Changing practice without changing VLE

Moving to a different VLE is only one possible outcome of a review process.

A number of institutions have used the review process to review how well they are using the existing functionality of the VLE and/or to benchmark their learning and teaching practice against recognised good practice in other institutions.

In some cases they realise they could be doing things better without necessarily having to move to a different platform.

Such changes may involve undertaking many of the same tasks necessary to implement a new VLE such as:
  • creating standards and templates;
  • providing staff development on approaches to learning design;
  • providing staff development on VLE functionality;
  • reviewing and refreshing content;
  • changing hosting arrangements.

It is however, likely to be less costly than full-blown product change and allows you to build on the best and most innovative practice that already exists in the institution.

Sometimes, when a new system is brought in, the person who made the choice gets a pat on the back for bringing the institution into the 21st-century when, with a bit of TLC, their existing system could have done exactly the same thing.

Rob Howe, Head of Learning Technology, University of Northampton

The University of Northampton conducted a VLE review in 2015. The University was clear that they didn't want change just for the sake of it but they recognised there were possibly better ways of doing things.

They undertook soft market testing by inviting all suppliers with systems commonly used in UK HE to come and present. The suppliers were briefed about the University's move to active blended learning (ABL) and the fact that they were looking for tools to engage learners in an active way rather than looking for a content repository. The supplier brief was to enthuse the University and show the best of what they could do.

Ultimately they came to the conclusion that they could achieve considerable impact from this review process without a product change. Following the review process, and the decision not to change, they still carried out many of the tasks you would do during a VLE implementation process.

The University had been applying minimum VLE standards since 2012 driven by student requests. They updated these to reflect the ABL approach.

Northampton uses its own CAIeRO process to support thinking about the whole design process from scratch. Academics design learning and assessment in the most appropriate way and then they start to think about using the right tools to deliver and assess. CAIeRO is a compulsory part of the curriculum approval and review process and is linked to professional standards.

The University offered staff development and many academics learned new features of the VLE that they didn't know existed.

The benefit of simply re-initialising what we were already doing in this way was that it didn't pull the rug out from under those who were already making effective use of the tools. We were able to focus training and support on those who most needed it and thus have a greater impact than we would have done had everybody been starting again from scratch.

Rob Howe, Head of Learning Technology, University of Northampton

University of Sheffield 'Refresh
project' branded water bottles and sweets.

The University of Sheffield undertook a VLE review at the end of 2016. They consulted widely with staff and students and the outcome of the process was the realisation that achieving what both staff and students wanted could be done without changing the product if they invested in enhancing how it was used.

The University branded the project 'Refresh'. Farzana Latif, Technology Enhanced Learning Manager, feels the branding was important in raising awareness and getting people to view the project as something concrete.

Features of the project include:
  • appointing student refresh ambassadors to deliver 1:1 training for academics;
  • train the trainer sessions for learning technologists;
  • introducing minimum standards in the form of a checklist;
  • allowing staff to view any module to promote good practice and understanding of the overall curriculum.

Compliance with the VLE checklist is voluntary but a partial audit has shown a 65% improvement in the modules sampled.