in England have been encouraged to embrace the use of VLE in preparation, teaching and delivering of lessons to students (Becta, 2008). Virtual learning environment (VLE) is being adopted by various schools for teaching, learning and assessment. VLE has many benefits and functionalities that would enable students progress in their courses, particularly the special educational needs students in areas such as out of schools learning, personalised, immediate in-class and out of school assessment, (Becta, 2007). A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a set of teaching and learning tools designed to enhance a student's learning experience by including computers and the internet in the learning process. VLE provides components in which learners and tutors participate in several on-line interactions, including on-line learning (NSA Silva, GJM. Costa, S., Rogerson, and M. Prior, (2007). The principal components of a VLE package include curriculum mapping (breaking curriculum into sections that can be assigned and assessed), student tracking, online support for both teacher and student, electronic communication (e-mail, threaded discussions, chat, Web publishing), and internet links to outside curriculum resources (TechTarget, 2009). VLEs offer the ability to schedule a range of learning activities and make tools available rather than just manage content. (Niall Sclater, 2009). Users are able to explore social situations and "try out" different behaviour responses for a variety of simulated social interactions (Kerr, S.J., Neale, H.R. and Cobb, S.V. 2002). VLE software packages are available in a number of commercial outlets, including Blackboard, WebCT, Lotus Learning Space, Moodle and COSE. The virtual learning environment (VLE) as a supportive tool in education provides appropriate modification in curriculum, teaching methods, personalised assessment, educational resource, medium of communication or the learning environment in order to cater for individual differences in learning (Ministry of Education, 2009). It has been suggested that VLE's are particularly useful for people with autism and may provide the ideal method for social skills training (Peter Williams, Hamid R. Jamali and David Nicholas, 2006). Research conducted by Wilson, shows that learners with special needs in mainstream schools are very reluctant to follow a curriculum which they perceive as having little 'surrender value (Wilson, 2006). It is my contention that VLE will enable such learners to acquire skills necessary for today's job market. For the purpose of this study, special education needs refer to a range of educational and social services provided by the public school system and other educational institutions to individuals with disabilities who are in their KS4 sessions and between 14-16 years of age.
In addition to small group of eight SENs students at KS4 level used in creating a case study approach in the study, the paper made extensive use of related research literature in answering the above question. The case study enabled me to scale down the sample size to a manageable number of students in this small scale study. Hopkins (2002) suggests that one of the advantages of case study is its relative importance in plotting a group's reaction to learning and teaching. Case study is an ideal research strategy when holistic, in-depth investigation is needed. However, this needs to be supplemented with other methods, such as questionnaires and interview. In this study designed questionnaires were later used by the students during the case study. I used case study as the main tool for gathering data hence, to enable me to analyse the impact of using VLE to support Assessment for Learning in details.
The paper presents related pedagogical, practical and strategic issues of using virtual learning environment (VLE) platform for assessment, especially the special education needs (SENs) students at KS4 education sector. The eight students who received in-class feedback and feed-forward during maths lesson and via the VLE (school version) seem to move their learning forward and much quicker when compared with students who only received feedback in class. However, there is evidence of teacher - student interactivity, where students receive immediate feedback during the lesson which facilitates understanding quicker than giving feedback and feed-forward through the VLE platform, especially with low ability students. It was also evident that VLE motivates all students and supports assessment for learning (AfL); for example peer and self assessment. Academically, able students benefit more from VLE usage; that is not to say VLE does not also serve weak students as much.
Assessment for Learning
Assessment for learning has become an integral part of teaching ad learning, and finding an effective and efficient way of giving feedback and feed forward has become a priority for some schools in the United Kingdom. Assessment for learning has been defined by some authors as; "The process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how to get there" (Assessment reform group 2002). Another definition of assessment for learning which includes a working definition from widely cited article contends that: "the term 'assessment' refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers, and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia).These definitions underpin the need for VLE platform in supporting assessment for learning, hence, according to research, (Assessment and ICT/VLE) conducted by Becta in 2005; ICT - WebCT has the functionality of playing a pivotal role in enabling data collection and manipulation to be carried out easily and efficiently. It can, for example, be used to analyse individual special education needs (SENs) student's attainment and set target for that students". Virtual learning environment (VLEs) are claimed to offer schools a number of benefits, such as anytime , anywhere access, improved motivation, access to higher or novel learning styles, opportunities for independent learning, better integration of information and communication technology (ICT) tools, and increased parental engagement (Becta 2004). In today's world where we become more dependent on machinery and technology in our daily lives (Preston, 2004), virtual learning has become one of the ways technology has been used to supplement learning and assessment. According to Waring and Boardman, (2004), a typical virtual learning environment consists of course details and objectives, lectures notes, summaries, reading lists, learning resources, computer-assisted materials, discussion groups and assessment. The tools and privileges attributed to tutor differ from that of the student. For instance, a tutor would normally be able to add scores of all students and update students' assessment information, unlike a student participant. The importance of using VLE to support assessment for learning has also been reiterated by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) formally known as Department for Education and Skills (DfES, 2003). VLE provides a platform and means by which teachers can give (Students) feedback that is direct to the individual. This capitalises on the interactivity offered by computer, that is, the teacher and learners communicate by the use of VLE technology as a medium, in a way that supports learning which can be personalised to SENs students and direct" (DfES, 2003). The SEN policy addresses the use of Technology to enhance the learning of students with special educational needs. VLE and other WebCT are written to ensure that all students develop ICT capability in line with their ability level. The use of generic software and the standard applications support achievement in students with special educational needs. The virtual learning environment offers SEN (Special Education Needs) students a specialised area where they are able to use VLE and ICT to support their learning. The use of VLE in subject areas such as Mathematics is a statutory requirement within the National Curriculum at both KS3 and KS4 (DfES, 2003), thus the believed that many schools in the UK have developed effective practice in VLE technology. Ofsted stated that "ICT teaching at KS3 is now more challenging than previously with well planned discrete courses; most learners now achieve well"-(OfSTED reports, 2003/04). However in the same report, the continual weaknesses in the ICT/VLE technology assessment for learning were noted. It argues that weaknesses continue in the assessment of learners' ICT capabilities and their own involvement, in order to promote more effective learning. Furthermore, Ofsted indicates that there is insufficient formative assessment of learners' ICT/VLE capabilities; learners are insufficiently involved in their own assessment and often have too little understanding of what it is they are trying to achieve (Secondary subject report, 2000/01: ICT). According to DfES document (The standard, 2003): "the process of work in ICT is key in deciding standards. In making a secure judgement about the level that students have achieved, teachers must record the stages through which learners worked and the modifications and decisions they made in order to achieve their final outcome". So this again underpins the importance of creating an effective system for learning and assessment in virtual learning environment (VLE and WebCT) technologies.
Implication for Schools
In the UK, most schools engage in continuous monitoring, assessment and giving feedback to students both in Web communication technology and traditional (Paper based) methods. Time has come for us to ask whether teachers are making good use of available options within the VLE -ICT environment such as word processing or spreadsheet software or even chart room to give feedback to students or using highlighter tool, track changes and callouts, emails, peer assessment or text boxes. What are the implications for teachers? While the Department for children, schools and families (DCSF) may have the very best intentions and believe that VLE/ICT can be used to support the following aspects of assessment for learning; feedback on learning, peer and self assessment for learning, learners and teachers reviewing and reflecting on assessment data, there may be implications for learning. One of the implications is the setting up of acceptable VLE platform that will enhance collaboration and assessment of mathematics learning within the VLE/WebCT needs through adequate curriculum planning and engagement. This has to be incorporated in the school development plan, including ICT/VLE curriculum for effective and successful use of VLE in learning and assessment. Schools in the UK usually receive ICT/VLE funding from the central government which they use in the procurement of new technology equipments such as computers, interactive whiteboard, data projectors and VLEs. However, there is no evidence to suggest that these technologies are used effectively in the schools, in order to enhance teaching and learning with particular emphasis on SENs students assessment for learning in mathematics.
The study found that special education students were able to learn and use VLE platform - 'Fronter' (school version) to set target and manage their learning. The maths teacher was able to create new conversation and teach students new lessons for 5 - days; at the end of the 5 - days, students were assessed. Students were able to set their personal goals and carry out self assessment when directed by the teacher. The study suggests that the VLE - 'Fronter' strongly supports all the elements of curriculum on mathematics entitlement and choice. Students were actively involved, enthused and the extent to which they have used the VLE as a learning tool was phenomenal. It underpins argument that VLE contributes to learning and teaching of students. There is evidence from the analysis of data collected via VLE that those students who receive constant feedback and guidelines on improvement both in the class and through VLE, performed better than other students who did not. VLE offers the students in the research group an opportunity to self assess their work in real time to see how they have performed and possible areas of improvement before finally uploading their work. These students also carried out peer assessment by first, saving their work in the student folder; this allowed other students to access these work and make comments. Personalised access to learning and assessment were achieved as students were given feedback and feed-forward that is relative to their ability. This also promotes independent and interactive learning which in my view raises confidence and engagement level of the SENs of their learning process. All the students indicated that they enjoyed using VLE to carry out peer assessment exercise since it availed them the opportunity to look at other student's work in order to give feedback. However one student said that, it was good to receive feedback from fellow students. This small scale study reveals that all students who took part indicated that they all like to use the VLE as a learning platform because it enables them to receive feedback, guidelines on the required work improvement and being able to carry out peer and self assessments.
VLE Capabilities in Enhancing Mathematical Concepts Acquisition
The need to understand and be able to use mathematics in everyday life and in the workplace has never been greater and will continue to increase" (NCTM, 2000). Special needs students receiving special educational services need additional opportunities and support through enhanced manipulative tools such as VLE or WebCT in order to acquire and attain a substantial understanding of important concepts, skills, and strategies relating to math (NCTM, 2000). Special education needs (SENs) students are usually visual learners. Manipulative within the virtual learning environment platform are, therefore, an excellent tool for them to engage their learning effectively. When students work with manipulative, they are using their visual and tactile skills to enhance their learning experience. Manipulative do not only make learning easier but are also fun to work with. Most SEN students enjoy working with manipulative technology (Elizabeth Scott, 2008) as this enhances their practising number skills and use of images. The potential advantages of using computer-based manipulative technologies for teaching, learning and assessment in order to facilitate flexible provision within Mathematics has been apparent for many years (Stephen Hibberd, Cliff Litton, Claire Chambers, 2009). Elizabeth Scott states that special education students always struggle to understand ideas that are too abstract, thus Math class is particularly challenging, and while some students might be able to understand many math concepts by listening to the teacher's explanation on a board, many students do not learn effectively from the instruction provided in their regular math classes. For the special education students however, this will not be enough. They therefore often need a hands-on approach to learning (Elizabeth Scott, 2008). The VLE has been embraced by students including the SENs students and teaching staff as a means of providing an integrated and versatile support mechanism to school sector education, including KS4 special needs learners. DfES published article on how technology (VLE/ICT related) can be used to support effectively 'Assessment for Learners' (AfL), 'states that VLE provides a means by which teachers can give learners feedback that is direct to the individual' (DfES, 2004). This capitalises on the interactivity offered by the VLE and computer; the teachers or practitioner and learners are able to communicate using VLE as the medium in a way that supports learning, which can be personalised and direct. Peer and self assessment can effectively be carried out in virtual learning environment (VLE). The reviewing and reflecting on assessment data using VLE which is a key feature of learning technology is the way that the assessment evidence can be collected during the learning process and stored for analysis, and can demonstrate progress over time (DfES, 2004). The VLE or WebCT provides a full range of mathematics assessments to enhance instructional decisions, including a Curriculum-Based Measurement component, Pre-Test and Post-Tests, and several opportunities for ongoing assessment. Research suggests that the practice of providing feedback on student performance as well as information relating to a student's specific strengths and weaknesses in mathematics is a combination factor beneficial to student achievement (Gersten, Chard, Baker and Lee, in review).
VLE for collaborative and Independent mathematics Learning
Why do some students including the special education needs (SENs) students feel motivated to work hard to improve at mathematics, while others see little point in putting effort into learning the subject? What can teachers do to help every student, particularly the SENs learners take positive view towards learning mathematics and realise their potentials? (Kyriacou, Chris & Goulding, Maria. 2006). In this essay, I carry out a systematic review of literature on the teaching and learning technology tools that will enable SENs learners engage in active learning as well as finding strategies which may help increase the amount of effort that average and below average students make in order to learn mathematics at KS4 (ages 14-16 years). Some of the initiatives that have the potential to increase students' motivation and put more efforts into learning mathematics include: helping students to view themselves as mathematicians by helping them to gain a deeper understanding of mathematics and providing a supportive classroom climate. Also helpful is the provision of innovative strategies for raising students' motivation to work at mathematics which includes using VLEs, interactive whiteboards, WebCTs and other assessments for learning practices. VLE is the perfect platform to engage individual assessment solutions that teaches while testing, for instance, 'MyWorks' integrates independent learning into students' teaching and most other VLE tools now have assessment compliant package for schools and students to use with their chosen VLE platform (Board Works, 2010). These tools are versatile, engaging and time-saving; they also contain interactive quizzes which are easy to use and are perfect complement to whole other class resources (Board Works, 2010). Greater students' cooperation, sharing and helping behaviours occurred when students used computer-based learning that had students compete against the computer rather than against each other. VLE creates environment for and encourages personalised learning to suit SENs learners by developing students as autonomous learners through the use of VLE and through the use of specific ICT learning systems. Students can progress at their own pace, quizzes at different levels are available to challenge all students including SENs students and every test concludes with a printable report. The small group collaboration on computer is especially effective when student have received training in the collaborative process (Board Works, 2010). Instant feedback and grade indicators will motivate students and build a profile of strengths and weaknesses that give teachers the information needed to deliver efficient intervention specificity. Methodmaths developed simple but highly interactive files that encourage students to participate in active revision and become reflective learners (Methodmaths, 2010)
Evidence of support for out of school hours of learning
There is evidence that learner (SEN included) who do not respond well to the formal structure of learning within the school system take an active part in learning in informal settings. There is also great emphasis from literatures that virtual learning environment (VLE) has the potentials through the communication tools to support students working at home or during non-contact time (James Greenwood, 2010). Growing evidence shows that some children and young people who may not achieve academically relate well to the open ended nature of creative work through technology (Cape, UK). Research from 'Cape UK' suggests that a web designer working with a group of children on a half term project was 'blown away' by the work of the young people who were producing better and more imaginative work than the undergraduates he teaches at the local university (Cape, UK, 2006). Virtual learning environment provides a platform on which training and learning assumes a superlative experience with special needs learners. "Study carried out by the National School Board Association in America indicates that successful technology-rich schools generate impressive results for students, including improved achievement; higher test scores; improved student attitude, enthusiasm, and engagement; richer classroom content; and improved student retention and job placement rates (NSBA). Tom McMullen suggests that VLE has the ability to motivate students, encourage autonomous learning, facilitate differentiated learning experiences and provide improved feedback on learning outcomes (McMullen, T., (2002). Students are able to transfer work between home and school through an adopted VLE platform in use in the school. They are also able to access the learning resources area. Special education needs (SENs) students studying Mathematics at national standard should be able to have access to all the materials through the virtual learning environment that is being used by the school. Whole school assessment through VLE can be used to record baseline and to support the setting and monitoring of progress towards end of KS4 targets. In schools, all base line data, students tracking summaries and KS targets are available to staff on the 'shared area' of the school network. Manipulative software within the VLE is used to analyse performance data, track progress and provide performance report.
Improvement in Peer and Self Learning in VLE
Studies carried out in most schools in the US show positive benefits from the use of technology. One of these include; a U.S. Department of Education-funded study of nine technology-rich schools, concluded that the use of technology resulted in educational gains for all students regardless of age, race, parental income, or other characteristics. [GET THIS] The second, a 10-year study supported by Apple Computer, Inc., concluded that student provided with technology-rich learning environments 'continued to perform well on standardised tests but were also developing a variety of competencies not usually measured. Students explored and represented information dynamically and in many forms; became socially aware and more confident; communicated effectively about complex processes; became independent learners and self-starters; knew their areas of expertise and shared that expertise spontaneously'" (Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT), 2005) Courses for which computer-based networks were use increased student-student and student-teacher interaction, increased student-teacher interaction with lower-performing students, and did not decrease the traditional forms of communication used. Many students who seldom participate in face-to-face class discussion become more active participants online. Virtual learning environment (VLE) has evolved to meet the needs of many schools who offer additional qualifications in maths at Key Stage 4 for special education needs students. Whether the school is delivering GCSE Statistics as a course in post early entry, before GCSE maths or as independent study option, VLE tools/platforms will give the students the very support they need (Methodmaths, 2010). Education technology has been found to have positive effects on student attitudes toward learning and on student self learning-concepts. Students felt more successful in school, they were more motivated to learn, have increased self-confidence and self-esteem when using computer-based instruction (they seem in control). This was particularly true when the technology allowed learners to control their own learning, for example, Methdomaths has been designed to facilitate remote independent learning skills and an ongoing approach to revision and assessment. The index sheet which stores performance data against topic, offers both SENs and able students a truly personalised experience which teachers can respond to formatively (Methodmaths, 2010). With scientific and rigorous approach to revision in place, teachers and support staff can help their students to' fulfil their true potential?
Using VLE to improve quality of monitoring and assessment
The level of effectiveness of educational technology is influenced by the specific student population, the software design, the teacher's role, how the students are grouped, and the level of student access to technology. Students trained in collaborative learning, have higher self esteem and overall student achievement. Introducing technology into the learning environment has been shown to make learning more student-centred, encourage cooperative learning, and stimulate increased teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction. Positive changes in the learning environment brought about by technology are more evolutionary than revolutionary. These changes occur over a period of time (years), as teachers become more experienced with technology. Assessment in VLE is made easy and interesting as students obtain immediate answers from their work. Teachers introduce students to the concepts of mathematics, example simplifying ratios; all texts and diagrams can be edited to suit the needs and abilities of learners. Teachers can check students understanding of simplifying ratios with built-in fun activity in which students must answer correctly a range of questions on ratio. VLE has a built-in interactive spider diagram to teach students about ratios, and students can choose to hide or reveal the answer (Boardworks KS4 maths, 2010) Lesson in action can use dynamic step-by-step animation to teach students about reflection symmetry. Again students' understanding can be tested with colourful slides; students must guess how many lines of symmetry each design has before revealing the answers. Teachers can use this exciting activity to finish the lesson, and students must move the lines to make the shapes symmetrical. Another example of using VLE in numerical assessment question is with scaffolded support; students are excited as cells turns green when correct, encouraging self remediation when wrong. Marks are still awarded when alternative approach is taken. Grade indicators at the top of every paper provide a dynamic percentage, grade and target. SENs students soon learn about grade boundaries and are motivated by the challenge of reaching the next level (Methodmaths, 2010). Dynamic controls allow SENs students to build graphs and charts in a highly interactive and enjoyable way. While multi-choice and gap fill responses have been added to probe understanding and develop concise responses to descriptive questions.
Feedback and Feed forward in VLE
Tom McMullen suggests that ICT -VLE has the functionality to motivate students, encourage autonomous learning, facilitate differentiated learning experiences and provide improved feedback on learning outcomes (McMullen, T. 2002). In this study, evidence suggests that VLE supports assessment for learning (AfL), personalised, autonomous and collaboration amongst students. Student feedback plays an important part in developing formative assessment and improving students' contributions in the process of teaching and learning. Students' self and peer evaluation in every session of their (Maths) learning provides opportunity to move learning forward, and the results of this process are incorporated into successive sessions. Less able students move their learning forward when given feedback & feed forward in class. This process of engaging students in developing maths concepts within the virtual learning environment (VLE) mirrors the processes of reflecting on learning and acquisition of mathematical skills both in and out of the classroom environment. VLE motivates all students and supports students' assessment for learning; for example, peer and self assessment. VLE offer SENs students the opportunities to self assess their work in real time in order to know how well they are doing. They are able to highlight areas of improvement in the self assessment box before work is finally submitted. This is an important area in teaching, learning and assessment of students, and one function of VLE that is not only crucial to the principles of assessment for learning but offers the students the opportunity to evaluate their work in real - time as they still have the fresh memories of what they understood and what they found difficult to understand. Virtual learning environment offers students the opportunity to see how well they have done in assignment, highlighting areas for improvement in the self assessment box before they upload their work. In my view, this is crucially important to teaching and learning, not only that this is one of the principles of assessment for learning, but it also offers students the opportunity to evaluate their work in real time.
Personalised Assessment for Learners (AfL), autonomous and collaborative learning in a VLE.
The report, by the Centre for Recording Achievement, argues that personalised learning planning should be seen primarily as a process that has the potential to enhance learner motivation and confidence, enabling learners to have a sense of ownership of the learning process, improving decision-making skills and helping in the management of transitions, for example between learning providers. Since this can be seen as a process, it should provide a means of purposeful dialogue between learner and tutor, supporting engagement, retention and progression (Rob Ward and Helen Richardson, 2007). The learning "pathways" functionality of VLE allows for greater differentiation with programmes tailored to individual student's needs. However, the greatest impact of the use of VLE could be gained if teachers are experience users who integrate VLE functionalities, making effective use of the VLE platform right from the very start of their teaching in a maths lesson or any other subject for that matter. Research reveals that teachers have not yet exploited the creative potentials of VLE and do not therefore engage students more actively in the production of knowledge. In my opinion, the impact of VLE or any other ICT application is dependant on the capacity of teacher to exploit the technology more effectively and efficiently for pedagogical purposes. However, factors beyond teachers control can also influence the uptake of VLE, for example institutional cultures, leadership, the curriculum and assessment of mathematics. Balanskat, A. et al, (2006) identified three main barriers that could pose impediments on virtual learning environment (VLE) in supporting teaching and learning in schools. They include; (a) Teacher-level barriers as a result of poor VLE (ICT) competence and lack of confidence in using new technologies; this may hamper the uptake by the students. (b) School level-barriers which are giving limited access to VLE (ICT) usage, poor quality and inadequate maintenance of hardware, as well as acquisition of unsuitable educational software for teaching and learning. (c) The systems-level barriers; this is the rapid assessment structures, which impede the integration of ICT/VLE into everyday learning activities" in the schools (Balanskat, A. et al, 2006). There is also a growing gap between technology (VLE, ICT) confident teachers and the schools, so there is the need to take action to narrow this gap. It is therefore my personal contention that VLE, not only enhance AfL but also supports personalised, independent and collaborative learning. Finally, personalised learning plans can be a mechanism for testing how well flexible, learner-centred curricula, with clear progression pathways are understood and used by learners, and for ensuring that learner expectations are well managed. (Rob Ward and Helen Richardson, 2007)
Students Learning Experience and Opportunities (Mathematics Learning)
Technology is making significant and positive impact in all sector of education on the way we learn today. The use of technology provides greater opportunity for independent learning. The virtual learning environment (VLE) allows SENs students to work more independently, providing reassurance and creating a non-threatening environment for all students. It also offers students access to all selected texts in most situations. VLE provides a spoken version for computer generated essays etc, which promotes a multi-sensory learning environment to aid revision (Crivelli, 2009). Educational technology has demonstrated significant positive effect on general schools achievement in all subjects, especially in mathematics. Positive effects have been found for all major subject areas, from pre-school through to higher education, and for both regular education and special needs students. Evidence suggests that interactive video is especially effective when the skills and concepts to be learned have a visual component and when the software incorporates a research-based instructional design (Crivelli, 2009). Most VLE incorporates flexible diagrams to help students make generalisations and discover formulae by themselves while dynamic activities clearly demonstrate even the trickiest concepts. For example; a lesson that uses interactive diagrams to clearly explain the sine, cosine and tangent of any angle. The use of online telecommunications for collaboration across classrooms in different geographic locations has also been show to improve academic skills. Studies conducted by BECTA, suggests that VLE provides students access to a safe and secure personal online learning space which is an interim goal set by the government for all schools to achieve by 2020 (Becta 2008). According to Becta, this learning space must offer the following: Anytime/anywhere access to learning resources created and stored by or for students. Communication tools such as email, messaging, sticky, chat room etc to enable dialogue between a student's peers and mentors. In addition to communication tools, VLE also maintains management tools with which to monitor and assess progress made by all students.
The changing student roles in learning and assessment
From this study, it appears that the role of learning and teaching from the perspectives of the students and the teachers are changing with out us realising this change. The special education needs students who participated in this study were enthused when introduced to the use of VLE in a mathematic class. They showed great sense of motivation, able to personalise their learning and able to move their learning forward. Goodyear (2002) developed a number of indicators that show how the tutor and student roles might be expected to change when moving into an online environment, for example, a virtual learning environment (VLE) platforms that offers interactive teaching, learning and assessment tools. These roles include:
From passive receptacles for hand-me-down knowledge to constructors of their own knowledge;
Students move from memorising facts towards solving problems;
Students view topics from multiple perspectives;
Students devise their own questions and search for their own answers;
Students work as group members on more collaborative/co-operative assignments: group interaction significantly increased;
Increased multi-cultural awareness;
Students work towards fluency with the same tools as professionals in their field;
Increased emphasis on students as autonomous, independent, self-motivated managers of their own learning;
Discussion of students' work in the classroom and peer to peer assessment;
There is a change in emphasis from receiving information from the teacher and learning to 'pass the test' towards using knowledge;
Emphasis on developing effective learning strategies (both individually and collaboratively);
Students have greater access to resources, feedback and feed forward.
The benefits of using a VLE has been embraced by students and teaching staff as a means of providing an integrated and versatile support mechanism for assessment. The study notes that virtual learning environment (VLE) supports assessment for learning (AfL), personalised, autonomous and collaborative learning. However, there was also a concern that mere use of VLE may not bring about significant improvement in students learning. The learning pathway functionality of VLE; whichever version used, allows for greater differentiation with programmes tailored to individual student's needs, though not explored in this study. There is a substantial increase in collaborative learning between students which is attributable to the use of VLE. The greatest impact of the use of VLE can be achieved if teachers are experienced users who integrate its use right from the very start of their teaching in a maths lesson. The study revealed that teachers have yet to exploit the creative power of the VLE to engage students more actively in production of knowledge. In my opinion, the impact of VLE is dependent on the ability of teacher to fully exploit the technology effectively for pedagogical purposes; however, factors beyond teacher's control may also influence or limit the uptake. Theses factors may include; institutional cultures, leadership, financial, curriculum and assessment. In general, for schools to be able to provide inclusive and differentiated education, the use of VLE is of necessity in our current educational dispensation.