The JISC 2012 paper on Extending the learning environment provides information which assists in informing the review process of VLEs.
Earlier in 2012, Northampton went through a VLE review process and the notes and links below may be of interest to institutions which are going through a similar process. I have sub-titled this post ‘Caviar or Red Herring’ as the process may be seen as either a quality opportunity to ensure that you have the best product (the Caviar) or an opportunity to spend significant time comparing products with very similar functionality (the Red Herring) – you may not be sure which you have until you get to the end of the process…..and could end up with a mix of the two !
** Please note that the review below was conducted early in 2012 – all products mentioned were reviewed at that time and have changed significantly since in terms of functionality and version. **
We started the review process with a number of key principles:
- The institution is committed to reviewing its virtual learning environment to ensure suitability for purpose and cost effectiveness.
- Any change must enhance the student experience. Staff and students should evaluate the options and be involved in the change decision. Dedicated and nominated staff within the Schools should be allowed time to review the options with the support of their Dean.
- The change process can be disruptive for staff and students due to the migration needed. This can be mitigated though recruitment of dedicated staff to support the process.
- Whether we maintain the current platform under the current VLE or move to an alternative platform, the review is an opportunity for staff to fully engage with all students and University stakeholders.
- Material and structure should be reviewed and improved where possible. Templates and support will be provided and staff will engage with these. Additional long term support will need to be considered.
- All platforms under the VLE should be externally hosted at present to provide maximum uptime.
[The decision to go hosted with the current VLE (Blackboard] was made in 2007 based on the need for high level system availability which could not be guaranteed with internal hosting. This decision was based on Northampton’s internal culture and infrastructure. It was decided at the time of the VLE review that the system should be maintained as a hosted operation]
As part of the process we were aware that several other institutions had conducted VLE reviews in the past year and contacted these to obtain a copy of their findings – some were more open than others (for obvious reasons).
This brief report is a summary of the six VLE reviews which we were able to obtain.
Reviews were instigated by either / and:
- Issues caused with current internal hosting
- An impending significant upgrade to the current system
- A perception that a move will save money
Four of the six will continue to use Blackboard; one is moving to Moodle on cost grounds; ** are considering moving to Moodle.
Uptime is considered a key issue for all reviews and most are considering, or have already moved to hosted option regardless of the product chosen.
Functionality reviews have tried to compare the latest features of each system and there is an inevitable cross over between them. Analysis of the reviews seems to indicate that Blackboard currently has a more intuitive structure ‘out of the box’. Flexible designs may be achieved in Moodle.
All reviews have noted that there is a ‘transition cost’ which pushes up the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Moodle options necessitate the need for a developer (or team) in house to make best use of the system and customise the interface.
The majority of academic staff within the reviews noted no pedagogical advantage in moving from Blackboard to Moodle and felt that any such a change would present a significant risk to the current status of the University’s core business and its likely future development. Retraining would be needed in any transition.
** noted that staff development and training needs were often overlooked, or severely underestimated in transitions. They had migrated to Moodle as a perceived cost saving.
- The TCO of any migration is fully costed
- Staff and students need to be fully consulted in current and future needs
- Regardless of the option chosen – staff need to be fully supported and encouraged to make best use of it. Some current poor student reviews within the current VLE were prompted by poor academic engagement with the system rather than any lack of functionality.
- The review process must review the latest available version of each VLE.
- Considering the current IT infrastructure, we need to maintain a hosted solution regardless of the option selected.
The final report which was presented to the University Executive Group summarised the 4 month review process. Please note that some confidential details have been removed for obvious reasons.
The decision to remain with Blackboard for a further three years was based on a wide range of factors and not just the basic cost. The TCO which included price, cultural issues and migration meant that the decision was the best for Northampton at that time. I’m fully aware that other institutions will conduct reviews which will be conducted within a completely culture and with different needs which will lead them down a different path. We will be looking for a formal review again in 2014/15 – let’s hope that this is a ‘Caviar’ experience.
For further details on the review process please contact Rob Howe
The default My Sites box on your NILE homepage is an unhelpful, alphabetical mess. We attempted to alleviate a little bit of the ridiculousness by prefixing site titles with ’12/13′ last year so at least all your 12/13 sites will appear at the top of the box, but we have come up with a better solution! It’s called ‘Group by Term’ and you can enable it on your own NILE homepage by following these instructions.
Hover your mouse over the My Sites box and click on the cog icon at the top right:
In section 1 of that screen, tick the box next to ‘Group by Term‘:
So far, we have two Terms set up on NILE, one for the 12/13 academic year, and one for 13/14. You can specify which one(s) you would like to be displayed in your My Sites box (Show Term), and also whether you would like see the Term, by default, in its expanded or collapsed state (Expand Term) – click on the image to zoom in.
Choose whichever options you require, click Submit and you will see a better organised My Sites box:
Between July 21st 3pm BST and July 22nd 3am BST , NILE will be upgraded to the latest version.
Currently Northampton are on Blackboard 9.1 service pack 9. The upgrade will take us up to service pack 12.
Whilst during the academic year mainly security fixes are applied, annually we need to ensure that NILE is at the most stable version with the latest features to benefit staff and students. Our hosting contract provides us with at least 99.9% availability for NILE 365 days a year providing we ensure that we maintain our version.
The new version contains new functionality which will be of use to staff and students and ensure that NILE is maintained as an advanced virtual learning environment to maximise the student experience.
For more details on the main changes then please follow the links below. Major new features were included in service packs 10 and 12. Service pack 11 just included a number of minor improvements. Please note that the July upgrade may not contain all of the changes depending on the feedback from the focus group.
*SP 11 was a maintenance service pack that included fixes and improvements to features introduced in Service Pack 10.
A list is available for those that wish to check browser compatibility with SP12.
A staff and student focus group is being consulted on the changes which are being introduced. If you would like to join this group then please contact Rob.Howe@northampton.ac.uk.
From the 8-10 April, 2013, three members of the LearnTech team presented papers at the European Blackboard Teaching and Learning conference. The annual conference allowed the team to network with teams from other institutions who also use Blackboard and ensure that Northampton was making best use of the technology available.
As with most large conferences, there were often multiple stands covering different areas available at the same time. These covered subjects such as the increasing use of mobile devices; Analytics; benchmarking of courses; quality of courses; product roadmaps; e-submission and marking techniques; and integration tips.
Adel Gordon teamed up with Pepijn Kalis of Blackboard to present a session on using rubrics to enhance and augment the marking process – their presentation, hosted on Slideshare, demonstrated a number of different approaches to the use of this tool.
Rob Howe presented a session which explained the audit process which was used to inform the development of NILE site templates. The Powerpoint (also on Slideshare) used an analogy of students finding content being similar to the problem of finding Wally in the “Where’s Wally” books.
During the final session of the conference, Rachel Maxwell was joined by Kardi Somerfield from Northampton Business School to present a session on how to develop engaging / sticky NILE sites which encourage students to return. The presentation built on the research conducted during an URB@N project to identify what students wanted from NILE areas.
All of the Northampton sessions were well attended and the feedback very positive. Subsequent requests for further follow up discussions with many of the European institutions which attended based on our presentations show the relevance of our work. For further details on any aspect of the conference please contact LTSupport@northampton.ac.uk
The LearnTech team have added a widget in the top right corner of the NILE screen to display the current time and date in the UK. This is to help overseas students to determine the correct deadlines to work to for online submission.
We have also added a box on the login page to notify users that the NILE and Turnitin services are (or are not) working normally. We will change the image to a red cross if there are any problems with either of the systems. At all other times a green tick will be displayed.
Released this week!
The new ‘My Library Account’ box embeds live library account information onto your NILE homepage. This information is updated in real time and will let you know what books you have borrowed, if you have any reservations waiting for collection and if you currently owe any fines. It will also let you link directly to your full Library account so that you can complete any further online transactions. We hope that this integration will help users keep up-to-date with their library borrowing and avoid any unnecessary fines or account problems.
Check it out next time you log into NILE.
On the 1st April the new module and programme / course NILE sites were created for the 2013/14 academic year.
These were based on the templates which have been discussed at the February and March University and School Student Experience Committees (SSECs).
If you wish to view the templates for yourself then please follow the links for either the:
Please note that the staff guidance areas shown on the templates will not be shown to students in the final versions.
As part of the preparations for populating the new NILE sites, module leaders are being contacted to provide details on any NILE sites which may be merged together to allow for easier administration. Support is also available to staff with regards to copying materials from previously used sites and setting up submission areas for students. A dedicated NILE Administrator is in post until July to assist with these tasks. Staff will still be required to be responsible for ensuring that material on the sites is current and correctly structured prior to their cohorts starting.
Comments on the templates outside of the SSECs should be made to LTSupport@northampton.ac.uk by 25th March.
This case study talks about a Wiki in NILE which was used to help podiatry students select their undergraduate dissertation project.
The main aims of this pilot were to see if there was a more efficient way to allocate dissertation topics.
“Easiest thing I have ever used ! Didn’t even have to think twice about how to use it” Student Comment
Full Case study detail (case study, PDF 495KB)
All Student Comments (case study, PDF 324KB)
This blog posting has relevance for all iNorthampton users (Apple, Android and Blackberry)
iNorthampton has been updated on Apple devices to ensure that it is compatible with the iPhone 5 and IOS 6. This update has made a fundamental change to the way in which NILE is accessed through the app.
Following the update, when you click onto the springboard link for Bb NILE you will be directed to a second app called Blackboard Mobile Learn (if you do not already have this app then you will be prompted to download it). This is an updated version of the tool which was previously embedded in iNorthampton.
The benefits of using Blackboard Mobile Learn means that:
- NILE will format correctly on iPads
- There is an enhanced link to notifications and announcements on your device
- Ability for mobile formatted tests where appropriate
This change (in linking to Bb Mobile Learn) will be subsequently rolled out to Android users later in the year.
Changes to the way in which Blackberry users are supported
From April 30th, 2013 iNorthampton will cease to be supported as a Blackberry application. For more details on the reason for this – please see the Mobile Central Update. The advice for Blackberry users is to add a shortcut to iNorthampton from the home screen of your BlackBerry (add shortcut to home screen feature for Blackberry OS 6+). This will allow you to access Maps, Courses, News, Events, Library, Directory, Timetables and Get Help. In order to access NILE you should download Blackboard Mobile Learn for Blackberry
How do I add a shortcut to iNorthampton on BlackBerry?
- Visit m.northampton.ac.uk in your BlackBerry’s browser.
- From the BlackBerry Menu, select “Add to Homescreen”.
NILE is now integrated into the learning and teaching process at The University of Northampton and we need to ensure that it is being used effectively by staff in order to provide a quality student experience.
In January 2012, a framework was produced which covers the minimum standards which are expected on a NILE site. This was taken to University SEC on 1st March, 2012 and subsequently used as the basis for the new NILE templates which were developed for the 2012/13 academic year. As indicated by the communication sent out on 11th September, 2012, NILE sites will be reviewed against the checklist in the first instance to identify the range of content available to students.
The review, based on a series of standard questions, will feedback information to the module leaders regarding content which should be added to the site along with any action which is required to remove old material; duplicated menu buttons; or other items which may cause confusion to students.
The outputs of the review of NILE sites will be used to inform further planning regarding the use of modules guides and whether they are still required.
Initially the quality team will focus on a sample of modules from each School in discussion with the associate deans. However it is anticipated that all sites will eventually be checked. If there are any items which need clarification (such as which site is currently being used) then tutors may be contacted. A 5 minute rule has been implemented in that if material is not found within 5 minutes of looking for it then it will be classed as not present on the site.
This review will ensure that sites are meeting the foundation level of quality in the first instance. Further discussions are in progress to refine the content required to meet higher levels of standard.
The developmental work around the quality of NILE sites will enable the University to ‘develop systematic approaches to the use of the virtual learning environment across the University in the interests of parity of student learning opportunities’, a recommendation from the last QAA Institutional Audit in June 2009.
Should you require further information on this work then please contact either Lee Jones (x3001) or Rob Howe (x2483)
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