Scott Leslie comments on a report by Margaret Lohman, looking at student performance when material was delivered to the students via a VLE (available pre-class), or handed out in class. Though the numbers involved are small, and they are all graduate students, the results are interesting.

First, the study’s findings provide little evidence to warrant continuing the conventional practice of using a CMS as a alternative way of presenting course materials and information. CMSs cost millions of dollars to purchase and maintain. Instructors must spend countless hours learning how to use the technology, preparing materials for CMSs, and monitoring student use of course websites. And, for what benefit? No evidence was found in this study to indicate that on-line access to course materials yields any positive dividend in terms of student learning or satisfaction. (Lohman)

She goes on to add:

Instead, CMSs should be used to conduct learning activities, such as facilitated group discussions and problem-based learning experiences, that supplement in-class activities as well as to provide additional learning resources that are not available in class.

More research needs to be done, particularly as we, in common with many universities, have a policy of encouraging staff to use WebCT to support face to face teaching. The default is, as this report also finds, as a repository (some may even say “dumping ground”) for handouts, course books etc. What should we be doing to better utilise it?

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