Listening to our students when developing the VLE

WebLearn Student Experience Project

Adapted from the project report by Joanna Wild and Fawei Geng

Introduction

From 1 October 2011 to 30 April 2012 the DIGE (Student Digital Experience) project was carried at Oxford. In the project report, staff and student feedback about WebLearn (Oxford’s VLE) was captured including some suggestions for improvement in terms of usability, site design and maintenance, and access to learning materials.

In order to gain a deep understanding of the feedback, the WebLearn Student Experience (WLSE) project focused on enhancing the Student WebLearn experience. From September to December 2012, the project collected and prioritised student input and set out to address the following points in the Executive Summary of the DIGE Report.

  1. enhancing the user interface and user experience (ES5a);
  2. overhauling and redesigning their sites in the system (ES5b).

Although specific suggestions were emerged about particular departmental WebLearn sites, the focus of the project was on generic suggestions to enhance WebLearn as a central service.

Guiding questions

This project investigated how students currently use WebLearn in support of their learning, i.e. it focused on gathering information about student behaviour in finding, navigating and interacting with their current WebLearn areas. The following questions guided the empirical work:

  1. How is WebLearn perceived and experienced by students in terms of the layout of the user interface, structure of the sites, and navigation?
  2. What do students think of the way in which teachers use WebLearn to support their learning?
  3. How do students themselves use WebLearn in their learning?
  4. What improvements would students like to see in WebLearn?

Methodology

This project took a qualitative research approach, gathering data from a small number of students to investigate their behaviour and preferences in using WebLearn, and gather their suggestions for enhancements. Information was collected from 14 undergraduates, taught postgraduates and research postgraduates with teaching responsibilities. We conducted 7 individual guided-walkthroughs, which combined a semi-structured interview with observation of how students actually use WebLearn. We also ran one workshop with 7 participants. The workshop used the Nominal Group Technique complemented by discussions to elicit a list of improvements that students would like to see implemented in WebLearn, depending on feasibility.

From the evidence collected, we generated two sets of recommendations:

  • To the WebLearn staff user community: best practice in designing WebLearn sites, based on student requirements;
  • To the WebLearn team: specific enhancements to and further development of the WebLearn software, based on student requirements.

Project team

  • Jill Fresen – WebLearn researcher
  • Fawei Geng – Project Manager
  • Adam Marshall – WebLearn Service Manager
  • Liz Masterman – Research & evaluation specialist
  • Joanna Wild – Researcher

Summary of findings and recommendations

Please see the full project report at http://blogs.it.ox.ac.uk/adamweblearn/files/2013/01/WLSE-report-26-02-2013-final_27March.pdf.

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