Richard Walker writes:
At this week’s University Teaching Committee meeting one of the agenda items focused on a discussion of the results from the 2012 VLE student and staff surveys, which were conducted over the summer term of the last academic year (2011-12).
The 2012 VLE surveys represent the fourth time that we have surveyed the user community at the University of York since the rollout of the VLE service in 2005, with previous surveys conducted in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Links to this year’s reports and previous surveys are available on the evaluation page of the vlesupport site and you can also find summaries of the key findings for this year’s surveys here:
Key findings for the student survey is available here: http://tinyurl.com/d4c9nh7
Key findings for the staff survey is available here: http://tinyurl.com/c7cywe7
The rationale for running the surveys remains the same as in previous years – to learn more about the user experience with Yorkshare and to identify key training and resourcing requirements for the future, as well as to gather enhancement requests and suggestions for the further development of the VLE platform.
The results reflect the considerable progress that departments have made since the last survey in embedding the use of the VLE across taught programmes. The number of modules with a VLE presence has doubled since the 2009-10 academic year with a similar increase in the number of users, yet it is pleasing to see that levels of agreement by students on the complementary relationship between online and class-based learning continue to rise, as compared with results from the 2010, 2009 and 2008 surveys. Our students are clearly supportive of the ways in which online study resources and support are being introduced to support their learning. 90% of respondents noted that Yorkshare had helped them to access course resources (lecture notes, videos and podcasts, reading lists) for the modules that they were enrolled on.
Significantly through, the use of self-assessment quizzes, electronic submission and discussion forums also appear to be growing. These developments put us on a par with sector developments in the use of technology, where the emphasis has shifted from supplementary uses of the web in teaching such as content provision (e.g. making lecture notes available online), to facilitating active student learning – i.e. the process by which academic staff foster student engagement with content resources and interaction with peers in communication activities. The recent findings from the 2012 UCISA Technology Enhanced Learning Survey confirm this picture, showing that web dependent modes for interaction with content and content and communication are both increasing in activity. Progress is therefore being made across the sector in embedding TEL as a key element of course delivery, engaging students in its use as a feature of their learning experience.
Whilst the overall feedback from our students in the 2012 VLE survey is positive, it is worth noting that some areas for improvement that were first identified in the 2010 survey report still remain unresolved; notably the consistency of online provision across taught programmes (i.e. what is offered to students online and how students’ expectations are managed) and the quality standards employed in the design of module sites. Students noted that improvements can also be made to training provision to ensure that all users (staff and students) are able to use Yorkshare effectively and a number of suggestions have been made on enhancements to the user interface addressing usability and functionality. Many of these issues resonate with the principles of technology usage set out in the NUS’ Charter on Technology in Higher Education. The Charter seeks to identify best practice for the use of technology in higher education, and highlights areas such as training provision for staff and students as key to the effective use of technology in learning. Another important principle in the Charter focuses on the embedding of technology within curriculum design and delivery processes – and use of technology to enhance the teaching and learning experience.
The pedagogic relevance of technology usage should always be at the forefront of our thinking in terms of the adoption of tools, rather than simply mandating the use of technology because the tools are ‘out there’ and available for use. Indeed, forcing academics to comply with a prescribed level of tool usage can often be counterproductive. As Zemsky and Massy have argued, there is no direct relationship between minimum levels of engagement (e.g. introducing a baseline level of TEL usage across courses) and direct enhancement to teaching & learning in terms of the way that staff “re-engineer teaching and learning activities to take full and optimal advantage of the new technology” (Zemsky & Massy, 2004).
We must therefore be careful to strike the right balance between consistency in the levels of technology provision which are offered across study programmes and quality in the adoption of technology in course delivery. This means setting clear expectations as to how online tools will be employed to enhance the student learning experience, with a well developed pedagogic rationale to underpin their usage. We anticipate that the action plans that departments are developing for their e-learning provision will go some way towards addressing these issues, outlining the online provision that students can expect over the 2012-13academic year.
NUS Charter on Technology in Higher Education (2011). Published: 3rd August 201. Available at:
Walker, R., Voce, J., & Ahmed, J. (2012). 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK. A JISC/UCISA funded survey. Available at:
Zemsky, R. & Massy, W. (2004). Thwarted innovation: What happened to e-learning and why. A Final Report for The Weatherstation Project of The Learning Alliance at the University of Pennsylvania in cooperation with the Thomson Corporation, p. 51. June 2004.