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Executive Summary

The modern world people live in is unthinkable without technology. The computers, mobile devices, the Internet have changed the life so drastically already that there is no way back. The most significant breakthrough was in the communication technologies. Now people are able to reach any place on the planet with a phone call or a text message, or an email in a matter of seconds. This paper explores the positive and negative influences of communication technology on education.

The main points can be summarized as this: The communication technology has great influence on the health, education and relationships in the contemporary society. This influence has both positive and negative consequences for people.

Positive sides are faster and easier access to information, being connected with people from the different corners of the world, improved health care information system, etc. However, the negative effects, such as desocialization, lack of control in distant education, security and quality issues in health care area must be named, as the problems to be solved in the future. The future development of these technologies can greatly change the whole structure of the future society and change the ways of communications between humans. Modern level of technology is already enough to affect the main spheres of life, so it is up to people to decide how to use communication technologies.

It is important to remember that the technology itself is just a tool to achieve some goals more effectively. Each individual decides how communication technology could be used. There are no reasons to believe that technology can influence our actions. Only actions make the application of this technology advantageous or not. The future will tell if people are wrong, making computers, cell phones and other digital gadgets the integral part of existence.

Introduction

Communication technology has given us many opportunities. Distant education is one of such opportunities, available over the Internet on the online basis. Online educational institutions are able to provide students with flexible scheduler and let them choose the courses, which they are interested in. However, such education cannot be as valuable and has the same quality as land-based universities can give. The diploma of online educational institution might not be, or even should not be taken into consideration in the evaluation process of a new employee. Are there reasons to get one? Probably, self-education to broaden the scope is the only reasonable goal. There are no adequate mechanisms to evaluate the graduates of these online universities so their value is still rather low (Devaney 2010).

Although, there is one solid advantage of communication technology usage in education. It is an easy and quick access to all libraries in the world (the libraries that have online databases, of course). This is the great achievement of modern technologies, which can greatly help students to get information for their research papers, essays, case studies and other cases from the most significant storages of information in the human history (Horn 2008).

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a platform for distant learning activities. It provides student with opportunities to take online courses, communicate with other students and teachers, and perform numerous activities needed during the process of off-line education but in on-line environment. A VLE assures equivalent access to the variety of classes, tests, many external resources in virtual world. Main advantage of any VLE is its ability to provide students with the opportunity to get education regardless of the geographical location and/or financial situation. It is important to evaluate several VLEs in order to choose the most appropriate and worth of attention. Such VLEs as Moodle, Fronter, and Blackboard are going to be evaluated in order to determine their functionalities, similarities, advantages/disadvantages and make the right choice.

Findings and Analysis

Moodle

Moodle stands for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. This is one of the most well-known VLEs. It is based on free source platform for e-learning software. Moodle is a typical platform for distant education that includes some innovations competitors do not have (Moodle 2013).

Functionality

Moodle's functionality is based on the following features, necessary to assure the appropriate learning process. Assignment submission allows uploading of the completed assignments in easy way. Discussion forum provides the opportunity of sharing ideas and thoughts - it is one of the important issues of effective learning process. Files can be downloaded easily from Moodle interface. Grading is important for the adequate assessment of the educational process and its effectiveness (Moodle 2013). Instant messaging system facilitates communication within Moodle greatly. Online calendar, news, and announcements allow students be aware of the current situation. Online quizzes are necessary for quick and effective testing of students, while internal wiki system makes the process of materials' mastering quick and easy.

Advantages/Disadvantages

Moodle has its benefits and drawbacks as any other software system. It has rather low ownership cost due to the free source basis of the system. Its security level is very high. Moodle is reviewed and maintained constantly therefore, it has substantial reliability and flexibility. It can be customized for needs of any student (Moodle 2013). More to say, its source code is in free access so it can be modified without restrictions. Technical support of Moodle is on the high level and it support multiply languages.

However, this VLE is rather complicated in terms of integration with HR systems. It cannot provide easy and simple integration with student MS. Moodle is not appropriately designed and developed in terms of distributed management of several schools and departments simultaneously. In general, the main issue is the problem with integration (Moodle 2013).

Fronter

Fronter is an open platform for learning that provides environment for education services. The platform is based on LAMP/open source architecture so Fronter can be called low cost solution for such activities (Shift Learning 2013). Its functionality is similar to Moodle however, it is not that well known and well distributed (3,000 sites versus 46,000).

Functionality

The system provides personal learning environment (PLE) as follows: today portal - latest news from various rooms in the system; email client; RSS reader; resources - similar space to cloud services; visual mail; portfolio; blog client; meeting client - conferencing tool; stickies - the internal system for instant messaging; to-do list; and entrance hall. Learning management system (LMS) contains such modules as hand in (submission folders); test tools; learning path (structured learning pages); ILP (individual learning plan); learning goals; question database; SCORM (SCORM courses); result matrix; sound recorder; video; search in external repositories; and log in opportunity for parents (Shift Learning 2013). In addition, there are collaboration, publishing, and administration functionalities. Thus, collaboration tools are as follows: messages, document, forum, contacts, chat, calendar, voting, activity folder, and liveroom. Publishing has the following tools: page, free text search, links, news, statistics, and OES (open/edit/save) for files. Finally, administration of all of the above-mentioned tools is assured by the following: room; organization; rights and roles; settings; members; reports; database clean-up; help; language support; and user-defined tool.

Advantages/Disadvantages

Such tremendous functionality determines the advantages of Fronter. Novice users have no issues with mastering the metaphors of Fronter - it has very easy-to-use user-oriented language. Advanced file editing and upload system is also among the advantages. Extended messaging system facilitates communication. System is very easy to use and maintain by novice users. Navigation is conventional so novice users should find it utterly convenient (Shift Learning 2013).

On the other hand, Fronter is not free. Educational facility has to pay license to use this VLE for educational purposes. It is oriented on novice users only. Therefore, expert users might not find it appropriate to use as VLE. Navigation cannot be customized to be used for each course separately. It makes Fronter less flexible. In addition, the uploaded materials are not visible right after the upload so it is necessary to perform extensive search procedures later (Shift Learning 2013).

Blackboard

The Blackboard LS (learning system) is another VLE and can be used as CMS (course management system) too. The BLS is a proprietary Web-based software developed by Blackboard ASP Solutions. The main purpose and audience of the BLS are online courses and their users of intermediate and expert levels of training (Blackboard 2013).

Functionality

The BLS provides the following functionality in such areas as communication and content. Communication is granted by announcements of professors (teachers); chat rooms for online students so they could communicate with each other on real-time basis; various discussions of different topics where teachers and students can participate; and mail for students and professors (Blackboard 2013). Content section includes course content (articles, videos, different assignments, etc.); calendar (dates for tests, deadlines of assignments, etc.); learning modules (online classes); assessments (quizzes, exams, etc.); assignments (assignments, posted by students); grade book (grades by professors/teachers); and media library (videos, texts, and other media) (Blackboard 2013).

Advantages/Disadvantages

The system allows management of courses' system by increasing the availability of online courses; providing feedbacks in a quick manner; extended and improved communication; tracking of the results; and substantially more developed and effective skill building system. The BLS is beneficial for universities and colleges as online courses' system that can supplement the offline education or provide standalone online courses for students over the internet (Blackboard 2013).

However, the BLS has number of challenges to face that constitute major disadvantages of the system. The project has issues with maintaining the scalability necessary for the current situation. It does not allow appropriate increase of the number of customers. There are problems with seamless migration from version to version of the software. The system is not able yet to support multiply simultaneous transactions so classes may work unstable at the beginning of the education process (Blackboard 2013). The releases of the BLS are not always entirely errors' free so their usage can be rather complicated within first six-ten month. Additionally, the project's team still not able to meet all the demands of numerous customers all over the world due to the above-mentioned scalability and usability issues (Blackboard 2013).

Conclusions

Considering the above-mentioned research, the following conclusions can be drawn. VLE is very important for modern education system due to the extensive development of the Web-based technologies and opportunities they can provide. The evaluated systems are similar in functionality but they have different benefits and drawbacks that determine the audience and purpose of each system. Thus, Blackboard is more useful and beneficial to be exploited by educational facilities of higher level of education such as colleges, universities, etc. It is rather specific system for online courses for expert users (Shift Learning 2013).

Frontier has more functional elements but it is more oriented on novice users therefore, it should be used by high schools and other similar institutions. It is not free and cannot be changed as easily as Moodle. Finally, Moodle is the universal system of all three - it is free for use and modification, and can be recommended for any educational facility that would like to set up online education offers on its base.

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