VLE Review: Progress report

The start of Hilary Term sees the continuation of the consultation phase of the VLE Review, during which staff and students have been contributing their perspectives on the future of WebLearn. So, this seems an appropriate time to report on progress and introduce the members of the team conducting the review.

Looking back over the first two months

VLE Review posterThe online surveys for students and staff were launched on 20th November, and a combined total of over 400 responses has been collected. They will remain open until Friday 27th January: visit www.it.ox.ac.uk/vlereview to add your voice. In addition, we have conducted face-to-face interviews with 17 members of academic, administrative and technical staff; another 15 individual and group interviews are in the pipeline.

We’d like to give a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who has taken part the review so far. Whether or not you use WebLearn, every contribution helps us to develop both a rounded picture of its current role and an understanding of what the University needs from a VLE as digital education moves forward.

In addition to engaging with staff and students we are working our way through a lengthy reading list. This includes peer-reviewed articles from the research literature, sector reports on VLE usage (‘grey’ literature), the findings from previous Academic IT research (including DIGE 2 and WISE) and materials sent by universities that have recently gone through their own VLE reviews.

Looking ahead

DIGE 1 workshop

Photo taken during the DIGE project. We’re looking forward to equally animated conversations in the VLE Review!

Coming up between now and late February is a progamme of six requirements-gathering workshops and focus groups, as well as a series of usability evaluations of WebLearn. The events will be advertised shortly.

The outputs from all these activities will be a ‘landscape’ report on the current use of WebLearn and a set of requirements for the optimal VLE to take the University into the 2020s. The requirements will be incorporated into the tender documentation that will be sent to potential suppliers, including the current WebLearn team, in the spring.

Who’s who

The composition of the team will vary as the project moves through successive phases; here are the principal members as of mid-January.

The core task of engaging with staff and students falls to Liz Masterman (Senior Researcher, Academic IT) and Ana Matak Siviour (Senior Business Analyst). Liz has been researching into teaching and learning with technology since 1997, during which time she has interviewed academics from universities around the UK as well as in Oxford. Most recently, she was involved in the WebLearn Improved Student Experience (WISE) project. Ana has an in-depth knowledge of college and central University administration, gained both before she joined IT Services and in her subsequent work on the Student Systems Programme (now Education IT Programme). This background is proving invaluable, both in complementing Liz’s knowledge of the academic aspects and in exploring the boundaries (conceptual as well as technical) between the VLE and related systems.

Also involved in our engagement work is Xavier Laurent (Learning Technologist, Academic IT). Over the next few weeks Xav will be running the usability evaluations of WebLearn, in order to ensure that we have rigorous up-to-date information on its ease of use. Xav was a member of the WISE project team, and designed and carried out usability evaluations of the redesigned WebLearn sites with students.

Dave Stewart (Unix Systems Administrator in IT Services) is responsible for producing the non-functional requirements and architecture for the optimal VLE, and will also be providing technical advice and support to the project team. Away from the VLE Review Dave is a member of the team that hosts the WebLearn platform and the University’s mailing lists, among other services.

Keeping us on task and to time is Julia Grieveson, our Project Manager. Julia’s previous projects include overseeing the selection and procurement of a VLE for Oxford University Press, and we are benefiting greatly from her experience and expertise.

From an Academic IT perspective, then, the VLE Review is providing an extended opportunity to collaborate with staff from other groups in IT Services and, thereby, to share knowledge and skills that we can apply in our future work.


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