The University of York IT Survey was conducted by the Information Directorate in October 2014. There were a number of comments relating to Yorkshare and other services managed by the Elearning Development Team. We look at the top ten issues here and the actions, resources and future plans to address these comments.
Your Top 10 issues
- Induction and training
- Email notifications and announcements
- Peer communication within a module site
- Web conferencing
- Maths support
- VLE navigation and interface
- Links and EARL lists
- Lecture recording in smaller seminar rooms
- Workflow for marking and handling student work
Issue: Make VLE compatible with a mobile device.
Blackboard Learn Mobile App
The Yorkshare VLE has had a dedicated app to support mobile access for Apple, Android, Blackberry and OS devices, and this has been available since the beginning of the 2012-13 academic year. This app provides access to content and push-notifications to your devices, with mobile-friendly support for certain tools such as the blog and discussion boards. The mobile app does not have the full capabilities of the desktop version of the VLE; for example EARL reading lists and external websites will open within your browser instead.
Blackboard Inc., who design the software for our VLE system, are now dedicated to developing a responsive design to future releases for the platform’s core tools and functionality, which should lead to big improvements to mobile access to the VLE in the future.
2. Induction and training
Issue: Unclear how to use VLE.
We have developed a series of video guides to help students master the basics of how to use Yorkshare:
We would welcome any suggestions from students or staff on additional video or written guides that we should be developing and making available from the Help tab. Simply email email@example.com. and pass on your suggestions.
We received a few comments about how long it takes to upload content to a module site, a common and fundamental use of the VLE to support learning. This issue also reflects a core training need which we have addressed through the development of a series of interactive video guides, which present simple workflows to accomplish core tasks within the VLE.
For further guidance, please keep up-to-date by following our blog or subscribing to our newsletter:
As we mentioned last year, the E-Learning Development Team offers a series of scheduled ‘Getting Started’ workshops which cover the basics of managing a VLE site. If you can’t attend a scheduled session, then we are happy to offer ‘at desk’ training for staff and we also have an online self-paced version. We have a suite of workshops that cover pedagogic themes looking at module design using technology and specific approaches to blended design. Our Primer sessions also address specific themes such as collaboration and assessment and feedback, looking at the tools that will support student activity online. We can deliver these sessions to small groups or individually on request:
- ELDT Training and Workshops (authentication required)
- Online self-paced Getting Started tutorial
- Primer sessions on specific areas of technology-enhanced learning
3. Email notifications and announcements
Issue: Sending email notifications when VLE announcements are posted is ‘glitchy’
Communicating to students
We understand that Yorkshare announcements provide a quick and archived method for communicating to students. The problem with announcement notifications was fixed in a patch in Autumn 2014 and was not related to the announcements tool but to a complex set of interlinked issues, which we followed up with Blackboard. We have set up monitoring regime to track ongoing performance, which will help us to respond to any future issues, should they arise.
Please note that for urgent announcements that need to be communicated to students, there is a ‘send immediately’ option which can be used:
4. Peer communication within a module site
Issue: Opportunities for peer communication within a module site should be improved
Synchronous and asynchronous communication tools
There are a variety of communication and collaboration tools hosted within the VLE that may be made available for students to use, from group spaces such as blogs, to wiki and discussion forums. A recent addition to the Yorkshare tool-set is Collaborate, which supports synchronous student interaction on a variety of levels, including screen-sharing, video/voice/text chat and collaborative whiteboards.
Module leaders can set Collaborate up for students to use either as part of a specific learning activity, or as an online collaboration space without instructor support:
5. Web conferencing
Issue: Institutional support for a web conferencing solution
The Blackboard Collaborate web conferencing tool has been available for staff to use since the summer term last academic year and is supported by the E-Learning Development Team. We have delivered road-shows across the university to publicise the tool and are happy to run these for groups of staff on request. We are keen for staff to start using Collaborate, so that we can make a judgement on whether we should continue supporting this solution in future years. Collaborate offers benefits over other tools such as Skype or Google Hangouts, due to its focus on participant engagement and its mobile app, which supports ‘on the move’ web conferencing opportunities.
6. Maths support
Issue: Explanation needed on which parts of TeX can be supported within the VLE
7. VLE navigation and interface
Issue: The VLE can be confusing and difficult to use / the VLE user interface feels outdated
Usability and design improvements
We have been working closely with Blackboard to advise them on improvements they should be making to the user interface of the VLE to improve the ‘look and feel’ and address usability and accessibility concerns. We are delighted that Prof. Helen Petrie from the Department of Computer Science, an accessibility expert, is contributing as part of this process. Blackboard are currently working on a new Ultra release which will lead to less cluttered pages and an improved user experience.
Advice on site design
Last year we indicated that the design of module and programme sites within the VLE is managed by each department and course instructor, but the E-Learning Development Team is happy to advise on how to design sites and manage the organisation of content and activities in a coherent fashion. We have worked with a number of departments in establishing programme and module templates, which help to create consistency in the way that information is managed.
We would also stress the importance of staff giving students a clear induction on the module site and tools they will be using and online activities they will be performing at the beginning of a module. We are happy to help with the delivery of the induction activities, but it is important for teaching staff to provide a clear pedagogic context to the activity that will be supported online.
- Structuring VLE sites (examples from our Back to Basics Show & Tell and YouTube video)
- Quick wins to improve module site design
- Crib sheet for instructors creating online activities (for wikis, but please contact us for advice on other activities)
8. Links and EARL lists
Issue: Links within the VLE don’t work and EARL reading lists are blank
Start of term check lists
We encourage teaching staff to review their module sites before the start of each term to ensure that all links are up-to-date and the site is fit for purpose. Links to EARL reading lists and Replay Lecture Captures require updating each year. We have put together a check list for the start of term that will help ensure sites are correct for students:
9. Lecture recording in smaller seminar rooms
Issue: Better coverage of smaller rooms for lecture recording
Replay Personal Capture
At the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year we expanded the Replay lecture recording service so that 40 venues are now equipped and available for Timetabled Lecture Capture. For teaching rooms which have not been equipped, there is an option for the lecturer to install Personal Capture on their laptop and record the lecture in this way.
- Replay Timetabled Lecture Capture and Personal Capture
- Examples of Personal Capture uses beyond lectures
10. Workflow for marking and handling student work
Issue: Develop an end-to-end system to handle student submission of work, online marking and student feedback
E-assignment roll out
We have piloted and rolled out an e-assignment workflow, which aims to improve the administration and management of student submissions for assessment. The next stage of the development work will focus on the marking experience. Our ‘Show and Tell’ for Spring 2015 is dedicated to discussing online marking, and all staff are welcome to attend (see details below).
If you have any further suggestions or would like help with Yorkshare, Collaborate or Replay, please contact us:
- 01904 32 1131