An investigation of students' experiences of using virtual learning environments: implications for academic professional development.
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Introduction Because virtual learning environments (VLEs) are amongst the most widely adopted technologies in higher education, and to justify the widespread investment in VLE technology, it is important to study patterns of actual student VLE use and student satisfaction (Naveh et al., 2010). This chapter presents the work of a multi-institutional group of educational developers who have collaborated since 2008 to gather students’ views on the use of VLEs across higher education in Ireland. The project has now developed into a longitudinal study, open to participation by any educational institution, and is currently integrated in the research strategy of the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA). Surveys of students have been undertaken since 2008 using a common set of questions. Participating institutions, on condition of anonymity, pooled their results for comparison. The survey data provided each institution with useful information on how VLE uptake and usage patterns compared with other institutions, in a framework which prevented abuse of the findings for marketing or public benchmarking. The institutions who have participated, thus far, represent a diversity of organisational histories and VLE systems, and results to date include the responses of more than 15,000 students. The resulting database constitutes the largest collection of information on student experience related to technology enhanced learning in Ireland. We have presented and published our methods and some of our earlier results (Cosgrave et al., 2008; Cosgrave et al., 2009; Cosgrave et al., 2011). In this chapter, we will give an overview of the research methods and findings, but will focus on the implications for academic professional development and capacity building. We also describe our working processes as a self-sustaining collaborative group. Like other chapters in this publication, where the collective voice influences pedagogical practice, our contribution is driven by the desire to allow the student voice to inform the continuous improvement of their learning experiences. This chapter demonstrates how a sustainable collaborative project has contributed to 8 Angelica Risquez, University of Limerick; Claire McAvinia, Dublin Institute of Technology; Damien Raftery, IT Carlow; Fiona O’Riordan, Griffith College Dublin; Nuala Harding, Athlone Institute of Technology; Robert Cosgrave, independent professional; Theresa Logan-Phelan, Trinity College Dublin; Tom Farrelly, Institute of Technology Tralee Corresponding author: Angelica.Risquez@ul.ie • EMERGING ISSUES IN HIGHER 100 EDUCATION III VLE capacity building, through offering insight from lessons learned across institutions. The drivers for change at national level will be discussed first with a brief overview of other existing research on the use of VLEs. Following a summary of research methods, the findings will be presented and discussed. The main themes we are going to explore throughout this chapter are the student experience in using VLEs in HE and the implication of this for academic professional development for lecturers. The results speak to issues of capacity building in the sector, in terms of the relationship between staff and student use of the VLE. We will conclude with plans for future research which include the impact of supporting teaching and learning in higher education.
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