Collaborating and Using a VLE to Innovate in UK Adult Education
by Laurence Elliott and Hilary Oakley
The UK Adult Education sector has always been renowned for being innovative but poorly resourced and funded compared to its Further and Higher Education cousins. So Jisc (Jisc.ac.uk) seemed the best port of call to kick-start their projects when Hillcroft College and Morley College were seeking to change their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) hosting services. Jisc introduced us to each other and set us on a course which saved time, effort and resources.
So why choose collaboration rather than keeping things simple and working independently? Both our colleges had limited resources available to them, including small teams and budgets. In-house knowledge and expertise were strong in some areas and weaker in others. Hillcroft, for example, had more experience in
- customer service
- developing surveys
Whereas Morley had more experience in
- project management
- tendering documents
- assessing suppliers.
Working collaboratively provided additional benefits in terms of controlling and reducing risk – each provider acted as a peer reviewer to the other’s processes. Collaboration also helped address short project implementation deadlines – a fact of life when working around the college year.
Shortcomings in our colleges’ hosting service, including site slowness, customer service and support service levels, inevitably had an impact on end users. Expertise in integrating college systems was a key requirement for both colleges.
As well as consulting with Jisc colleagues, we also undertook a ground up consultation with students and teachers. Feedback was gathered from learners via
- course surveys
- student representatives
- special user groups, including students with dyslexia.
Tutor input came through
- VLE and eLearning strategy groups
- curriculum managers
- direct feedback from users.
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
Hillcroft felt that their VLE design looked dated and was difficult to navigate. Design was less of a focus for Morley as the site needed to stay within the college’s online branding. Separate logins for the network, VLE and other resources were frustrating for students at both organisations and acted as a disincentive for teachers to use the resource.
The project has delivered a number of user benefits, with some commonalities and some differences of focus between the two organisations. For both colleges a move to Single Sign-On (SSO) means users no longer having to remember multiple usernames and passwords. As a result, when Hillcroft does inductions on using eResources students have more time to spend using the materials. SSO has also changed tutors’ perceptions of Morley’s online platform, which was previously viewed as difficult to use. The introduction of accessibility features on Hillcroft’s VLE gives students with dyslexia much greater control over the way the interface is displayed. In addition both colleges have found the customer service from their new hosters is quicker and more responsive. Sites are no longer locked down to a limited number of plugins and additional features are installed within a much shorter timescale.
Collaboration around procurement was a new experience for both colleges and some important lessons were learned in the process. If you’re considering embarking on a collaborative project then we’d recommend seeing it as an equal partnership. This makes it easier to share the workload, identify individual strengths from the outset and build synergies. As with all projects, good communication is essential and should include face-to- face meetings, particularly at the start. Organisations need to get behind the collaboration, ideally at senior management level. The project manager role can be quite a lonely one at times and it helps to have support from a colleague who is working under similar pressures.
So if you have a project to undertake and are limited by a combination of factors including time, resources and expertise, it is definitely worth considering a collaborative partnership. We found it invaluable for growing and honing skills and sharing best practice. You could even consider just working together on a single project stage as we did – completing the procurement process and then going on to migrate and develop our VLEs with different hosters. Good luck with your own projects and keep building those working relationships…
by Laurence Elliott and Hilary Oakley
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