Project Background

The following factors have contributed to an institutional review of our virtual learning environment and related systems and have enabled the project team to establish to what extent these meet the current and projected needs of the wide range of users in the institution:
  • Participation in recent national initiatives (e.g. HEA/JISC e-benchmarking exercise, Pathfinder programme, CETL-funded Centre for Career Management Skills, JISC-funded ASSET project),
  • institutional projects and reviews (e.g. PDP and Personal Tutor System, assessment and feedback and the effect of modularisation reviews, Periodic Review of programmes),
  • the uptake of new technologies and ‘e-administration’ of processes (e.g. increasingly moving more of the assessment process online, integration of Turnitin with our VLE, extending the functionality of our VLE, and customisation of existing tools)
  • Interaction with local communities of practice (e.g. School e-Learning Co-ordinators, Reading’s Blackboard User Group, the University’s Sub-Committee for IT in Teaching and Learning)
  • Strong and clearly articulated vision for teaching and learning within the institution
In addition, our links with the wider HE sector (e.g. ALT, UK Blackboard User Group, Centre for Recording Achievement, Heads of e-Learning Forum) have informed us how our needs related to others beyond our institution. These factors have pointed to the following areas of development:
Functionality of our VLE
While developments to date have improved the functionality of our VLE, we have not yet been able to overcome the limitations on learning/teaching approach the rigid folder structure imposes on content delivery. For content-rich courses, this can make navigation to and between particular resources cumbersome and is also becoming a significant issue as more staff adopt an enquiry-based learning approach. The development of a tagging facility for content items within the VLE to allow teachers to tag their content in support of their pedagogic approach, Also the exploration of student tagging and the development of a ‘recommender’ feature to support student-led learning.
Enhancing employability and PDP
One of Reading’s HEFCE-funded CETLs, the Centre for Career Management Skills (CCMS), has developed highly successful online learning resources, most notably a career learning web site Destinations® with over 50 registered HEI users in the UK. As well as Student Stories – offering students access to audio narrative accounts of student and university life; and Beyond the PhD – tailored specifically for arts and humanities PhD researchers. Destinations® is used at Reading in every degree programme to support a compulsory Career Management Skills module, as well as widely in many other HEIs. Currently, its use as a wider teaching resource is restricted as Destinations® content can only be linked to very basically from within the VLE.
Exchange of data between Tribal’s SITS (student record system), portfolios and the student transcript/HEAR. This would make it easier to move verifiable information to uploaded to the HEAR from different sources with more subjective and reflective work being developed and stored into a students’ PDP/portfolio. Clear and simple demarcation and storage of relevant information for the HEAR and PDP will be extremely useful to students and staff. Students will need to engage with the HEAR as a formative document, rather than simply just taking it away when they graduate. As HEAR is a national initiative this would be attractive across the sector. A simple mechanism for exchanging information will aid this process and highlight the mutually beneficial relationship between the HEAR and portfolios/PDP.
e-Portfolio developments
To support PDP at Reading we have developed a VLE-based e-portfolio tool, iLearn. Students are encouraged to complete an Individual Learner Profile (ILP) at the start of each year and to review progress against set goals at the end of each year with their Personal Tutor. Academic Schools are encouraged to populate their bespoke iLearn area with useful and timely information such as placement opportunities or forthcoming events. Students are able to create portfolios and share these with Personal Tutors, Careers Advisors and Study Advisors. iLearn has been rolled out to all undergraduate students and extensively evaluated.
In addition, Reading has made significant efforts to develop the functionality of the VLE e-portfolio tool in order to enhance its learning and teaching potential, including:
  1. Better integration of portfolio tool into the structure of courses
  2. Step-by-step guidance to set-up of a portfolio, alongside (and embedded within) the tool
  3. Integration of new features: eg. “Preview” button and “Print” button for individual pages
  4. Digitisation of a confidence-rating questionnaire (Individual Learner Profile) that was then integrated into the tool
Despite successful work to improve the appearance and configuration of the VLE portfolio tool, issues remain:
  • ‘Make it more interactive because presently it feels like I’m typing a word doc. which no else will ever read and so it feels pointless’.(student)
  • ‘The existing templates provided make it very difficult to edit information’. (student)
  • ‘iLearn has no provision for staff-led and controlled generation of coursework feedback: this is essential for students’ reflection, and indeed a key source for the reflective work we ask our students to write. At the moment we have no way of integrating coursework feedback’(staff )
Integrating current systems to better support assessment and feedback practices
The JISC-funded project ASSET showed that there is vast potential in utilising videos for feedback. ASSET has created a simple solution to allow uploading of videos by staff and then subsequent replay through the VLE. This project will further enhance this by creating a more complete integration where the VLE will be harnessing the functionalities normally found in Web2.0 tools, thus enabling much wider use of ASSET.
Exporting marks from VLE gradebook into SITS which will enable easier storing and tracking of marks, and allow work marked in the VLE to be automatically added to other module marks providing a complete mark record in one place. Ability to import feedback comments into iLearn portfolios, enabling greater student reflection.