, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 245-258
Date: 05 Mar 2010

Medium for empowerment or a ‘centre for everything’: Students’ experience of control in virtual learning environments within a university context

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In maximising opportunities to nurture rich and productive learning communities, there is a need to know more about the cultures and sub-cultures that surround virtual learning environments (VLEs). Drawing from a small-scale interview study of students’ digital practices, this paper explores how different discourses may have patterned a group of students’ experiences of VLEs. Unlike studies which have focused upon evaluations of specific projects or interventions, this study investigated their experience across their course. It explores the student identities they associated with digital environments and the power relationships which seemed to pattern how they positioned themselves (or felt positioned) as learners. Whilst none were intimidated by technical aspects, the student identities available to them seemed to vary, as did their perceptions of the student identities associated with university-sponsored digital environments. The analysis considers three aspects of their experience: how they related to the VLE itself, how they related to others through this, and the alternative communities they created to attempt to manage their engagement with the VLE. The paper concludes by arguing for further research which focuses on the broader student experience across courses in order to explore how university-based digital environments intersect with students’ identities as learners.