Preparing to study sites; essential pre-launch checks (updated for 2013)

Runner on the starting blocks

On your marks… Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/425341

Across the University, many departments will be getting ready to release VLE sites to help incoming students prepare to study in their department. Before they go live there are some essential pre-flight checks that developers need to do to be sure that their sites will get off to a flying start. If any issues are noticed with any of these checks then developers should get in touch with ELDT ASAP.

  1. Give students what they want and what they expect. Evaluation with students in 2013 has given us a pretty comprehensive picture of what they find useful in their sites, leading to a series of general recommendations and suggested minimum recommendations for sites in a report which came out in March. Make sure you have addressed the “minimum requirements” for these sites. This doesn’t actually mean you have to include all of the things lists if you have a sound rationale for not doing so. However if a students is expecting something or have been told they can expect something by central signposting  and cannot find it then this will cause anxiety. So for example if you have decided not to include a reading list then tell students that and not to worry about it as feedback we have received indicates that they will be expecting to get one. The entire short list of minimum requirements has come from student feedback on what they expected or wanted from departments:
    • Reading list
    • Course structure / module info
    • Induction week opening timetables
    • Academic skills / learning approaches and expectations
    • Key contacts
    • What to bring / what to buy.
  2. Proof read your site for the obvious issues such as basic spelling and whether all links are working as expected, but also look through the site one last time from the perspective of an incoming student; does everything make sense, have you used any unnecessary jargon or acronyms, do any files or links require a little bit of explanation or contextualisation, is information presented in the correct level of depth and tone? You could use our checklist to make sure you have covered some of the main areas.
  3. Check the course ID of your site; if it doesn’t start with Y2013 then it might be possible that you are working on last year’s site and this year’s students will not be able to see it. Go to Control Panel – Customisation – Properties to check the ID of your site and get in touch with us ASAP if it doesn’t begin with Y2012.
  4. Have students been enrolled? Go to Control Panel – Users and Groups – Users  to check that there are the correct students on your site. If not please enrol the correct year group for your department or get in touch with the ELDT direct.
  5. Have you included links to centrally available materials? You should ensure you direct students to the student homepage where they can access personalised news and info and links to the centrally provided Welcome pages for info on accommodation, student life etc.  Depending on the needs of your students you might also want to include links to the centrally available Academic skills tutorials in the VLE, the Academic skills for International students web pages or information about the Careers centre and the Employability tutorial. There are pre-formatted “adverts” available within the Preparing to study samples site that you can copy into your site if required.
  6. When you are all ready to go, don’t forget to make your site available to students and tell the welcome group (kriss.fearon@york.ac.uk) that your site is live so they can activate the link to it within their pages. You can make your site available to students through Control Panel – Customisation – Properties – Set availability
  7. Tell your students about your site and how to get there
  8. Continue to communicate and interact with your students once the site has launched. You can use the Announcements tool to highlight new content or if your site contains a blog then ensure it is updated  regularly and any student posts are responded to promptly.
  9. Think about evaluation, I’m sure you will want to know if all your hard work has been effective and what you might want to change for future years. Have a look at the Evaluation resources or get in touch with us to plan how you will evaluate the effectiveness of your site.

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