There has been a significant increase in the number of students enrolled in universities in the United Kingdom over the last two decades (Saunders and Gale, 2012:847). With a larger number of students, this results in larger class sizes in many institutions. Larger classes with traditional face-to-face teaching may not be efficient enough for students to obtain sufficient knowledge. A solution to this problem is the use of virtual learning environments (VLEs). Shea and Bidjerano (2010, cited in Matzat, 2013:40) stated that online and blended learning is likely to become an important part of the educational system.
According to Zhang and Xie (2012:2236), nowadays, technology has developed to such a stage where high speed internet and broadband networks allow the access of actual laboratory resources. This will allow students to access laboratory tools and high performance software from their homes. Reid (2001, cited in Khorsandi et al, 2012:481) reported that there have also been the development and use of online faculty evaluations for students. Virtual learning environments, as defined by Leese (2009:72), are described as an environment which is computer-based and involves the sharing of information between learners and tutors.
This essay will assert that using VLEs in an efficient manner can help improve the learning experiences of the student and also encourage behavior of students to take part in and out of class activities. The first part of this essay will look at the positive aspects of VLEs starting with how they are beneficial to students and teachers, then how VLEs encourage students to engage with in and out of class activities, and lastly how VLEs can be used to modify and enhance traditional face-to-face teaching in higher education. To begin with, there are many benefits that both students and teachers can gain from using VLEs.
VLEs contain many features, to name a few they include access to course materials, assessments, podcast, and discussion board. In a study by Saunders and Gale (2012:857), 90 % of students found that access to course materials through the use of VLEs was ranked highly for enhancing the learning experience. The reason for this was because VLEs allowed all students to gain access to the course material flexibly even in large classes. Furthermore students who missed the lecture could also review their class materials and test their understanding.
In another study by Lonn and Teasley (2009:91), the findings report that students find podcast material to be beneficial to their studying. Podcast materials are used for reviewing concepts and issues that were presented in lectures. Once again, for students who missed some lectures they could still acquire the knowledge, issues and concepts that were presented in class. At the end of a course, VLEs can still be used for gathering teaching evaluations. From Khorasandi et al (2012:483), the results showed that students preferred performing evaluations online.
Two of the main reasons why the students preferred online evaluations were because of anonymity and privacy. Apparently, it can be seen that VLEs benefit both students and teachers because it allows flexibility for students to access materials and allowing privacy and anonymity in performing evaluations. According to Leese (2009), it has become important that students need to develop certain skills in order to succeed in higher education. The objective of the study was to encourage student engagement in and out of class activities in order to obtain certain skills through the use of VLEs.
At the end of the study, students commented that they were able to acquire a number of skills including using technology, teamwork, and presentations. Zhang and Xie (2012:2236) also reported that VLE helped students engage in investigation of authentic problems. Through the use of high speed internet, students could access laboratory tools and high performance software which aid their out of class assignments. Seemingly, it can be seen that technology and the internet can encourage behavior of student to engage in and out of class activities. As living in the 21st century the internet performs a considerable role.
Supposedly, it is able to provide access to many resources from serious educational knowledge to humorous entertainment; it can change and enhance traditional face-to-face teaching in so many ways. With the help of VLEs course materials can be accessed easily and students can always review materials through podcasts, it is time for instructors to change their teaching styles not only improve the performance of students in and out of class but also get higher outcomes . From Heaton-Shrestha’s et al (2005:383) study, the staff reported that VLE had an impact on their teaching processes.
Some staff had to change the way materials were prepared and designed moreover, how feedback was assessed and given to their students. According to Lonn and Teasley (2009:92), podcasting can allow instructors to focus on the main concepts and devote the time to other teaching strategies. With more time available, instructors are able to devote more time into face-to-face discussions and other innovative activities. With some changes add on the traditional face-to-face teaching, learning experience of students can be greatly enhanced. In conclusion, the essay has shown that VLEs can improve student engagement and performance.
Used in an efficient manner, it can help improve the learning experiences of the students and also encourage students to perform better with in and out of class activities. Nevertheless, VLEs may not be able to replace the face-to-face lectures but when it is used in an efficient manner, VLE enhances the students’ learning. Students have found VLEs useful for downloading course materials and accessing multiple choice quizzes and case studies. Furthermore, students are able to acquire a number of skills through VLEs such as teamwork, presentation skills and also development in process of learning.
While there are many factors that affect student interactions with VLEs, it can be said that VLEs greatly enhance the students’ learning experience in higher education. It is also important to know that with the aid of VLEs, the traditional face-to-face teaching must be modified. In future, instructors must change their teaching styles from merely lectures to student-centered approaches and create better environments for a wide variety of learning opportunities as a whole. Words Count: 1021 References * Heaton-Shrestha, C. , Edirisingha, P. , Burke, L. and Linsey, T. (2005).
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