Using Data to See what Students are Doing: A Critically Enquiring Approach to VLE Development


  • Helen Coker Inverness College, University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI)



Academic Practice, Critical Enquiry, Online, Blended, VLE development


Drawing on a case study, this paper demonstrates how a critically enquiring approach to the development of online spaces has the potential to increase student participation and develop depth of learning. Data from the online space, student feedback and staff reflections were drawn on to enquire into the nature of learning within the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) of a blended course. Critical reflection led to changes which increased participation and opened up new spaces for discussion, thus enabling greater depth of learning.

In this case study, students’ patterns of participation were found to relate to their ability: higher-achieving students used the space in a more dialogic way. Digital structures acted as mediating artefacts; changes initiated led to increased participation. Social and cultural discourses were found to permeate the online space. Critical reflection and enquiry were effectively used to develop the space leading to improvements in relation to student participation and depth of learning.

Author Biography

Helen Coker, Inverness College, University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI)

Deputy Program Leader: Masters in Education

Education, UHI


Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays (M. Holquist, ed., C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans.). Austin: University of Texas.

Bollier, D. (2010). The Promise and peril of big data. Community and Society Program Report on the Eighteenth Annual Aspen Institute Roundtable on Information Technology. Washington DC: The Aspen Institute.

Bruner, J. (1996). The culture of education. London: Harvard University Press.

Christensen, P., Kraftl, P., Horton, J., & Hadfield-Hill, S. (2014). New urbanisms, new citizens: Children and young people’s everyday life and participation in sustainable communities. Economic and Social Research Council Impact Report, Ref: RES-062-23-1549.

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2013). Research methods in education. [ebook]. Great Britain: Taylor and Francis.

Cole, M. (1998). Culture in development. In M. Woodhead, D. Faulkner, & K. Littleton (Eds.), Cultural Worlds of Early Childhood. Oxon: Routledge.


Conole, G. (2013). Designing for learning in an open world. London: Springer.


Creanor, L. (2013). Professor Linda Creanor. – Learning and technology – evolution or revolution? GCU inaugural professorial lecture. Retrieved 25 April 2014 from

Cui, G., Lockee, B., & Meng, C. (2012). Building modern online social presence: A review of social presence theory and its instructional design implications for future trends. Educational Information Technology (2013), 18, 661–685.


Cunliffe, A. (2012). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about management. London: Sage.

Drachsler, H. & Greller, W. (2012). The pulse of learning analytics: Understandings and expectations form stakeholders. Valkenburgerweg, Heerlan: Open University of the Netherlands.

Elias, T. (2011). Learning analytics: Definitions, processes and potential. Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial–NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licence. Author.

Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Penguin Books.

Greenfield, S. (2011). You and me: The neuroscience of identity. London: Notting Hill Editions.

Hammersley, M., & Atkinson, P. (2007). Ethnography: Principles in practice. [online]. Routledge. Retrieved 9 November 2014 from

Haste, H. (1999). Moral understanding in socio-cultural context: Lay social theory and a Vygotskian synthesis. In M. Woodhead, D. Faulkner, & K. Littleton (Eds.), Making sense of social development.

Immordino-Yang, M. H., & Damasio, A.(2007). We feel, therefore we learn: The relevance of affective and social neuroscience to Education. Mind, Brain and Education, 1(1), 3–10.


Kehrwald, B. (2008). Understanding social presence in text-based online learning environments. Distance Education, 29(1).


Larkin, S. (2009). Socially mediated metacognition and learning to write. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 4, 149–159.


Maanen, J. V. (1988). Tales of the field: On writing ethnography. London: The University of Chicago Press.

Mills, D., & Morton, M. (2013). Ethnography in education. London: Sage.

Oliver, M. (2013). Learning technology: Theorising the tools we study. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(1), 31–34.


Penuel, W., Riel, M., Krause, A., & Frank, K. (2009). Analyzing teachers Professional interactions in a school as social capital: A social network approach. Teachers College Record, 11(1), 124–163.

Philpott, C. (2014). Using narrative research as a method in teacher education; a socio-cultural approach. Teacher Education Advancement Network Journal, University of Cumbria, 6(1), 12–19.

Priestley, M, & Sinnema, C. (2014), Downgraded curriculum? An analysis of knowledge in new curricula in Scotland and New Zealand. Curriculum Journal, 25(1), 50–75. Available from


Rogoff, B. (1995). Observing sociocultural activity on three planes: Participatory appropriation, guided participation, and apprenticeship. In J. Wertsch & A. Alvarez (Eds.), Sociocultural studies of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Seely-Brown, J. (2000). Growing up digital: How the Web changes work, education and the ways people learn. In P. Murphy, & K. Hall (Eds.), Learning and practice: agency and identities. London: Sage.

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. In P. Murphy & R. McCormick (Eds.), Knowledge and practice: Representations and identities. London: Sage.

Sinnema, C. (2011). Monitoring and evaluating curriculum implementation: Final report on the implementation of the New Zealand curriculum 2008–2009. Ministry of Education, New Zealand. Retrieved 20 June 2014 from

Slagter van Tyron, P. J., & Bishop, M. J. (2012) Evaluating social connectedness online: the design and development of the Social Perceptions in Learning Contexts Instrument. Distance Education, 33(3), 347–364.

Slagter van Tyron, P. J., & Bishop, M. J. (2009). Theoretical foundations for enhancing social connectedness in online learning environments. Distance Education, 30(3), 291–315.


Thomas, D. & Seely-Brown, J. (2009) Learning for a World of Constant Change:

Homo Sapiens, Homo Farber & Homo Ludens revisited University of Southern California – paper presented at the 7th Glion Colloquium by JSB, June 2009.

Vygotsky. L. (1987). Thinking and speech. In The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky volume one: Problems of general psychology (R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton, Eds., N. Minick, Trans.). New York and London: Plenum Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Wenger, E. (2009a). Walking the landscape of practice. Retrieved 11 June 2014 from

Wenger, E. (2009b). Social learning capability: Four essays on innovation and learning in social systems. Retrieved 23 June 2013 from

Wertsch, J. (1991). Voices of mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.






Distributed University in the Context of UHI