Welcome to MMU’s Learning Technologies Review

On this blog you will find news and information about Manchester Metropolitan University’s review of technologies used to support learning.

The About page provides background to the review, and the F.A.Q. page provides answers to Frequently-Asked Questions.

Interested parties can contribute to the review in various ways:

  • An email suggestion box has been established at ltreview@mmu.ac.uk
  • Comments can be posted about information added to his blog
Posted in News | 1 Comment

Learning Technologies Review: the next phase!

In 2009, the ICT Strategy Group established a Learning Technologies Review chaired by the DVC Student Experience. A scoping meeting held in October 2009, involving colleagues from LRIS and CeLT, identified the need to consider technology alongside staff development and curriculum innovation, and proposed review of the following technology areas:

  1. Virtual Learning Environment, to replace WebCT Vista
  2. Rich media content discovery, commissioning, capture, authoring and management
  3. Assessment and Feedback support tools, such as e-submission and electronic marking
  4. Personal and Professional Development support tools, such as e-Portfolio
  5. Classroom technology
  6. Information, Advice and Guidance
  7. Electronic Library services, such as reading lists and digital collections
  8. Collaboration technologies, such as synchronous conferencing
  9. Mobile technologies
  10. Systems Integration

To ensure decisions could be taken in time for the start of the 2010/11 academic year, proposals for a phased review were accepted and the initial phase focused on items 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Requirements and proposals were developed based on evaluation of current systems, focus groups, faculty road-shows, email suggestion boxes, user testing of possible solutions and input from Academic Development Committee. After detailed consideration of a range of options, the ICT Strategy Group decided that a vision of joined-up systems in which a core learning system could be extended through an expanding range of supported tools, would be best served by:

  • Creating a new Virtual Learning Environment for 2011/12 using the open source Moodle software with the Equella digital repository, hosted by University of London Computing Centre with an MMU-based Disaster Recovery facility
  • Upgrading the Library Reading List system to the new Talis Aspire system for 2010/11
  • Upgrading the pilot Apple Podcasting system to a production version for 2010/11
  • Developing proposals for a minimum technology specification for all teaching rooms
  • Allocating a budget for a further year of trials of e-Portfolio systems
  • Creating a focused organisational development initiative on digital literacy for academic staff
  • Reviewing other learning technologies, such as synchronous conferencing, in January 2011

Full details of the decision can be found in this post. Work is now well underway delivering the systems and actions approved by the ICT Strategy Group, and about to commence for the second phase of the Learning Technologies Review. This will focus in particular on:

  • Rich Media – building on 2010/11 work that improved the Apple Podcast server and purchased a university-wide license for Flashback software for screen capture and Powerpoint voice-over, this activity will focus on:
    • storage and indexing of audio and visual materials, including a review of current file servers and the possibilities of the new Equella repository
    • arrangements for off-air TV recording, including consideration of MMU’s ERA license and recent BUFVC developments with JISC and the Box of Broadcasts
    • arrangements for lecture capture, including requirements for fixed and mobile audio and video capture, storage and streaming
    • arrangements for discovering, re-purposing, commissioning and creating interactive, media-rich learning materials
  • Assessment and Feedback – building on 2010/11 work to establish the new Moodle VLE and integrate it with the Turnitin plagiarism detection service, this activity will focus on:
    • arrangements for submitting work, including publicising hand-in dates and absolute deadlines, confirming submission of work and electronic submission options via Moodle, Turnitin and other specialist services
    • arrangements for online assessment, including requirements for suitable locations, authoring software for quizzes, and options for formative and summative assessment via Moodle and other specialist services
    • arrangements for online marking, including lessons learned from recent trials with tablets and scaffolded, criteria-based marking
  • Portfolio – building on the 2010/11 pilot and evaluation work involving PebblePad, TalentOnView and findings from the Supporting Responsive Curricula project, this activity will
    • summarize lessons learned from the e-Portfolio pilots
    • present an options appraisal for institutional investment in software to support personal and professional development and showcasing talent
  • Classroom Technology – building on the 2010/11 work to establish minimum standards and to compare current provision against them, this activity will focus on:
    • classifying room types (large lecture, small seminar… etc), developing minimum standards for equipment in each and illustrating the affordances of the standard equipment for learning and teaching
  • Information, Advice and Guidance – building on 2010/11 plans for appointments to Learning Technology Support Officer positions and new information roles within ICTS, this activity will focus on:
    • arrangements for helping staff and students to make best use of learning technologies
    • opportunities for embedding use of learning technology within the academic staff PDR process
  • Electronic Library – building on 2010/11 work to establish a new reading list and digitisation support system, this activity will focus on
    • arrangements for supporting the discovery and embedding of Open Educational Resources
    • arrangements for reviewing use of recommended materials to ensure maximum return on investment
  • Collaboration Systems – this activity will focus on:
    • synthesizing requirements and presenting an options appraisal for collaboration technologies, such as synchronous conferencing
  • Mobile Technologies – building on 2010/11 work to establish a mobile version of the myMMU portal, this activity will focus on
    • synthesizing analysis of students’ access to and interests in using mobile devices for learning and teaching to present options for further development of MMU’s mobile presence
  • Systems Integration – building on 2010/11 work to support EQAL, this activity will focus on
    • developing proposals for an architecture, roadmap and user engagement strategy for integration of systems that support teaching and learning.

The second phase of the Learning Technologies Review will present its findings to the ICT Strategy Group on a subset of these items in late February, 2011. An action plan for undertaking this second phase will be published here shortly. Feedback from MMU staff and students will help prioritise and plan that work. We look forward to hearing from you via blog comments or the email suggestion box: ltreview@mmu.ac.uk

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Outcome of Learning Technologies Review

In February, MMU’s ICT Strategy group and Executive approved a set of recommendations for upgrading the university’s learning technologies to support a step-change enhancement in the quality of assessment and learning for students and staff.

Proposals were developed by the Learning Technologies Review project group, steered by the DVC Student Experience. The group’s proposals were informed by HEFCE and MMU policy, advice from JISC and Gartner, evaluations of current systems, focus groups, faculty road-shows, email suggestion boxes, user testing of possible solutions and input from Academic Development Committee. The group presented its findings through a set of scenarios, which set threshold aspirations for staff and students. The scenarios were endorsed by MMU’s ICT Strategy Group and used to review learning technology options in terms of:

  • Fitness to vision
  • Fitness to transformation timeline
  • Robustness and scalability
  • Value-for-money
  • Avoiding lock-in

After detailed consideration of a range of options, the ICTSG decided that a vision of joined-up systems in which a core learning system could be extended through an expanding range of supported tools, would be best served by:

  1. Creating a new Virtual Learning Environment using the open source Moodle software with the Equella digital repository, hosted by University of London Computing Centre with an MMU-based Disaster Recovery facility – the timeline for implementation will be:
    • WebCT Vista will remain the institutional VLE for the 2010/11 academic year
    • Moodle will be available for a limited pilot from September 2010
    • All Units for students starting from January 2011 onwards will be on Moodle
  2. Upgrading the Library Reading List system to the new Talis Aspire system for September 2010
  3. Upgrading the pilot Apple Podcasting system to a production version for September 2010
  4. Developing proposals for a minimum technology specification for all teaching rooms
  5. Allocating a budget for a further year of trials of e-Portfolio systems
  6. Creating a focused organisational development initiative on digital literacy for academic staff
  7. Reviewing other learning technologies, such as synchronous conferencing, in January 2011

More detail is provided below on the context and detail of these decisions.

Background

In 2008, Learning and Research Information Services (LRIS)’ planning activities identified the need for a review of MMU’s learning technologies. The notion of a Learning Technologies Review was subsequently approved by the ICT Strategy Group, and a Project Steering Group established chaired by the Deputy Vice Chancellor for the Student Experience, supported by the Director of LRIS and the Head of the Centre for Learning and Teaching (CeLT). The Head of Learning Research Technologies, Mark Stubbs, and Principal Lecturer in Learning Technologies, Neil Ringan, were asked to lead the project. A scoping exercise identified an immediate need for proposals on:

  • the institutional VLE and podcasting;
  • classroom technologies;
  • e-Assessment;
  • e-PDP/e-Portfolio;
  • Information, Advice and Guidance arrangements and
  • analytics to support student retention and success.

As the project progressed, details of our findings and consultation activities were published on this blog.

Review Context

MMU has a long history of exploiting the benefits of technology for learning, teaching and assessment. Enthusiastic colleagues have worked with early releases of the WebCT Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) software since 1998 (Forsyth 2002). Developments took a significant step forward in 2006 with the introduction of the Managed Learning Environment (MLE) project, which brought technology-supported learning into the mainstream through an institutional VLE (WebCT Vista) that was driven by the student records system, and a new focus for staff development activity that involved working with programmes and departments, rather than enthusiastic individuals. In less than three years, use of the VLE climbed to over 1,300 staff and over 30,000 students; our core delivery now depends on the VLE, and a robust service is essential. As software and hardware for our current system approach end-of-life, we felt it prudent to review our learning technologies so that we could give a clear roadmap to our staff and students about what they can expect going forward.

It is important to acknowledge some policy shifts since the MLE project was established. At the national level, HEFCE’s 2005 strategy for e-learning has been revised to focus on enhancing learning, teaching and assessment through technology (HEFCE 2009). This shift reflects growing recognition of the potential for technology to support learning and related processes, growing recognition that education institutions are not the only ones making such technologies available to learners (see, for instance, CLEX 2009), and a growing desire to normalise use of technology as a way to enhance learning. The new message to institutions is to pursue the developments in infrastructure and staff development that ensure that the technology becomes an enabler for enhancement, rather than a focus itself.

Locally within MMU, our ambition to become the leading university for world-class professionals is now manifest in a Strategic Framework for Learning, Teaching and Assessment (MMU 2009A) and Threshold Standards for the Student Learning Experience (MMU 2009B). We share HEFCE’s optimism that technology can assist the pursuit of service excellence through these initiatives, and note the increasing emphasis given to explicit measures of the student experience and student success in competition for students and funding (BIS 2009). We also note the extremely challenging economic context in which curriculum innovation and service enhancement must take place. Our investment in learning technology must be value for money; it must reduce the burden and frustrations of learning-related processes; and it must support transformation in the quality of academic life for staff and students.

Decisions about our learning technologies will be taken not only in the context of an ambitious change agenda in a challenging economic climate, but also in a shifting technological and cultural context, which has revolutionised other industries, such as music, travel and publishing. The learning technologies market is witnessing significant turbulence: the leading commercial VLE vendor, Blackboard, has bought major rivals WebCT and Angel, and must now move its diverse customer base to a next generation product (BB Learn 9) to reap the benefits of a consolidated product line. The open source Moodle software has seen spectacular growth in adoption, particularly in the further education and schools sectors, and most recently in the UK amongst former WebCT universities such as City, Coventry and Exeter. However, its next generation release (Moodle 2) is a complete re-write and its release date has been put back with rumours that 1.9x customers will have to wait until Moodle 2.1 for a stable version with feature parity. Aside from the Blackboard versus Moodle dilemma, institutions are also contending with the prospect of education-oriented cloud applications from Google and Microsoft. We must choose a core system for at least three years that will give staff the clear roadmap they seek, but that system must be capable of extension and integration; the pace of change means this is not the time to lock ourselves in to a particular technology. We must consider the ease with which we can connect into and out of the core system, and the ease with which we can move to and from that system.

Review Criteria

The technologies we chose must deliver the right things (fitness to vision) at the right time (fitness to transformation timeline) in the right way (robust and scalable) at the right price (value-for-money) whilst preserving our capacity for change (avoiding lock-in). ICT Strategy Group colleagues accepted our recommendation to review possible options in terms of:

  • Fitness to vision
  • Fitness to transformation timeline
  • Robustness and scalability
  • Value-for-money
  • Avoiding lock-in

Scenarios

Our vision for transformative learning technologies has been informed by HEFCE and MMU policy, guidance from the JISC and the Higher Education Academy, knowledge of activity at other institutions, knowledge of the ways in which we have used systems in the past, and consultation with colleagues and students through focus groups, road-shows and email suggestion boxes. Details of this emerging picture have been posted to this blog and were expressed most recently as a set of scenarios (reproduced here for convenience).

Scenario #1

Sally, a senior lecturer, checks her diary and is reminded of her 11am first year tutorial. She checks the VLE to see which students in this tutorial group have engaged with the preparation activities she set and decides to print a summary. She disconnects her netbook from the large screen and keyboard in her office and walks down to the tutorial room via a printer, where she swipes her staff card and collects the list. In the tutorial room she connects her netbook to the large screen and talks her students through the activity she planned before dividing them into four groups. While the activity is progressing the tutor has a quiet word with each of the students about their engagement with the tutorial preparation and notes that two students are missing. In the tutorial the four student groups prepare mini-presentations to summarise their findings using netbooks that some have brought with them; they use the wireless network to upload their mini-presentations to the VLE and take turns presenting, while their colleagues take notes – some on paper, others use electronic annotation and note-taking software on devices they’ve brought to class. After the class, the tutor logs details of the two students against the tutorial they missed, knowing that the Year Tutor will contact them if their overall engagement has fallen below the threshold expectation for the course.

Scenario #2

Jaspreet, a second year engineering student, signs on to Windows Live using the gaming laptop he keeps in his flat; he sees an alert reminding him of an assignment deadline later in the week and decides that he’s going to take advantage of the unlimited texts package on his phone to receive Windows Live alerts by text in future. He’s made a start on the assignment, but wants to check the brief again so he logs on to MyMMU. He scans the latest news from each of the Units he studies and sees that his tutor is offering online assignment support between 2pm and 3pm – he creates an appointment in his phone to remind him. He sees that a new list of revision podcasts has been set up for another of his Units so clicks on the link, which launches iTunes so that he can subscribe. He docks his iPod Touch, which automatically picks up the first audio briefing about the upcoming exam. Jaspreet listens to the briefing on the bus on his way into university. When he arrives he uses Skype on his iPod Touch to call a friend to meet for coffee using the new microphone-headphones he treated himself to recently – he’s pleased his new purchase works. At 1:45 Jaspreet’s phone reminds him of the assignment support session at 2pm, so he checks the display screens and sees that a nearby IT dropin zone has free machines so he heads there. He logs on to the VLE and joins an instant message chat with the tutor in which several of Jaspreet’s classmates are asking questions about the assignment. Jaspreet watches the questions and answers, which cover most of his concerns, and asks a specific question about the relative weighting of conclusions versus the detail of option appraisal. Jaspreet decides to save the Q+A instant message thread to his SkyDrive so that it will be available later when he works on the assignment that evening back in his flat. Having synched his phone with his personal timetable, Jaspreet’s calendar shows a guest lecture this week at 4pm but at 3pm he receives a text reminder telling him the speaker is from a local engineering company. Jaspreet sees in the VLE that a couple of his classmates are online so he asks them via instant messenger whether they are going to the guest lecture. One says he’s down in the cafe and suggests they chat about the upcoming assignment before going along. The two of them chat and then decide to check out the website of the company of the guest speaker. Jaspreet and his friend gather round his iPod Touch and see that the company is recruiting for summer placements. During the guest lecture Jaspreet takes some notes on his iPod Touch that he hopes will be useful if he decides to apply for the summer job.

Scenario #3

Over the last few days Sue, a final year marketing student, has been collaborating electronically with three colleagues on a Powerpoint presentation for a group assignment. From the laptop in her house she sees from her Live@Edu collaborative workspace that Harvinder made some changes late last night to the last two slides; they look good. By instant messenger last night the group agreed that they would practise the presentation this afternoon and that Sue would book a room between 3pm and 4pm. Sue works in a bar on Thursday nights and is therefore not keen to bring her laptop with her today, so she logs on to MyMMU and searches for a room with a PC and projector available between 3pm and 4pm – she finds one free in the Sandra Burslem building and books it, giving her student number and the code of the Unit the presentation is for. She clicks the “download appointment” option to put a reminder in her Outlook diary as she knows this will synchronise automatically through Live@Edu with the calendar on her iPhone. Sue uses Live@Edu to share the appointment with the other members of her group, updates her Facebook status and heads into university for her 11 o’clock lecture on digital marketing. While waiting for the bus, she checks Twitter on her iPhone and smiles to see that her digital marketing lecturer has asked his students to identify a brand based on facts he’s tweeted about the nature, scale and success of their operations. Sue thinks she knows who he’s talking about, but wants to be sure, so grabs a chair in the social study zone on arrival and uses her iPhone to check.

In the lecture, the mystery brand is revealed and the Digital Marketing lecturer builds up a mind-map of the topic of “Search Engine Optimisation” using the online MindMeister mind mapping tool. Sue is able to use her iPhone to participate directly but is too nervous to do so. The lecturer invites those who are able to contribute topics or questions using Tweets with a hashtag of MMU followed by the Unit code. The evolving mind map is projected on the wall, but the lecturer tabs to contributions coming in via Twitter at regular intervals using Twitterfall. Harvinder doesn’t have a mobile data contract, but asks a question using her cheap and cheerful Samsung S5560, which supports Twitter over WiFi. The lecturer spots the question and asks the class for answers. He allows a small debate to develop and then suggests they settle the matter with a show of hands; he captures the outcome on MindMeister. To finish, the lecturer adds the URL for the online Mind Map to his set of Diigo bookmarks for the Unit, which appear automatically within the Digital Marketing Unit area of the VLE for later reference.

After the lecture, Harvinder and Sue decide that they’ll make some final tweaks to the presentation over lunch. Neither has a laptop with them, so Sue checks MyMMU on her iPhone to see if there are any loan laptops available from the library: there are four left. Sue books one out on her library account, and the two of them head to the social learning zone. Over lunch Sue downloads the Powerpoint from Live@Edu, adds a new graph and a reference from this morning’s lecture, and updates the file in the collaborative workspace.

A vision of joined-up systems

The scenarios illustrate how use of learning technologies does not take place in isolation: interactions with personal and administrative systems and underlying infrastructure are major determinants of the quality of the overall experience. We chose therefore to evaluate options against a vision of joined-up systems in which our core learning system is extended through an expanding range of supported tools.

We seek the convenience of a core VLE integrated with our corporate systems, ideally available to students to use with the devices and services of their choosing, and extended through tools that the institution arranges, recommends or recognises:

  • Arranged: MMU creates accounts on these tools, eg Live@Edu and Turnitin and ensures access to training materials
  • Recommended: MMU develops recommendations and supporting training materials for bringing these tools seamlessly into the core, eg using RSS to bring in content from Twitter, SlideShare or YouTube
  • Recognised: MMU is aware tutors are experimenting with these but there is not yet a critical mass of users to research and prescribe integration and training

Over time, innovative tutors and students are likely to identify new tools that could be taken on as “recommended” – support materials would be created demonstrating how a seamless experience can be established with the core; and, over time, thresholds for digital literacy would be raised to embrace the new skills required by all staff to make best use of new tools. In this way we see our learning technology base growing organically over time whilst still maintaining the convenience of a guaranteed entry point through the core VLE for students seeking consistency.

Model of extending a core VLE with arranged, recommended and recognised tools

We are aware that delivery of this vision will likely require work to other institutional systems, such as the student records system, and we look forward to this work progressing in related change projects.

Threshold Expectations

Our scenarios are underpinned by a set of assumptions about staff and student expectations of technology, and we were pleased the ICT Strategy Group endorsed these as meaningful aspirations:

  • All teaching staff will be provided with laptops (and a monitor, keyboard and mouse)
  • All teaching rooms will have a means of plugging a laptop into a large screen or projector
  • All staff and students will be able to access WiFi from anywhere within MMU
  • All students will receive a personalised timetable and assignment submission deadlines and be notified rapidly of any changes to either
  • All students will be able to book small teaching rooms when rooms are not timetabled
  • All students can expect their engagement to be monitored for active progress review
  • All staff and students can expect institutional calendar appointments and news items to be made available for use on personal devices where legally and technically possible
  • Every Unit will have a presence in the VLE

Implied Integration

Our vision of joined-up systems presumes data exchange between corporate systems. We therefore sought out solutions that would enable this vision.

System integrations and data flows for a joined-up learning environment

Option Appraisal

We considered options in four packages:

  1. New VLE (including integration, IAG, analytics and migration)
  2. Enhanced learning resources (podcasts and reading lists)
  3. Classroom technology threshold
  4. E-Portfolio/E-PDP

New VLE

MMU currently uses software from the leading commercial VLE provider, and Blackboard provided us with a detailed rationale for, and upgrade path to, its new version, BB Learn 9. However, BB Learn 9 combines lessons learned from the Blackboard classic product-line and the WebCT product-line, so to our users BB Learn 9 would effectively be a new product. We therefore decided to take the opportunity to compare this “upgrade” of our current software against the leading open source provider, Moodle. Both solutions can be run either in-house by MMU staff or by a managed hosting partner; this generated four options for consideration:

  • Blackboard In-House (VLE#1)
  • Blackboard Hosted (VLE#2)
  • Moodle In-House (VLE#3)
  • Moodle Hosted (VLE#4)

After careful consideration of the options against the review criteria, the ICT Strategy Group felt Hosted Moodle edged a close-run competition on the grounds of being well placed to deliver our vision whilst also being a cost effective, flexible and extendable place to ride out current uncertainties in the learning technology market.

For all options we are acutely aware that the success of the new system will depend on the training, information, advice and guidance available to academic staff as they move from WebCT Vista to the new system, and the way the new system is embedded in administrative business processes and linked explicitly to curriculum transformation. Detailed planning of VLE implementation in the context of delivering transformed Learning, Teaching and Assessment will be vital, as will early engagement of relevant stakeholders from faculties and central services. We look forward to taking this forward in the coming months.

Enhanced Learning Resources

A key role of the VLE is to signpost learning resources to learners. Preliminary PhD research had shown access to learning resources through the VLE to be correlated strongly with student success. The VLE repository provides a mechanism for storing and signposting files created by academic colleagues, such as PowerPoint slides and Word handouts, but this can be complemented with library materials (both physical and electronic), externally-hosted resources (such as links to YouTube videos) and audio-visual content that academic colleagues produce themselves or commission externally. Our scenarios assume that a student will be able to find all the learning resources for a Unit in one place, so the learning resource systems we provide and recommend must be capable of providing feeds that can be aggregated. Our scenarios also assume that learners will be able to access our learning resources on their personal devices and we therefore wish to exploit established content distribution channels, such as iTunes, to reach them. To deliver the convenience of a one-stop-shop for Unit learning resources and allow audio and video materials to become readily available on personal devices we identified the need to upgrade our library reading list and podcast systems.

Library Reading Lists

MMU currently uses the TalisList software to maintain Unit reading lists. The software integrates with other Talis products used for the library catalogue and book ordering, and is linked in a crude way to the MyMMU portal. TalisList is one of the older products in the Talis portfolio and has been superseded by a new product, Talis Aspire, which exploits Talis platform technologies powering the recently-launched UK Government open data site, data.gov.uk.

The ICTSG decided that Talis Aspire would be better able to deliver the convenience of the seamless integrated experience set out in the scenarios, and its collaborative platform created interesting opportunities for learners and the institution to benefit from cost-effective community recommendations: “Units like this also recommended …”

Podcasts

In response to growing interest in using audio and video materials to support learners, a pilot project has been underway using an Apple Podcast Producer server to format, store and distribute audio and video files. The Apple server has been integrated with MMU’s network directory, the WebCT Vista VLE and the MyMMU portal. However, as a pilot, the server has not been configured to be sufficiently resilient and scalable for use as a production service by all MMU staff. We therefore proposed that investment be made now to establish a production-ready podcasting service for the 2010/11 academic year. We specified that this service must also be capable of supporting iTunesU when the institution determines that there is sufficient content and ownership for a successful launch.

The ICTSG decided that the pilot Apple podcasting service should be upgraded to production status, in readiness for iTunesU, and suitable screen capture software should be installed on all staff machines.

Classroom Technology

Although it proved difficult to elicit staff requirements for classroom technologies directly, interviews for the staff laptop experiment in Humanities and AV/IT planning meetings for the new Business School/Hub building provided strong evidence of a need for teaching rooms to meet a basic threshold whereby staff can plug a laptop in to either a big screen or projector and access internet resources wirelessly. Uncertainty about whether a particular room will have the right (or in the case of some teaching rooms, any) equipment came through very strongly as a barrier to using technology in classrooms. Borrowing projection equipment was cited as too much of a hurdle by staff who often had different classes back-to-back.

We felt a threshold expectation that all teaching rooms would have wifi and large screen projection would be a major step forward in addressing these barriers, particularly when taken together with an aspiration that all teaching staff would have laptops. The notion of a threshold would not preclude specialist teaching rooms going further, such as those simulating school classrooms being equipped with Interactive Whiteboards, or those with frequent need to show the detail of physical objects being equipped with Visualisers, but the intention would be to make connection of a laptop consistently simple in every teaching room.

A full audit of teaching spaces will be necessary to determine the cost implications of meeting this threshold. ICT Strategy Group colleagues invited research to be undertaken on an effective threshold for classroom technology and a proposal to be brought forward for delivering it.

E-Portfolio / E-PDP

Feedback from the PebblePad e-PDP/e-Portfolio projects had revealed that:

  • e-PDP and e-Portfolio have distinct but overlapping requirements
  • if students are to invest in these systems, there must be value at university (for assessment) and beyond (for job and professional body membership applications), and the students must be able to own, access and control e-PDP/e-Portfolio data at university and after graduation
  • ideally, university staff would offer structure to (in the form of suggested tag lists and PDP scaffolding, such as reflective prompts) and feedback on student-owned data that can be tagged to facilitate its retrieval when required
  • e-Portfolio tools need to support the collaborative production of content in a range of media formats by groups of learners
  • e-PDP tools need to support scaffolded reflection and feedback (formative and summative) from invited tutors /peers / mentors / coaches

Whilst the systems colleagues had been using, such as PebblePad and TalentOnView, have undoubted strengths, all the e-PDP/e-Portfolio systems we explored had limitations when faced with the challenge of enabling university-provided structure and feedback on student-owned data. Experience from different subject areas also suggested very strongly that one size does not fit all for e-Portfolio.

After careful evaluation of a number of options, ICT Strategy Group colleagues decided to postpone a decision and invited more trials to further understanding of the PebblePad and Live@Edu options and consider other possibilities such as the integrated professional-skills solution developed to work with Moodle at the University of South Queensland.

Digital Literacy

Tutors’ awareness of and competence with digital technologies is seen as a critical success factor for the effective use of learning technologies (CLEX 2009). We are acutely aware that the investments we make in technology must be matched by investments in the skills of academic colleagues if we are to achieve our intended outcomes.

Learning Technologies, digital literacy and curriculum innovation

Learning Technologies, digital literacy and curriculum innovation

Feedback from focus groups and online surveys told us that students regard as very important the consistency of experience they get across their Units of study. It is therefore vital that we set thresholds for digital literacy for all academic staff and develop systematic and scalable methods for ensuring all colleagues receive appropriate training to bring their skills to an appropriate level. This will represent a major and focussed piece of organisational development drawing on expertise from across the university. Threshold standards will need to be set, a gap analysis undertaken and plans for closing the gap developed in conjunction with relevant stakeholders, ideally to coincide with deployment of the new VLE for the 2011/12 academic year. ICT Strategy Group colleagues asked the Head of CeLT to establish a project group to take this forward.

Further Work

The scoping work we undertook early on in the Learning Technologies Review project identified a number of areas in which progress was necessary to support the Strategic Framework for Learning, Teaching and Assessment. Those areas were prioritised to produce recommendations for Q1 2010 (presented above), and a list of areas to follow up later:

  • collaborative conferencing technology;
  • mobile learning;
  • electronic library;
  • creation and commissioning of media-rich content; and
  • development of an integrated staff portal

A pragmatic approach of tackling pressing concerns and maintaining a watch-list of other technologies was highly recommended by Gartner Analysts. ICT Strategy Group colleagues decided that as development with these technologies was likely to move with varying pace, it would be prudent to schedule a review for a year’s time to assess whether new projects need to be taken forward and whether the list has changed.

References

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Scenarios

In order to inform our decision about learning technologies that will best meet MMU’s needs going forward, we have found it useful to tease out variety in behaviours that institutional and personal systems are likely to need to support. We have captured that variety through a series of scenarios, which appear below. These are not written to express intended norms for MMU staff and students, but rather to create debate about the requirements that institutionally-provided technologies would ideally fulfill:

Scenario #1

Sally, a senior lecturer, checks her diary and is reminded of her 11am first year tutorial. She checks the VLE to see which students in this tutorial group have engaged with the preparation activities she set and decides to print a summary. She disconnects her netbook from the large screen and keyboard in her office and walks down to the tutorial room via a printer, where she swipes her staff card and collects the list. In the tutorial room she connects her netbook to the large screen and talks her students through the activity she planned before dividing them into four groups. While the activity is progressing the tutor has a quiet word with each of the students about their engagement with the tutorial preparation and notes that two are missing. In the tutorial the four student groups prepare mini-presentations to summarise their findings using netbooks that some have brought with them; they use the wireless network to upload their mini-presentations to the VLE and take turns presenting, while their colleagues take notes – some on paper, others use electronic annotation and note-taking software on devices they’ve brought to class. After the class, the tutor logs details of the two students against the tutorial they missed, knowing that the Year Tutor will contact them if their overall engagement has fallen below the threshold expectation for the course.

Scenario #2

Jaspreet, a second year engineering student, signs on to Windows Live using the gaming laptop he keeps in his flat; he sees an alert reminding him of an assignment deadline later in the week and decides that he’s going to take advantage of the unlimited texts package on his phone to receive Windows Live alerts by text in future. He’s made a start on the assignment, but wants to check the brief again so he logs on to MyMMU. He scans the latest news from each of the Units he studies and sees that his tutor is offering online assignment support between 2pm and 3pm – he creates an appointment in his phone to remind him. He sees that a new list of revision podcasts has been set up for another of his Units so clicks on the link, which launches iTunes so that he can subscribe. He docks his iPod Touch, which automatically picks up the first audio briefing about the upcoming exam. Jaspreet listens to the briefing on the bus on his way into university. When he arrives he uses Skype on his iPod Touch to call a friend to meet for coffee using the new microphone-headphones he treated himself to recently – he’s pleased his new purchase works. At 1:45 Jaspreet’s phone reminds him of the assignment support session at 2pm, so he checks the display screens and sees that a nearby IT dropin zone has free machines so he heads there. He logs on to the VLE and joins an instant message chat with the tutor in which several of Jaspreet’s classmates are asking questions about the assignment. Jaspreet watches the questions and answers, which cover most of his concerns, and asks a specific question about the relative weighting of conclusions versus the detail of option appraisal. Jaspreet decides to save the Q+A instant message thread to his SkyDrive so that it will be available later when he works on the assignment that evening back in his flat. Having synched his phone with his personal timetable, Jaspreet’s calendar shows a guest lecture this week at 4pm but at 3pm he receives a text reminder telling him the speaker is from a local engineering company. Jaspreet sees in the VLE that a couple of his classmates are online so he asks them via instant messenger whether they are going to the guest lecture. One says he’s down in the cafe and suggests they chat about the upcoming assignment before going along. The two of them chat and then decide to check out the website of the company of the guest speaker. Jaspreet and his friend gather round his iPod Touch and see that the company is recruiting for summer placements. During the guest lecture Jaspreet takes some notes on his iPod Touch that he hopes will be useful if he decides to apply for the summer job.

Scenario #3

Over the last few days Sue, a final year marketing student, has been collaborating electronically with three colleagues on a Powerpoint presentation for a group assignment. From the laptop in her house she sees from her Live@Edu collaborative workspace that Harvinder made some changes late last night to the last two slides; they look good. By instant messenger last night the group agreed that they would practise the presentation this afternoon and that Sue would book a room between 3pm and 4pm. Sue works in a bar on Thursday nights and is therefore not keen to bring her laptop with her today, so she logs on to MyMMU and searches for a room with a PC and projector available between 3pm and 4pm – she finds one free in the Sandra Burslem building and books it, giving her student number and the code of the Unit the presentation is for. She clicks the “download appointment” option to put a reminder in her Outlook diary as she knows this will synchronise automatically through Live@Edu with the calendar on her iPhone.  Sue uses Live@Edu to share the appointment with the other members of her group, updates her Facebook status and heads into university for her 11 o’clock lecture on digital marketing. While waiting for the bus, she checks Twitter on her iPhone and smiles to see that her digital marketing lecturer has asked his students to identify a brand based on facts he’s tweeted about the nature, scale and success of their operations.  Sue thinks she knows who he’s talking about, but wants to be sure, so grabs a chair in the social study zone on arrival and uses her iPhone to check.

In the lecture, the mystery brand is revealed and the Digital Marketing lecturer builds up a mind-map of the topic of “Search Engine Optimisation” using the online MindMeister mind mapping tool. Sue is able to use her iPhone to participate directly but is too nervous to do so.  The lecturer invites those who are able to contribute topics or questions using Tweets with a hashtag of MMU followed by the Unit code. The evolving mind map is projected on the wall, but the lecturer tabs to contributions coming in via Twitter at regular intervals using Twitterfall.  Harvinder doesn’t have a mobile data contract, but asks a question using her cheap and cheerful Samsung S5560, which supports Twitter over WiFi. The lecturer spots the question and asks the class for answers. He allows a small debate to develop and then suggests they settle the matter with a show of hands; he captures the outcome on MindMeister. To finish, the lecturer adds the URL for the online Mind Map to his set of Diigo bookmarks for the Unit, which appear automatically within the Digital Marketing Unit area of the VLE for later reference.

After the lecture, Harvinder and Sue decide that they’ll make some final tweaks to the presentation over lunch. Neither has a laptop with them, so Sue checks MyMMU on her iPhone to see if there are any loan laptops available from the library: there are four left. Sue books one out on her library account, and the two of them head to the social learning zone. Over lunch Sue downloads the Powerpoint from Live@Edu, adds a new graph and a reference from this morning’s lecture, and updates the file in the collaborative workspace.

Implications

Implications for institutional technologies:

  • All university spaces have WiFi coverage which allows authorised users to use popular messaging applications such as Skype and MSN
  • Assignment deadlines are stored in a system that can be integrated with the alerts feature of Live@Edu to give personalised reminders
  • Announcements from units in the VLE appear within the MyMMU portal, which is integrated to give seamless pass-through from MyMMU to the VLE
  • Audio and video “podcast” material will be made available using popular standards like iTunes IPC and RSS
  • Personalised timetables will be available to students in a format that enables synchronisation with Live@Edu, Outlook and calendar software available on mobile phones
  • Instant-messaging tools and presence information will be integrated with the VLE
  • Students will have access to cloud storage (such as Live@Edu SkyDrive) that can be used easily on or off campus
  • Digital signage will be used to advertise real-time availability of resources like drop-in PCs
  • All staff will have mobile devices: laptops or netbooks
  • All classrooms will have presentation equipment and WiFi coverage
  • All printing will be on a collect-on-demand basis
  • Timetabled tutorial group information will be available for organising students in the VLE
  • The VLE will be accessible from the types of mobile device students bring onto campus: netbook, iPod Touch, etc
  • Not all students will bring netbooks/laptops onto campus
  • Staff will have access to VLE tracking data

Note:

Every MMU student already has a Microsoft Live@Edu account, which provides internet file storage, email, instant messaging and alerts

MMU is currently engaged in a major project to improve its wireless network

Posted in News | 8 Comments

Integration Requirements for a new VLE

Consultation for MMU’s learning technologies review has highlighted opportunities for improving the student experience through tighter integration between institutional systems.

The diagram below is an attempt to summarise some of the key integration points and information flows for delivering an improved online learning environment

System integrations and data flows for a joined-up learning environment

When thinking about the value of this kind of integration for an institution like MMU,  it is useful to remember that 5% of MMU’s current VLE courses have over 250 students on them and more than 30 course areas have over 800 students actively participating.

Posted in News | 3 Comments

How big are our current VLE course areas?

When thinking about new technologies it is useful to look back at how we’ve used those we have already. A quick check on the average amount of space used by course areas created in our Blackboard/WebCT Vista VLE for the 2009/10 academic year reveals:

  • Top 10% of course areas average 439.1MB and have 116 users enrolled
  • Next 10% of course areas average 90.4MB and have 94 users enrolled
  • Next 10% of course areas average 48MB and have 120 users enrolled
  • Next 10% of course areas average 28.3MB and have 312 users enrolled
  • Next 10% of course areas average 18.1MB and have 99 users enrolled
  • Next 10% of course areas average 11.4MB and have 99 users enrolled
  • Next 10% of course areas average 6.7MB and have 131 users enrolled
  • Next 10% of course areas average 3.7MB and have 133 users enrolled
  • Next 10% of course areas average 1.6MB and have 106 users enrolled
  • Remaining 10% of course areas average 0.3MB and have 62 users enrolled

Growth in diskspace has been as follows:

  • 2006/07 course areas totalled 15GB
  • 2007/08 course areas totalled 62GB
  • 2008/09 course areas totalled 105GB
  • 2009/10 course areas so far total over 120GB

These figures exclude personal development areas and university-wide course areas

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Learning Technolog Review Requirements Summary

Scope for an initial review of MMU’s learning technologies focuses on the institutional VLE and podcasting; classroom technologies; e-Assessment; e-PDP/e-Portfolio; Information, Advice and Guidance arrangements and analytics to support strategic aims such as student retention and success. A range of activity has taken place in support of this review, including:

  • Learning Technology Focus groups and a week of road-shows around the University
  • A review of how MMU’s current WebCT Vista VLE has been used – see earlier blog post
  • Investigation of Blackboard 9 and Moodle 1.9 – testing of demonstrator systems, meetings with suppliers, discussion with peer institutions
  • Synthesised findings from trials of the PebblePad e-Portfolio software

Comments concerning replacement of the VLE have dominated communication established to support the learning technologies review. Detailed feedback gathered through focus groups was reinforced by comments received from an email suggestion box and site road-shows, although less than 10% of staff colleagues actively using the VLE have contributed. Core messages within the feedback were as follows:

  • When seeking effective deployment of learning technology, most staff regard the choice of VLE as less critical than the technological, administrative, training and support systems within which it operates, although they do expect a new VLE to be more modern and intuitive than WebCT Vista. Several colleagues have commented on the importance of value-for-money in the current financial climate
  • Learners value the convenience of online materials to support teaching and learning, and prefer a consistent experience
    • Consistency is best fostered by curriculum innovation interventions at the Programme level, rather than Unit or Staff member engagements – there are approximately 50 programme approval and review events annually, which would require significant input from LRIS and CeLT if each of these events were to include a University of Leicester “Carpe Diem”–style innovation engagement
  • Staff have called for:
    • Clear information, advice and guidance (IAG) about
      • What can be achieved with learning technologies – art of the possible
      • How to gain access to specific learning technologies – establishing accounts, installing required software, etc
      • How to establish a specific configuration of learning technologies for use with a particular group of students
      • How to use specific learning technologies – software training
      • How to resolve problems with specific learning technologies
    • Champions, not swamped with e-learning administration, who can support contextualisation of this IAG to foster local communities of practice
    • Clarity about workload allocation for curriculum development with new learning technologies
    • Slick systems for setting up VLE areas for students that synch automatically with the student records system, and are supported by SIP enrolment expertise
    • Slick systems for setting up accounts for collaborative partners so that coaches, mentors, franchise tutors and the like can access information and participate online
  • Staff accept that one system would struggle to satisfy all the needs of a university as large and diverse as MMU, and there is broad support for the notion of a Core + Tools model that would allow sophisticated assembly of web 2.0 tools but preserve some consistency of student experience. The model would not be static, but accompanied by a process for evaluating “new” technologies and bringing those of benefit into the supported core over time
  • Staff expect content migration from the old to the new VLE to be a painless (and in many cases brainless) process – if the window of opportunity of a new VLE is to be used to promote curriculum innovation through critical reflection on established delivery, then staff expectations about content migration will need to be managed carefully

Analysis of WebCT Vista usage statistics since 2006 reveals rapid growth in take-up across the institution and a consistent high level distribution of the types of action undertaken in the VLE. The aggregated picture inevitably hides variety in the patterns of use on different course areas, but highlights some high level patterns:

  • Staff and students each access the VLE over 50 times a year, with students clicking more often on each visit than staff
  • Content distribution is the dominant pattern of use across the institution
  • Some parts of the institution use the VLE for more interactive forms of engagement than content distribution, such as discussion forums, quizzes and online submission. In comparison to content distribution, after an initial uptake from enthusiasts this more interactive mode of engagement has been slower to expand across the institution
  • Students appear to look for updates about assessment and discussion postings more frequently than changes are made. Indeed, click-track evidence would suggest that an unsatisfied appetite for assessment information is leading students to check for quizzes when tutors are not using them. Similarly, students are checking for discussion postings on more areas than tutors are using them
  • Different norms for staff-student communication appear to have arisen with announcements being the most widely-used mechanism but some intensive use of the VLE-only email system and some use of synchronous communication
  • Use of the VLE for assessment is limited to less than 15% of the institution with online quizzes over twice as popular as online assignment submission, and a very small use of SCORM materials
  • Practice has varied across the institution on whether students have access to VLE materials from previous years of study, but click-track evidence suggests that it is used where it is made available

The dominance of content-distribution and its correlation with student achievement makes a strong case for good content management and reporting features within the new VLE, and reinforces the importance of a well thought-through content migration strategy reinforced by threshold standards for available content that capture best practice as statistics indicate not all uploaded content has been used by students. A range of factors, including technical and administrative problems and staff reluctance to mark electronically, has discouraged more widespread adoption of e-assessment and e-submission – whilst not all of these issues can be addressed by technology, staff expect the new VLE to facilitate more interactive modes of engagement.

Feedback from the PebblePad e-PDP/e-Portfolio projects has added the following points:

  • e-PDP and e-Portfolio have distinct but overlapping requirements
  • if students are to invest in these systems, there must be value at university (for assessment) and beyond (for job and professional body membership applications), and the students must be able to own, access and control e-PDP/e-Portfolio data at university and after graduation
  • ideally, university staff would offer structure to (in the form of suggested tag lists and PDP scaffolding, such as reflective prompts) and feedback on student-owned data that can be tagged to facilitate its retrieval when required
  • e-Portfolio tools need to support the collaborative production of content in a range of media formats by groups of learners
  • e-PDP tools need to support scaffolded reflection and both feedback (formative and summative) from invited tutors /peers / mentors / coaches

Whilst systems such as PebblePad and TalentOnView have undoubted strengths, all e-PDP/e-Portfolio systems have limitations when faced with the challenge of enabling university-provided structure and feedback on student-owned data

Views on classroom technologies have been more difficult to glean, but finding from the focus groups and staff laptop experiments suggest

  • a need for greater consistency between technology in different classrooms with internet connectivity (wifi) plus a big screen/projection capability a core requirement for all
  • limited use of interactive whiteboards, and polarized use of visualisers
  • a need for deeper understanding of classroom technology requirements and the extent to which they vary according to dominant subject pedagogies

These requirements will form the basis of proposals presented to the Information Systems Strategy Group covering:

  • implementing a new VLE
  • establishing a production podcasting service
  • options for e-Portfolio and e-PDP
  • follow-on work required
Posted in News | 2 Comments

How we’ve used Vista since 2006

When contemplating new technologies to support learning and teaching for the university, it is useful to understand how our current technologies have been used.

MMU’s Blackboard (WebCT) Vista Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) maintains a history of users’ interactions with the system. Records of interactions with course areas from September 2006 to January 2010 have been analysed and a spreadsheet produced showing the frequency with which different aspects of the VLE have been used.

The figures demonstrate rapid growth in take-up across the institution with a consistent distribution of the types of action undertaken in the VLE. The aggregated picture inevitably hides variety in the patterns of use on different course areas, but reveals some high level patterns:

  1. Staff and students each access the VLE over 50 times a year, with students clicking more often on each visit than staff
  2. Content distibution is the dominant pattern of use across the institution
  3. Some parts of the institution use the VLE for more interactive forms of engagement than content distribution, such as discussion forums, quizzes and online submission. In comparison to content distribution, after an initial uptake from enthusiasts this more interactive mode of engagement has been slower to expand across the institution
  4. Students appear to look for updates about assessment and discussion postings more frequently than changes are made. Indeed, click-track evidence would suggest that an unsatisfied appetite for assessment information is leading students to check for quizzes when tutors are not using them. Similarly, students are checking for discussion postings on more areas than tutors are using them
  5. Different norms for staff-student communication appear to have arisen with announcements being the most widely-used mechanism but some intensive use of the VLE-only email system and some use of synchronous communication
  6. Use of the VLE for assessment is limited to less than 15% of the institution with online quizzes over twice as popular as online assignment submission, and a very small use of SCORM materials
  7. Practice has varied across the institution on whether students have access to VLE materials from previous years of study, but click-track evidence suggests that it is used where it is made available
Posted in News | 2 Comments

Requirements from Computing and Maths

The Learning Developments Group (LDG) in the Department of Computing and Maths (DoCM) has prepared a ‘statement of needs’ following consultation across the department to inform the learning technologies review. DoCM staff have invested significantly in the current WebCT system and are therefore looking to transition to a VLE that will continue to support their identified developments and facilitate roll-over of existing courses and materials.

DoCM colleagues summarised their needs in terms of the following learning environment characteristics:

  1. An environment that is fast, reliable and robust;
  2. Demonstrable ease of use for non-expert users;
  3. Localised dedicated technical support and training for ongoing VLE development;
  4. Is extensible and modifiable: staff can easily add features and functionality that are not tied to proprietary technologies;
  5. Allows for flexible content structure, and collaborative activity;
  6. Support for a wide range of e-learning standards – to ensure that legacy material can be readily imported and reused, and that future material is not locked into a particular VLE. This would include SCORM 2004, Common Cartridge, IMS CP, QTI, and Simple Sequencing;
  7. A IMS-DRI (Digital Repositories Interoperability)-compliant Repository facility to centralise resources and ensure consistency and integrity of materials;
  8. Support for the rollover of learning and teaching content and structures from year to year (only a handful of areas are set up empty each year);
  9. Sufficient disk space to host multiple types of learning materials, including screen-casts, podcasts, sound recordings and learning objects;
  10. Support for a wide range of e-submissions, assignments and assessments (including peer assessment) – extensive use is made of Grade-book for feedback of student marks and for harvesting of marks by Admin staff
  11. Full interaction with other University systems such as QLS-Agresso;
  12. Integrated support for teaching approaches that utilise Web 2.0 technologies such as wiki development, mash-up customisation of student learning spaces, blogging, tagging, forums, syndication;
  13. Integrated support for e-Portfolios (IMS standard-compliant) to facilitate a culture of personal development.
Posted in News | 1 Comment

Comparing Blackboard 9 and Moodle 1.9

Continue reading

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Message to all staff about MMU’s Learning Technologies Review

For colleagues who missed the all-staff bulletin about the review, the content is repeated here:

The department of Learning and Research Technologies is collaborating with the Centre for Learning and Teaching and departmental e-learning champions on a review of the institution’s learning technologies.

The current WebCT Vista Virtual Learning Environment software and hardware is approaching end-of-life. The review will look at the leading commercial (Blackboard) and open source (Moodle) options for replacing it. The review will also develop proposals for improving podcasting, classroom technology, online assessment, electronic portfolio and the information, advice and guidance arrangements required to make best use of this technology.

It is important to emphasise that:

  1. WebCT Vista will remain the institutional VLE for 2010/11
  2. A new VLE (either Blackboard or Moodle) will be established during 2010/11 – it will be available to pioneers from July 2010; programmes with cohorts commencing in January 2011 will use the new system exclusively, with all programmes utilising the new system with effect from September 2011
  3. Options for migrating content currently in WebCT Vista will be considered as part of the review

Focus groups have already been taking place across the institution, but these will be extended to enable wider engagement through faculty road-shows in the week commencing December 7:

Monday : 07/12/09 : 10:00–14:00 : Geoffrey Manton Atrium

Tuesday : 08/12/09 : 10:00–14:00 : Crewe Student Zone

Wednesday : 09/12/09 : 10:00–14:00 : Aytoun Entrance

Thursday : 10/12/09 : 10:00–14:00 : Hollings Entrance

Friday : 11/12/09 : 10:00–14:00 : Gaskell Foyer

Friday : 11/12/09 : 10:00–14:00 : Didsbury Staff Common Room

Project team members look forward to your input, either through the road-shows or via email to ltreview@mmu.ac.uk

Professor Mark Stubbs
Head of Learning and Research Technologies

Posted in News | 1 Comment