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Abstract

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) have become an integral part of the technological furniture of higher education over the past two decades. While some VLE adopters have argued that the enhancement of teaching and learning is a key driver underpinning their use, an increasing number have described typical VLE usage as a “notes-bank approach”. However, while it is widely accepted that they are used primarily as content repositories, the actual value that they add to the teaching and learning process, and ultimately to the student experience, has not been widely questioned. So, in an age of increasing budgetary constraints, combined with the prioritisation of investment in appropriate technologies for higher education, it seems appropriate to scrutinise how the VLE is used and what value it has added. In 2013, at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), we initiated a study which sought to find out how our academic staff were using the VLE as part of their teaching practice. Additionally, given the proliferation of emerging eLearning tools outside of the VLE, we wanted to find out if academics were aware of such technologies and if, or how, they were using them. Finally in order to inform future practice and strategic planning, we wanted to gain an insight into factors inhibiting or preventing staff from engaging with eLearning technologies. The results are not altogether surprising, indicating high levels of VLE usage among academics, albeit with limited pedagogical innovation underpinning this usage. Findings also demonstrated high levels of interest in, and awareness of, other technologies for teaching and learning: however only a small minority had actually used many of these as part of their academic practice, with high levels of reservation about time and effort involved in utilising such technologies to the full. This paper presents and discusses the key findings of this research and indicates possible ways forward for higher education in the digital age.

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