Reviewing our VLE

When I was at university in the mid 90s there wasn’t a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). I seem to remember file stores and floppy disks galore but no central repository of learning resources.We just carried everything around with us – and bad luck if you lost anything!

The actual term VLE was first coined in the late 90s (by whom I cannot tell?) but in the US the descriptor Learning Management Systems (LMS) has always been more prevalent. Wikipedia offers an indepth history of VLEs for those interested.

Today VLEs are a given at Higher Education institutions. The 2016 UCISA TEL survey found that 100% institutions who participated had some form of VLE with the split being roughly 50:50 between open-source Moodle and Blackboard, other platforms barely got a mention. The 2017-18 survey is now underway and we are likely to see a new generation of VLEs, like Canvas, making headway. At RAU we have had a Moodle system for over 7 years – we call our VLE Gateway. On the whole we are happy with what we have, but as is often the case we feel we could be doing more to engage students, encourage academics and support our digital delivery.

Enter the new Jisc VLE review service. It’s not well advertised yet but as part of a provider’s subscription Jisc will review their learning environment for them. The VLE review will help us to “understand how our platform is being used, what areas could be flagged as best practice, in addition to highlighting barriers and challenges that are preventing your staff and students from getting the best of your VLE. The process will review: Curriculum delivery, Communication & Collaboration, Content management, Student Administration, and Technical. This approach helps identify and put in place the process, tools and digital capabilities necessary to meet learners’ needs. Furthermore, It’s a useful tool to build a business case for changes in IT infrastructure, staff development activity and create an ongoing mechanism for dialogue between departments“. [Jisc’s words]

The Jisc team have been allocated user accounts and will be spending time in our VLE looking at it from a student and staff perspective. They are also coming on site in mid-March and will be running focus groups and interviews with students, staff and those involved in the technical delivery of Gateway.

A course module in Gateway

A course module in Gateway

The plan is not to change our VLE – though many providers are doing that. The aforementioned 2016 UCISA survey found that over half of the institutions which responded had conducted evaluation reviews over the last two years. The plan is to make what we have more user friendly, more engaging and just…better! Easy right?! 😉

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