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Virtual learning environments (VLEs) provide the core infrastructure for the digital learning experiences for many students in Irish and international higher education institutions. Hence the student experience and voice offer an important perspective to understand to what extent this proves a strategic choice, and investment of institutional resources and lecturers’ time. However, surveys comparing a diversity of institutions at different moments in time offer serious methodological limitations to data analysis. In this paper, results of the #VLEIreland student survey are presented for four Irish higher education institutions, which were surveyed using the common questionnaire with 3,332 student responses in 2011 and 5,170 when the survey was repeated in 2013. To some extent, this allows us to analyse the data while relatively controlling for institutional influences. This snapshot of students’ use and perceptions at two points allow for tentative trends to be drawn as to any changing patterns over time. The comparison of results indicate a consistent finding of high frequency of use (with almost half using daily in the more recent findings). The VLE thus provides a stable base for sharing learning resources, managing assignments and student communications. The consistency of the findings indicate a certain maturity of use of the VLE, albeit with a continued emphasis on disseminating notes and other learning resources to students. As the student VLE experience is largely determined by their lecturers’ use, a continued emphasis on the development of digital capacity of lecturers (as well as students) is needed.
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