The University of York IT Survey was conducted by the Information Directorate in October 2015. There were a number of comments relating to Yorkshare and other services managed by the E-Learning 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
- VLE interface and controls
- Programme and module site organisation
- Authoring VLE module content
- Training for new staff
- VLE reliability and performance
- Enrolment issues
- Login problems
- VLE integration with other services
1. VLE interface and controls
Issue: the VLE is click heavy and confusing to get around.
ELDT Response: 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.
At this year’s Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference in Groningen (Netherlands), the senior product team announced that they would be developing a new ‘theme’ for the user interface for institutions such as our own, which run our own version of the software at York. This would focus on less cluttered pages and an improved use experience. We look forward to seeing this new theme and will press Blackboard to deliver on this commitment.
There will be an opportunity to question Blackboard directly on their product development plans at an open meeting for staff which has been arranged for Tuesday 3rd May at 3pm. Please contact the ELDT (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to attend this meeting.
2. Programme and module site organisation within the VLE
Issue: the VLE is hard to navigate through and very difficult to use and find course information
ELDT Response: The design of module and programme sites within Yorkshare 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. Effective designs for blended courses to support online participation by students has been a theme that we have explored with course leaders in previous lunchtime ‘show and tell’ meetings, such as the ‘Back to Basics’ session held in November 2014.
In response to the need for guidance on effective design, structure and layout of VLE sites, we have also outlined strategies for effective design and a checklist of key steps to follow, which are set out in section 2 of the York TEL Handbook. We are also happy to work with departments directly to establish programme and module templates, which may help to create consistency in the way that information is managed. Please contact us at email@example.com if this is something you would like to consider.
The following links offer some useful tips on improving module site design so that students are able to find their way around VLE resources and use them for their intended purpose:
- 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)
- Section 2 of the York TEL Handbook (advice on module site design, structure and layout)
Student inductions and help guides
We addressed the issue of induction support for students – helping students to understand the purpose and organisational logic of a module site – in our response to last year’s survey feedback.
It’s important for teaching staff to give students a clear induction on the module site and tools they will be using, as well as any 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.
We have developed a series of student video guides to help students master the basics of how to use the VLE. The videos are also available on the student ‘Help & Support’ tab within the VLE. We also have a series of short written guides which address common tasks such as submitting a file online and using a discussion forum. These are also available on the Help & Support tab.
3. Authoring VLE module content
Issue: it is difficult to author materials for inclusion on the VLE.
ELDT Response: Dedicated guidance on how to prepare resources for inclusion on the VLE is available in section 3 of the York TEL Handbook, which considers the full range of content items from document creation to images and multimedia. We can also provide department-specific workshops on content storyboarding and development, as well as specialist sessions for the creation of video resources. Please contact the ELDT (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like advice on content development. A full list of the types of training we can offer departments is also available on our Development Opportunities page.
Currently the only VLE functionality that requires Flash is York Streaming. York Streaming is a York developed extension to basic VLE functionality that provides a secure streaming solution for facilitating video delivery to students where the video can’t be made available on a public platform such as YouTube or Vimeo.
5. Training for new members of staff joining the University
Issue: When starting at the University, the VLE felt counter intuitive and hard to use
ELDT response: We have addressed this through the development of a Getting Started with Yorkshare YouTube playlist for staff, to cover the basics such as logging in and accessing modules through to adding content, setting up assignment submission points and enrolling colleagues on Yorkshare modules.
We can also run bespoke training workshops for departments or one to one training for new starters as part of their induction. For more details on the training and staff development we offer, visit our Development Opportunities page. As well as bespoke training for departments or individuals, we run regular Lunchtime Webinars throughout the academic year on different themes relating to Technology Enhanced Learning. Details and sign-up forms are linked from our Development Opportunities page and we also record all webinars and make them available as videos in our Lunchtime Webinar Archive.
Issue: Make VLE compatible with a mobile device
ELDT Response: This is a recurring issue that was also mentioned by respondents in last year’s IT survey. The Yorkshare VLE has had a dedicated app to support mobile access to the VLE for Apple, Android, Blackberry and OS devices, and we have run a series of publicity campaigns over the past academic year to highlight the VLE app to staff and student users.
During this year Blackboard have also released additional dedicated apps for staff (markers) and students. These apps contain functionality specific to the needs of the role of the user rather than trying to do everything in one app. Blackboard are committed to updating and improving them and in this way offering a much cleaner and more focused experience for users. We will be testing the two new apps over the summer and promoting them for the 2016/17 academic year.
In addition to the release of these apps, Blackboard have also announced plans for the revamp of the VLE interface to support a responsive design, adaptable to the full range of mobile devices in use. There will be an opportunity to question Blackboard directly on their product development plans for responsive design at the open meeting for staff which has been arranged for Tuesday 3rd May at 3pm. Please contact the ELDT (email@example.com) if you would like to attend this meeting.
7. VLE reliability and performance
Issue: The VLE is buggy and keeps crashing
ELDT Response: We remain committed to providing a VLE service which meets teaching and learning requirements in terms of high performance and desired functionality. Statistics for academic year 2014-15 reflect a high level of system availability, with the VLE running incident-free for 99.99% of the time across the academic year. The volume of VLE usage has increased again by over 10% during the autumn term (2015-16), as measured by the total number of log-ins compared with the corresponding period from the last academic year. Reassuringly, system performance continues to be good, coping with the additional load with no major service down-time recorded.
Individual users can test if their web browser is compatible with the VLE by using Blackboard’s Browser checker (which is also available on both the staff and student help tabs). To check your network speed, visit speedtest.net.
Where an individual encounters a problem in accessing the VLE, we would invite immediate feedback (contact the ELDT by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org), with details on the access issue and operating system and browser that are being used to access the VLE.
Issue: Issues at the start of term with students falling off the system and student module diets not being updated in a timely fashion.
ELDT Response: The VLE uses special users known as ‘SITS group users’ to enrol students on VLE modules and maintain synchronisation with the student module diet in SITS. As long as the student module diet information in SITS is maintained and up to date and the correct SITS group users are enrolled on the correct VLE modules, then the VLE will always enrol the correct set of students on a module. Enrolments are synchronised between the VLE and SITS every day between 06:30 and 08:30.
It is the responsibility of departments to ensure that the correct SITS group users are enrolled on the correct VLE modules. This is not something that can be managed centrally, although we can generate reports at the start of term which will advise departments if they have modules with no SITS group users (in which case no students will be enrolled on a site). If there are any queries about student enrolments, please first check that the right SITS group user is associated with the VLE module in question before contacting the ELDT.
9. Authentication and log in experience
Issue: Frustrating to log in and type in username and password every time.
ELDT Response: The VLE, and other University systems such as the library catalogue and electronic journals/databases, support a single sign-on login system named Shibboleth (the blue Login button on the VLE login page) and this allows users to only have to log in once for the systems which support it. If you are using systems which do not support Shibboleth then you may have to login more than once, once for each system. Unfortunately we are not responsible for these other systems which may not support the Shibboleth single sign-on.
Single sign on does not, however, work for users connecting to the VLE via Blackboard’s dedicated mobile app. This is a limitation to the mobile user experience, and one that we have brought to the attention of the Blackboard product development team.
10. Integration of the VLE with other services
Issue: User experience would be better of the VLE were integrated with other online services
ELDT Response: We are keen to learn more about user expectations towards the integration of the VLE with other enterprise-wide systems that the University supports (e.g. timetabling information) in terms of:
- the range and depth of system integrations that are desired;
- the rationale for the developments, which will be needed to make the case for development work to be undertaken.
Please contact the ELDT to express requirements for systems integration. This will help us to gauge the level of demand for the integration and the complexity of the development work that will be involved.
If you have any further suggestions on any of the centrally supported systems that we manage (Yorkshare, Replay, Collaborate…), please contact us at: email@example.com