a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies
In March 2020 we were faced with the prospect of moving to fully remote learning. The VLE at the college was well-designed, highly customised but wasn’t designed to run online, synchronous, teaching sessions with a live component that would be required if the college closed to students A. The eLearning team were both relatively new in post and neither of us were expert Moodle administrators and so direct changes to the VLE itself were off the table. The alternative to allow a quick pivot to online was to adopt a technology already available for delivering live online learning and I was tasked with evaluating available options.
- Useabililty – staff should already know how to use, or it should be relatively quick to train to use, the platform A
- Availability – we knew from VLE surveys that a lot of students use mobile devices to access our VLE A and this would be the same for any synchronous sessions. It must be available cross-platform and device A
- Affordability – the cost should be as low as possible to the college, and no installation cost for the student. The technology should also cost as little as possible to run on mobile networks A
- Security – GDPR must be considered, and also the data sharing required by the students and staff A
- Safeguarding – student interactions must be able to be monitored by the college and the risk of “bombing” of sessions minimized A
- Accessibility – as well as working across devices, the technology should be able to support captions, transcription or other means of making content accessible to all learners A,B
These were common themes in the online communities of practice around remote live delivery during the first coronovirus lockdown in the UK, and later integrated in Jisc’s Digital Pedagogy Toolkit B,C (Ref. 1.1. Scenario One – Live Online Learning).
The college was already working toward greater uptake of Microsoft Teams for sharing and management of information. I evaluated Zoom as an alternative to Microsoft Teams. (Ref. 1.2 Fig.1 below)
I also looked at Microsoft Teams, Loom, Youtube, Planet eStream and direct upload to the VLE as methods for sharing prerecorded material A,B. (Ref. 1.3 Fig. 2. below)
I evaluated Voice over Powerpoint versus Camtasia or Articulate for preparing lecture slides A,B. (Ref.1.4. Fig. 3. below)
Although staff had used Microsoft Teams and Zoom for meetings recording a narrated presentation was new for a lot of our teachers and I reached out to key staff who I knew already had some expertise in this area for their opinion and ideas. A,C. Most agreed that with having to work at home and requiring training using a platform they already used and could access remotely was the best solution, given the short time scale C.
I decided that for consistency Teams would be the recommended delivery method, with prerecorded Powerpoints being uploaded to Microsoft Stream or Planet eStream. Microsoft Teams, Stream and Planet eStream were already in use at the college, had authentication linked to college email addresses, could limit audience at college or class level if needed, and were familiar to staff and students, cross-platform and did not incur additional costs D . (Ref.1.5. fig 4. below)
Recording voice-over Powerpoints became practice in the college once guidance was created and disseminated by one of our Teaching and Learning coaches. I did find that despite the guidance a number of staff still directly uploaded them as a package to Moodle and in future I will create clear instructions for conversion and upload A,D. Although we were monitoring the training of staff in the use of Microsoft Teams, the eLearning team had no real oversight of how widely used it was. We know that use for live asynchronous ‘lessons’ decreased as the first wave of the pandemic passed and staff had time to reflect on their teaching practice and created a more blended curriculum A. Another result of not being able to monitor use is that I missed a change to the licensing of the Stream service in August and only discovered that upload to Stream was no longer automatic once a member of teaching staff couldn’t delete a recording and I reached out to the ALT mailing list for information on consent for recording of students (Ref. 1.6. Request to ALT-mailing list for information about recording consent). Overall feedback on the use of Microsoft Teams have been positive although when we started using it for online teaching the college had not finished moving to the new Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). Once this process was completed I found that some features of Microsoft Teams were unavailable or functioned poorly (most noticeably Breakout Rooms). As a result in November last year I revised our guidance, in light of updates to the Zoom platform B, and a greater understanding of the level of individual support needed for some students A, to a recommendation that Zoom be used if the breakout room function was needed B,D. I also received strong feedback from the Jisc Digital Insight Survey for staff that Zoom was preferred for some categories of students A,C. Over the course of the past year, I moved away from considering that Microsoft Teams could replace Moodle as our main VLE, based on our experience of staff using Teams in the pandemic C. It is a valuable teaching tool in some scenarios and any future VLE development will include integration and the resulting ability to track usage of Microsoft Teams for teaching. Both staff and students have commented favorably on its use during the pandemic.
In my opinion Teams is better !Student answer to the question “What have some positives been from working from home, or things you have found useful?”
b) Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology
In my time at the University of Liverpool I supported staff in the use of Blackboard. For over three years part of my role was applying a template devised by my colleague, Peter Alston, to all (approx. 150) School of Life Sciences modules at the start of the academic year. This could involve the transfer of information and quizzes from the previous year. As part of my role, I advised and supported academic staff in the creation and deployment of formative and summative assessments using blackboard or Turnitin, the use of rubrics, and applying adaptive release rules to groups of students A,D.
I also became involved with the use of course modules in Blackboard to manage student placement scheme in the School. I deployed the wiki function to display available placements and archive them each year, using categories and tags to group by degree subject and department. Another integration with Blackboard was the Pebblepad ePortfolio system and I was the administrator for the School and helped design and deploy portfolios for a number of courses. Due to my extensive experience, I was a member of the Project Board for selecting a new VLE provider for the University B.
My major interest has always been in enhancing the student experience and because of this I was a member of the Evasys student survey project at the university from 2014 until leaving in 2019. Although my major interest was in the useability of the system for departmental administrators, it was important that this was as smooth as possible as a flexible system would be more widely and robustly used D.
On moving to The City of Liverpool College I was administrating a Moodle installation for the first time and took a LinkedIn course in Moodle 3.5 as well as a number of self-directed courses in administration B. (Ref. 1.7. LinkedIn profile – includes Moodle certification evidence). Although I had used WordPress in a personal capacity every other college system (apart from Office!) was new to me and I had to upskill in a number of new systems including Planet eStream, Teams and Stream (Ref. 1.8. Fig 2.)
Working with academic staff at the university to develop and deploy a wide variety of learning technologies gave me the confidence to approach, master and evaluate new technology platforms B,D. My experience with Virtual Learning Environments is that the key components are pretty similar and that most differences are in the deployment of the technology and the training and support for the staff . It was important that I spent my initial month at the College exploring what technology was being used and and how through training and conversation with teaching staff A,C. I widely surveyed the college to discover what platforms are in use and for what. ( Ref. 1.9 Digital Technologies used for online learning) From here I could move on from that to evaluate new and emergent technologies to complement local teaching practices A,B,D. I have used the professional networks I am part of (JISC and ALT) to reach out and research new technologies and evaluate if they could be used in the college B,C. I also made a conscious decision when writing this CMALT application to incorporate a variety of different technologies to investigate their use B.
c) Supporting the deployment of learning technologies
I mention above that I was responsible for deploying a template for School of Life Sciences courses. I knew from previous work in the University Faculty that students value a consistent e-Learning experience (Ref. 1.10 Reed, P. and Watmough, S. (2015) ‘Hygiene factors: Using VLE minimum standards to avoid student dissatisfaction’, E-Learning and Digital Media, 12(1), pp. 68–89. doi: 10.1177/2042753014558379.) and I wanted to know if the College VLE use was consistent. In December 2019 the eLearing team conducted an audit of the College Virtual Learning Environment with previous content standards (Ref. 1.6. VLE content standards February 2020 – pdf).
It became apparent that some courses met the content standards, but the vast majority didn’t. Unlike the University, the College has different provision, across different levels and it was obvious that standards developed for HE were not appropriate for all courses. As a result I revised the quality standards, communicated the changes to staff in the Staff Development Day February 2020 (Ref. 1.11. Staff Presentation Feb 2020 – pptx) and planned to audit again with the new standards in June (Ref. 1.12. VLE proposed GROW baseline June 2020 – pdf).
Alongside this work we were looking at the VLE provision. On starting at the College the Virtual Learning Environment at The City of Liverpool College consisted of a locally-hosted Moodle, in a WordPress wrapper, with:
- customised plug-ins/connectors to the management information system (for enrolments, timetable, attendance reporting etc.)
- a link to the library catalogue and to office 365
- a locally hosted Planet eStream installation that allowed recording and to disseminate material to Moodle, plus an ability to embed YouTube video in Moodle and also,
- Turnitin access and some other service integrations
The College Moodle installation was only a couple of years old but was seen as slow due to a number of integrations, was on a locally hosted disk. As eLearning manager I needed to ensure the resilience of the service and increase its responsiveness to changes in the technology requirements of staff and students. From September 2020 I have been working with the Digital Learning Group to evaluate the best solution.
One small step was the moving of our Planet eStream service from local to cloud-based. Working with Planet eStream and our IT team we successfuly tranferred to the remote server with minimal impact on our users. This meant we could access additional functionality such as the Teams integration, and no longer had responsibility for software updates.
In a Planning for Coronavirus seminar arranged by JISC a presenter suggested that the provisions put in for remote learning should be viewed as pilot projects, and the college did learn a lot from our move to online learning, particularly about the use of Moodle by staff and students. It became apparent that the complaints about our VLE could be divided into technical (it is slow, it lacks some functionality) and pedagogical (students couldn’t “find” what they needed, or the layout isn’t clear on what they needed to do) (Ref. 1.13. focus group survey of students experience of using our VLE – pdf). As part of the VLE renewal project, and working with the Quality team, I will develop and implement new templates specific to key course types to guide staff through the design of their Moodle courses A,B,C,D. We will be encouraging the use of different activity types to make the courses easier to navigate and more accessible. Currently staff tend to use only sections and links to display course information. I will be developing course templates that encourage the use of Moodle Page and Book resource types to better display larger blocks of information and make information easier to find for learners, as requested in the survey . I am also working on strategy to increase uptake of Blended Learning Consortium resources. Our learners fed back strongly that the VLE experience was slow, and so to remove load we are removing some features from the template such as library loans and attendance, and feeding these to students before they load their learning resources. We’ve had feedback from students that quite often they log into the VLE to just check their timetable so we’ll be directly linking to Proportal on an initial navigation page instead.
Having been involved previously with VLE procurement I was aware of the great work by JISC and UCISA in VLE design, implementation and utilisation A,B,C. I wanted to make sure that staff had the opportunity to evaluate different learning management systems and I arranged demonstrations from large providers for the Digital Learning Group (DLG) and key stakeholders from IT and Senior level D. Agreement was reached that Moodle is the most suitable LMS for the College still and that an external hosting solution should be procured. The DLG passed their recommendation to the Systems Group and the procurement process has started.
The Planet eStream migration was seamless for the students. One small issue is that our authentication method has changed for staff (from username to email address). This is something we will be implementing on any system as they are brought in to help support single sign on so it is good to have some small experiences of issues we might have before moving to a larger project. Our membership of the Blended Learning Consortium means staff have access to some of their teaching recordings via Planet eStream.