Dr Mike J Smith
I don't know about other users, but I have a mixed reaction to the use of "virtual learning environments" (in my case Blackboard). On the one hand I am a proponent of the web based dissemination of learning materials. If you are to integrate this within
an environment that incorporates enrolment, then the benefits can be clearly seen (e.g. summative and formative testing, access restrictions etc). However this is not a grown up networking environment; just look at the rich facilities available to users of Microsoft Sharepoint. The overarching web-based, group-based, environment is still the same, but the facilities and power are so much more apparent. That said, Sharepoint is clearly not directed at educational environments. So for the moment Blackboard it is and, to a large extent, it does a reasonable job. However one key area is dissemination of learning materials and in Blackboard this requires adding learning materials one at a time; a painfully slow experience. Not only that, but if you come to download past modules, then the XML-only format is painful-in-the-extreme to work with.
One of the features supported by Blackboard is the uploading of "package" files. These are standard ZIP files that you can use to contain mini web sites. For me, they are the ideal means to create your own easily updatable material that can be uploaded to Blackboard. Not only that, but they are easy to extract from the debris of an exported Blackboard XML file should you so need. You can also apply your own design, including the use of forms, to create a bespoke and, if you're good enough, rich environment. A little bit of flexibility and lateral thinking is a good thing, particularly in the world of Blackboard.