Sunday, October 29, 2006

Official opening of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, London

Today was a very special day for the Thai temple I support in Brookwood, Woking. The Vice-Abbot Phrabhavanaviriyakhun (Ven. Dattajeevo Bhikkhu or simply 'Luang Phor') came all the way from Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Thailand to officiate at the ceremony, culminating in the unveiling of a new name plate at the front (facing the roundabout!) at around 11a.m. Our temple is now called Wat Phra Dhammakaya (London). In the morning session there was also meditation, chanting and the offering of robes, providing many opportunities for people to cultivate bright states of mind.

In the afternoon Luang Phor Dattajeevo gave Dhamma instruction. He's very popular in Thailand and has given many teachings, including broadcasts over the radio. He seems very interested in education, especially knowledgeable - he's been up to Oxford and spent hours in various bookshops looking for books that can help him improve the way he communicates (when he came to Oxford he was mainly interested in the way the content was expressed and was particularly looking for 3D representations).

Indeed Luang Phor has previously given Dhamma instruction in English using quite a lot of visuals on OHP to describe the functionings of the mind. However, this afternoon he was more conventional, using mainly words to treat the subject of Kamma. The basis of his discussion today was the Cuulakammavibhangasutta in Majjhima Nikaaya, which translates as a shorter classification of actions. In the Pali Text Society edition it's MN 135 Book III, but the Thai numbering systems appears to be completely different. Thai and English translations were distributed, the English one coming from

Thanks to Phibul Choompolpaisal, a group of us received very useful translations from Thai. We thus heard how the Ven. Dattajeevo's explanations of kamma were rich and varied, with many illustrations, yet all contained within a coherent whole. I'll only quickly paraphrase here. Every volitional act creates kamma; to know which is skilful and which is unskilful requires a neutral mind, but this in turn requires cultivation. It doesn't happen by itself; it's important to develop sila (precepts), and practice chanting and meditation every day. This helps to refine the mind, so that gradually it can assess things in an unbiased way, with an intuition for knowing what's right and what isn't even though the results may not be immediate, rather like planting seeds, that may take a long time to bear fruit (of course, planting seeds is not sufficient by itself - they need nurturing through sun, water etc). And you can apply this to many spheres, including employment.

Practising good deeds generates punya, which is roughly translated as 'merit', which is like a pure form of energy that can fill and empty, in the same way as fuel. Every time you breathe in, you're using up some merit, because life (at least in human form) is meritorious. Thais seem intuitively to know the value of merit very well and hence the Sangha has been well sustained (and, it's claimed, why Thai food is so tasty!) If you do not cultivate merits across a broad front it may mean that even if you try to practice intensively, you may not have the right supporting conditions. (In a similar way at my mother's cremation service the late Ven. Dr Rewata Dhamma also emphasised the need to make and transfer merits to the deceased - like providing good soil for a seed to flourish.)

I had also been invited to join another special ceremony today at the Oxford Buddha Vihara, the Kathina robe offering ceremony and 3rd anniversary. Fortunately, my cousin Jo, was able to come to the rescue and be my representative. We both enjoyed our respective occasions :-)

P.S. I'll see if I can obtain some photos - I didn't have a camera with me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Post conference: brief reflection

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time.

Between sessions - outside the arena at the Dallas Convention Center

The dust is now settling after Educause 2006 came to Dallas, Texas. It was the first time I had attended and I enjoyed very much those few days of heightened activity - the Dallas Convention Center was an excellent venue, the presentations were varied and informative, some quite entertaining; the chats were friendly and stimulating, the hotel was comfortable, even my cell phone arrangements worked out fine.

It's tempting to think that when a conference closes with its final keynote, that you can slowly wend your way home and have the luxury of gently pondering all that's gone on. I was back in Oxford on Friday, so at least I had the weekend, but I used up a fair amount catching up on sleep and I spent the greater part of Sunday just tidying up the copious notes I had jotted. I knew that once I returned to the office I wouldn't have much opportunity to tidy them up much further, especially as the conference took place during Week 1 of Michaelmas, our Autumn term, not an ideal week to be away!

So it's back to user support queries, teaching preparation (rather more than expected), ideas for e-learning projects and funding applications, and more queries generated by the important Tetra announcement and so on. At least I managed to share my notes with colleagues and do a debrief, with the lava pen provided by Best Buy being a big 'wow' - now everyone wants one! Well, this one is going to Kate, our resident floaty pen collector :-)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Onwards and upwards

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time. Apologies for any broken links.

Can you guess where this is...?

people walking into a blue sky with light clouds

It's inspirational and aspirational - I hope the rest of this week will be likewise for all participants in Educause '06.

Today - Sunday - has been my first full day in Dallas, with a chance to start exploring the city, probably the only chance during my brief stay this week.  I took the opportunity of registering in the morning, whilst it was quiet, and then proceeded to head towards the Arts District a little to the NE of downtown, within walking distance of the hotel where I am staying.  I spent several hours at the Dallas Museum of Art and what struck me was the spaciousness, making the art galleries I'm used to in the UK seem rather poky in comparison.

I took the above photo at the Nasher Sculpture Center. The artist is Jonathan Borofsky.  I think it's very clever; at least everyone who walked in its vicinity gazed up for some while in reflection - few other sculptures seemed to receive the same acknowledgement. I think the clouds create an interesting effect, more interesting than simply a blue sky. Does anyone here play the game of spotting patterns in cloud formations...?

I've uploaded more photos in my MyWebLearn area - showing further sculptures and some of downtown.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Open Courseware in a few clicks

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time.

As the abstracts for poster sessions could have a maximum of 50 words, I've been posting here to explain in more detail the background behind my forthcoming poster session about WebLearn, the centrally hosted LMS at Oxford University, based on the Bodington software.

The last bit I need to talk about is 'open courseware.' This can have many conotations, but here it refers simply to course content has been made freely available to the public and does not require guest access or visitor login. Many academics were keen that their materials - especially in teaching - could be indexed by search engines, to help promote their courses. On the other hand some were concerned that Google would sneak into areas they thought were private, so we had to be sure of all exposed URLs and circulate that as a list beforehand.

Before April 2006, as with most VLEs you needed to press a 'log in' button to gain access to anything, which was felt unnecessary for those resources that were meant to be openly viewable. So the barrier was removed. Now if academics want to enable access for Google and friends, the general procedure - which applies to most resources in the LMS - is as follows:
  1. Log in.
  2. Go to the resource you wish to make public
  3. Click on the link 'View Access' at the bottom of the page.
  4. In the following page go to the pull-down menu 'Allow..' and select 'Public' to 'look at' this page.
  5. Click on the [Add] button to enact.
Here's an illustrative screenshot (minus mouse pointer):

illustrative screenshot of simple access controls in WebLearn

This is taken from my bookmarks area in MyWebLearn.  At the moment, it's private as only the system admin and myself can see it, but if I were to click the [Add] button, anyone would then be able to see it. 

With the fine-grained accesss, you can choose any selection of resources public, so you could have samples from one of more of the following, in any combination: from just one or two handouts or a lecture through a module, course or even a degree. Each time you grant public access, that resource becomes open, so if you make every course resource open you have open courseware. Just allowing access to content is not providing the same educational experience as an Oxford student, but there is actually scope for more than reading since many of the tools allow for visitor interaction - so you can have public surveys, open discussions with prospective students and so on. If privacy is needed, administrators (we call them 'Floor Managers') can create and manage additional user accounts.

For those interested in some stats, before opening up Google had indexed only about 100 pages (most of these URLs coming about via links from other sites). On removing this restriction opening up access, the number of pages grew steadily to over 10,000 pages and the Web access logs show a huge variety of searches landing up on the site. I monitored Google's crawling in some posts on its gradual exploration (with 2nd and 3rd posts - the latter wondering about internal/external searches).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Bodington 2.8 released - now with Apache license

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time.

On Monday 2nd October, there was a new release (version 2.8.0) of the Bodington VLE software, now under the Open Source Initiative (OSI) certified Apache 2 license. New features include support for the MySQL database, display of RSS and Atom newsfeeds, with various ways of rendering them and a Peer Marker Tool, whilst other tools have been improved/brought up to date, such as the support to import and export of IMS Content Packages. Further details are available from the official release announcement.

If you want to get up and running quickly, go to the file releases are available from SourceForge at
and select the bodington-quickstart_war, which is a preconfigured version of Bodington consisting of an archived package that you can upload into a Web application server like Tomcat.  The language is technical, but actually there are only a few steps involved, so it only takes a few minutes. It's designed to get you up and running with Bodington with the least possible effort. Instructions are provided in the download.   If you want the very latest builds for Bodington you can obtain them from CruiseControl running on one of our development servers (also available for WebLearn).

To make it even easier to sample a Bodington-based VLE, I'll be bringing to Educause some bootable WebLearn Live CDs based on the Ubuntu Linux distribution, which you can just put into your IBM-compatible PC and boot up. I'll give some out at the poster session on Wednesday evening.  Hope you enjoy the free VLE :-)

However, perhaps of most significance is that Bodington now comes with an Apache 2 License. In practice, there's hardly any change at all in how the software is developed and the conditions attached to it. However, it's actually a very important change and I'd advise any educational establishment(s) wishing to share their software freely to make sure if at all possible that from the outset they have an OSI approved license. Otherwise, you may have to subsequently jump through hoops to transfer to one at a later date or else pay lawyers to establish the case for this being a new OSI approved license on your behalf following the approval process.

The base of Bodington may be instructive here. Bodington was released by Leeds University as open source software in 2001. I remember hearing how Jon Maber and Andrew Booth took the Apache software license and made a few tweaks to ensure that it would satisfy the University's directorate. I don't know what differences they made, but when an open source expert came to examine the license, they said that he didn't recognise it, though strangely it appeared to him more like a BSD license. Although the code was freely available, any legal department of an organisation could not be sure that was indeed legally open source software and the simplest thing to do is to turn to the OSI list and see if it belongs to that list. If not.  So we decided to make a change in the license, requiring consent of all copyright holders involved, which included signatures of those involved in contributing code, so a lengthy process.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

From Personalized Learning to Open Courseware: Personalisation in MyWebLearn

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time.

Here's my second post to explain the poster session that I'll be hosting in Dallas.

There's been a lot of promotion of 'personalised learning' in the UK, strongly encouraged by the government, and this is reflected in funding available to JISC projects. Within JISC itself, CETIS has a PLE project. On the 6th and 7th June 2006 there were a couple of meetings organised up in Manchester to explore the area.  I was invited to attend the first one and then subsequently required to submit a short paper. Although a bit of an inconvenience, it did provide a prompt for me to step back and try to make sense of what's going on. My experiences from the RAMBLE project had already pointed to looking at a student's daily routine as a whole and this very general view stayed in my mind as I wrote on 'PLEs as Environments for Personal and Personalised Learning'  The set of papers as a whole showed a huge diversity of views and my impressions at the meeting itself indicated that there's little consensus on what all this means in practice.

In terms of software, personalisation seems to mean the ability to customise and work with information flows - there are a plethora of tools, to read, aggregate and process, including PLEX, which has emerged from the CETIS PLE work. But how do these tools relate or even integrate with HEI systems? I think that's the major challenge. The answer at the moment seems to be generally "they don't" so I see them as floating largely unanchored; without appropriate guidance on their use, it's questionable what learning and instructional value such tools can provide. Yet, it's generally acknowledged that most institutional systems are fundamentally constraining, not providing sufficient means to pool information freely from different sources, to share, interact and so on.

As institutions have to address this problem, they will be scrutinising what resources they have and if they're limited, they might naturally ask, what can be done with our present systems that may move us in the right direction? This is the kind of view we took at Oxford: WebLearn's access controls (as introduced in my previous post), don't have a fixed concept of role, so any user can be granted the rights to create resources. WebLearn also situates content in a hierarchy. Putting those two together, we decided to create a User area for any University card holder - both staff and students - in which they could create their own areas, using most of the tools available .

Enter ... MyWebLearn!

You can think of MyWebLearn operating in a similar way to personal Web space that many HEIs offer, but there are quite a few features that make it distinctive:
  • fine-grained access controls - this allows for the same content to be partially viewable by the public (no accounts), fully viewable by account holders, editable by class mates, managed by a small group.
  • file uploads are just point and click - there's no need for ftp as file management is through Web forms. There's also a somewhat quirky Java applet that has a few extra niceties.
  • tools available: these can set these up for any individual needs, as would a staff member do in a course area.
However, WebLearn lacks some features often available to some extent in personal Web hosting, for instance you can't write your own programs or scripts.

The structure comprises three areas:
  • Public Space - space for content accessible by everyone.
  • Private Space - space for content accessible only by the MyWebLearn space owner.
  • Bookmarks - for convenient storage and revisiting of any WebLearn address.
Some of the suggested uses are as follows
  • Students working on a project could create an area private to themselves, and upload and store drafts of essays and other working documents. You could use the Messaging Room to do this in a conversational framework
  • There's a newsfeeds tool supporting RSS and Atom to read in and aggregate favourite newsfeeds.
  • The Logbooks tool can be used as a personal learning diary, which you can selectively share and allow others to post. At the moment, it's probably the nearest thing we have to a blog.
  • You can run your own surveys, with varying amounts of anonymity using the Questionnaire tool - so you could have a tear-off public survey open to the public.
  • Create a public-facing Web site advertising your portfolio... HTML is ubiquitous in the system and most tools have a little wysiwyg widget to support authoring.
We have a basic guide which describes in more detail what it is and how to get started.

I'm conscious we need to develop more use cases, oriented around activities, but perhaps these will emerge. We already see scope for further development work: ways to search for browse areas, internal messaging, FOAF-style communities, sharing data through syndicated newsfeeds and so on.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

From Personalized Learning to Open Courseware: VLEs and Access Rights

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time.

I have a little poster session coming up at Educause with the rather loong title of 'From Personalized Learning to Open Courseware: Learning Management Systems Can Be Flexible', reflecting many elements that I'd like to convey. I hope to elaborate in the following posts.

The watchword is flexibility, as this is what really matters at Oxford. In 2001/2 a working group with broad representation from academics, IT staff, and administrators undertook a lengthy procurement process for an LMS (we tend to call them VLEs in the UK) - a list of documents is available from the LTG Web site. We evaluated about 30 systems against both a features checklist and a more probing set of requirements encapsulated in two mock courses. It was the latter that proved most illuminating because for all their features, bells and whistles, the commercial offerings were unable to fit our needs: ranging from simple things like terminology to more fundamental issues with the data model. They also seemed designed for substantial investment of resources so that if you used just one tool, your 'course' would contain lots of empty space, whereas we wanted a very gentle transition for academics, who could start tentatively by simply uploading a lecture handout without need the help of an IT officer. And with the commercial systems there were the licensing fees to consider.

The only system that allowed our ways of working Bodington, which had the considerable benefit of being open source (now under the Apache 2.0 license) - free of license fees and free to develop further according to our needs. I recall how Prof. Andrew Booth and Jon Maber came down from Leeds and gave an informal presentation, quickly establishing rapport as they related their experiences at various levels in their HEI that met with ready nods of understanding. When it eventually came to choosing between Blackboard and Bodington, Bodington gained close to 100% of the votes. A pilot service was launched soon after, became production in May 2004 and has grown steadily since.

The system developments are driven mainly by user requests, but some developments are done a bit independently as we try to be forward-thinking. This year there have been two key developments and the poster session is to illustrate, but to describe them properly I need first to try to explain a little about the access control system because it underpins both.

Access Control Management

When you enter WebLearn at the root, you are presented with a Web site that presents its pages in a hierarchical structure using a physical metaphor, with the top level initially with a list of Buildings and underneath Floors, Suites of Rooms and so on, the labels providing a number of conveniences beyond having merely folders and files. If you log in, there's little difference, except that as you explore the site you will find that what you can see and do has changed. It's a completely different paradigm from the flat structure typical in many other VLEs - you don't have a 'my courses' view as such.

There's no explicit concept of role (as in admin, course designer, instructor, marker, student, etc.) - rather the key concepts are groups of users and access rights (see, view, post, record, mark, etc.) Each resource in the system may have a set of groups and access rights assigned. Thus the notion of roles becomes implicit based upon who can do what and where; as one can belong to any number of groups, each assigned multiple rights per resource, everyone has effectively their own set of authorisations, i.e. their own roles.

Such granularity makes it easy to set up varying levels of participation, ranging from simple involvement such as moderating a discussion board, through to administering an area containing dozens of courses. It also readily supports change and can accommodate all of the following scenarios:
  • A Continuing Education student in creative writing requires access to course material in the Faculty of English
  • A graduate student needs access as a student to study materials, yet may also need to serve as a tutor for undergraduates
  • A member of teaching staff with certain rights as a lecturer may require further rights as a course co-ordinator.
  • A student studying Philosophy is advised by her tutor that she should consult some materials on Logic provided by the Computer Science department
  • Students from two colleges set up a shared project workspace and then find that they need to share with students from another college plus their college tutor.
It's one of the trickiest things to digest - even technical developers who have had a chance to work with Bodington, examine its source code have often not fully grasped the richness of the granularity! It's not that hard, just different, I think. You can gain further idea in an overview of access rights.

I think it's also worth considering whether the nature of roles also has resource implications - I think that once you start fixing labels on people it can reduce flexibility and with the lack of fluidity you can't share workloads so easily, things can't work organically. The more designated roles, the more complicated it can become.

If anyone is interested to trying things out, I'd be happy to help - there are (of course :-) various ways of doing this.  I shall probably create some WebLearn test accounts for Educause.

Building community in learning environments – what about teachers?

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time.

Having extolled the virtues of sharing, my blog has been void of any further contributions. I'm sorry about that and aim to post a few entries in the coming week, especially as I prepare for the Educause conference in Dallas. At the very least I should elaborate soon on my abstract for my poster session on Wednesday evening.

In the UK there's been a lot of discussion and debate around the notion of personal(ised) learning environments (PLEs for short), with further funding available from the JISC in their latest call (04/06 Capital Programme) - see e.g. e-learning strand Call III. All this has raised fundamental questions about the nature of learning as individuals and within communities, let alone what this means in terms of software systems. It can be a heady and contentious mix and in all of this I wonder what about the role of teaching, guidance and so on? Is it being devalued?  So here I'm going to reflect on my brief experience with an online venture where personal spaces and community were closely connected, with occasional pauses to refer to learning environments. However, in this case I'm thinking especially about involvement among academics (faculty).

About 10 years ago (Autumn '96), I received an email out of the blue responding to my personal Web pages on Buddhism. The message invited me to "take the site to another level" and join a new online venture. Was I interested? Even then before spam was suffocating Inboxes, I was somewhat wary, but out of curiosity I sent a reply. Soon after I received another message, this time from someone else, who expanded a little on what his 'associate' had expressed before. I was informed, "This is going to be the biggest thing to hit the 'Net!'"

For one with English sensibilities, a touch of understatement is considered slightly more appealing. However, when some elements about the venture explained to me, it seemed to me a good proposition. The basic premise was that hitherto to find a quality-controlled and edited guide to resources on the 'Net there was little choice beyond the impersonal Yahoo-style directories. This venture was to change that by creating a kind of directory service with real people serving as expert guides to the resources.

I eventually joined as one of the first 'Guides' for what was then called The Mining Company, later My task was basically to maintain and develop an area in their site on Buddhism, publishing an original article at least weekly and growing an edited links directory. The article could be a news item or topic of interest, so not dissimilar to a blog entry. Further, there was a requirement to foster community, mainly through synchronous discussions. How personal could this area be? How much did it have to conform to corporate demands? There was considerable freedom - you could write on the topic of your choice; the input from others came largely on the style of presentation, writing with the audience in mind, with the aim of establishing rapport. I enjoyed the work and I think most others did too, and that is one of key factors of its success.

The connection between the individual and community was built on personal interest and enthusiasm on a topic close to one's heart and there's ample evidence that it worked well. It wasn't just the model that was well designed, the whole infrastructure that supported the Guides was excellent – regarding the technical setup, content creation was straightforward using ready-made templates and any processes (e.g. file transfer) were well documented. However, there was another layer of support readily available behind the scenes within the organization, which had a feeling of a synergetic whole – whether it was to do with administration or the mentoring received when building your area. I found the mentoring particularly attentive and encouraging.

However, I had a very basic problem - access to the 'Net. A convoluted story, but it ended up with some forlorn investigations into mobile wireless access, which would prove prohibitively expensive. I also had to write up a doctoral thesis, sooner rather than later, so with considerable reluctance I gave up the work, before even the official launch! My articles are still available, just in my personal space, starting with the First Noble Truth .

The way the system gelled, across personal and technical spheres was altogether impressive and I often wonder what those of use involved in online learning systems, particularly in HEIs, might learn from this. On a structural note, the Mining Company's site was quite regimented, largely static content, with only a handful of templates, though considerable scope to use HTML as you wished. What a visitor is likely to notice about the site is:
  • there's someone who is looking after the pages personally
  • it's informative
  • it is kept up to date
  • on sending a query, you receive a prompt and helpful response contains a lot of instructional material and I'm thinking about it almost as a virtual academy with hundreds of academics who are very engaged online. That's not a huge number, yet has been in the top 10 in terms of Web traffic – don’t think it was the biggest thing to hit the ‘Net, but it wasn’t far off! It shows that there is a natural thirst for knowledge that can be served remarkably well through a special synergy.

If I now glance over to WebLearn, the institutional Virtual Learning Environment that I currently administer, what observations can I make? It's quite busy with thousands of staff and students accessing it more than occasionally, with probably more staff contributors than Guides. We have discussion lists, discussion boards, user groups, lots of interactive tools and various other ingredients. There's a lot of help documentation and a widely publicised email address for help, to which colleagues and I try to provide a prompt and helpful response.

After all that, the environment is often described as "useful" in terms of access to information, but I've not seen much online community. A lot of the content is to do with adminstration, is provided in large batches, updated infrequently with little indication of what's fresh or topical. Academics are as passionate as anyone about their own subjects, but compared with Guides, they are generally less enthusiastic and nowhere near as engaged online. Perhaps it's not surprising given that an Oxford education is largely face-to-face, epitomised by the tutorial system, where networking is done inside the walls of colleges and departments. Yet it's is evident among students that there's scope for online engagement to mediate physical communities - an entry in Facebook is apparently sine qua non.

There are actually well-known limitations of Oxford's face-to-face networking because academic connections seem to be quite often the outcome of serendipity more than anything else. The limitations are perhaps more obvious when considering that increasing amount of research is interdisciplinary in nature. In fact, even the most recalcitrant professors are using the Web and email frequently, so I think we're missing the right means or environment of online communication; there ought to be better means of fostering the expert teaching community. Perhaps it is just a matter of resources? Perhaps academics are under too much strain, so can't embrace anything beyond what they're doing now? Or maybe I'm just naive - I once tried to encourage an exchange of ideas between two dons who both had an interest in software for teaching logic. The response was frigid!

The work on PLEs, at least as I've encountered it as sponsored by the JISC, is focused on students, but that's only part of the picture – or just one side of the equation when considering 'learning and teaching'. The relative lack of engagement among academics indicates to me that a greater emphasis is needed on teaching, tutoring, mentoring and guidance and through that more academics may become fuller contributors online.
So does that mean we need to look at the Personal Teaching Environment (PTE) or the Personal Instructional Environment (PIE) or the Personal Guidance Environment (PGE)? But then what about the Personal Research Environment (PRE) and the Personal Administration Environment (PAE)? As someone who favours a holistic approach, there seems to be a serious risk of fragmentation that I don't find very appealing, even though each probably have distinctive characteristics.  The problems become manifest when you try to build systems - there's a temptation to build distinct systems for each.   It’s already problematic to distinguish between a VLE and VRE - and if there are significant differences do you go and build completely separate systems for each?    It's early days, though I gather that some patterns have been established in the JISC-funded Building a VRE for the Humanities.

There are actually numerous alternative online educational environments that lend themselves more to personalisation and community that may support the teaching side more. Pete Robinson, one of my colleagues in the Learning Technologies Group occasionally asks me have I taken a look at Elgg. I've always replied that I’ve only glanced at it, having never been able to allocate time to explore, but feeling I really ought to make time. Yet where might I find the time to consider even some of the issues this raises within an institutional context...?