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
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2 Responses to Learning Technolog Review Requirements Summary

  1. Robin Johnson says:

    This looks like a pretty good summary of our current view about the VLE. I’d particularly emphaise the need for adequate support and integration with the other systems and with workload models. The only aqdditional point i’d raise is the need for group management,integrated with marks management. At present the Business school runs some very large units and the VLE should suport this so that tutors can see just a subset of the complete group when marking work online, reviewing marks, discussions etc. WebCT makes only a token gesture towards this. Possibly more importantly, a system for returning marks and feedback to students that is integrated with QLS so that there is only one copy of a mark. At present WebCT provides a reasonably easy method for uploading marks but it could be easier. There is no way to upload feedback sheets if work is not marked online although the returning of feedback is a major issue in many faculties.

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