Supporting module choices through the VLE


Summary

The School of Politics, Economics & Philosophy (or PEP as it is known at York) requires incoming undergraduate students to pick the modules they are wanting to take for the first year before they arrive at university. They need to understand important information about their degree structure and how choosing some modules may preclude them from taking other modules further down the line. The department chose to utilise a number of the VLE’s tools, such as wikis, blogs and the quiz tool, to facilitate the module choice process. 

Keywords: course planning, module choices, wikis, blogs, quiz, transition

Aims and Objectives

Incoming students to the School are required to make important decisions about the modules that they will take prior to arrival at the University. It is essential that students understand their degree structures and the implications of the choices they will make, not least because some choices made now will preclude them from other options later on.

It was hoped that presenting the options and the mode of making selections through the VLE would help in a number of ways:

  • Provide clear outlines of modules, implications of choices and how modules fit into degree structures.
  • Allow incoming students to communicate with current students and staff to address any areas of confusion or get an “insider’s view” to support their module choices.
  • Provide an easy and convenient system for submitting and collecting students module choices that would make life easier for students and admin staff.
  • Drive traffic to other areas of the department’s “Welcome” site to help prepare incoming students.

Overview

The VLE was used to help students decide on their preferred modules and collect their choices in four main, interlinked ways:

  1. Explicit instructions for students outlining what they needed to do and by when.
  2. A wiki providing details on degree structures and full module descriptors (also downloadable). The wiki allowed students to see the links between various pathways and modules and outlined some of the main points to consider with the available options (eg how their choices now might influence later Postgraduate study).
  3. A blog allowing students making their choices to ask clarification questions of current students and staff.
  4. A “Module choices registration” tool in the form of a quiz tool which allowed students to enter their choices and admin staff to easily collect them in.

Methodology

The module choices area was set up using the standard toolset within the VLE by the admin team responsible for creating and supporting the department’s “Preparing to study” site. This was made available to all incoming students prior to arrival and they were alerted to the fact that they MUST complete their module choices in the welcome emails sent out by the department and this was reinforced within the site itself.

Before starting work on the VLE site, the admin team met with Wayne Britcliffe from the E-Learning Development Team to explain what they wanted the site to do and discuss possible ways of achieving this. This was a great help and raised both issues and solutions that the admin team would not have considered on their own.

The wiki was suggested by Wayne as being the best tool to use to convey the module choices options, and it worked well, as students could easily get straight to the information relevant for their particular course, and could move easily between the pages outlining the module choice options.

Great effort was made to respond to queries made to the blog as promptly as possible, usually within a day. A group of students from the Club of PEP (the School’s student society) volunteered to respond to queries on the blog, and PEP staff also monitored blog activity and added responses as required. Blog use was also supported by clear “etiquette” guidelines outlining expected standards of online behaviour.

When designing the test which students used to submit their module choices, the admin team first identified the minimum amount of data that needed to be collected. They then looked at how to collect that data through the test in a way that was both user-friendly for the students and enabled the data to be extracted in a user-friendly way for themselves.

Once module choices had been made admin staff were able to collect the responses through the VLE’s grade centre. The data extracted from the grade centre then had to be manipulated manually to put it in a format that included all the information required by the University’s central student systems and timetabling teams (this was done within one day). The student systems team then imported the module choices data into SITS.

The grade centre was used to identify students who had not yet submitted their module choices and reminder emails were sent out.

Reflections

All new first year undergraduate students got information about and made their module choices through the VLE.

Using the VLE was seen as a significant improvement for students compared to previous approaches using handbooks and e-mail. Students were able to access information in more user friendly way, check details and enter their choices within the same space. While responses to evaluation surveys was low (~5%), feedback indicates that students found the system easy to use and useful overall. Admin staff reported that this approach made the process far easier to manage and resulted in fewer problems across the board.

This approach also helped to support the overall effectiveness of, and engagement with the “Preparing to study” site. 100% of students accessed the site, and activity on the blog, which also helped to orientate students and introduce them to the School pre-arrival, was significantly higher than with other departments which did not use it to support module choices.

Transferable lessons learned

  • Using the VLE for module choices is a more user friendly, effective and efficient way of providing information and collecting in responses for staff and students, than “traditional” means (paper handbooks and e-mail liaison).
  • Students need to be clearly signposted to the VLE and given clear instructions to guide them through the process.
  • Module information should be supported by transparent communication channels to allow students to check any details about their choices – these communication channels should be properly monitored and responded to.
  • Positioning compulsory module choices within a “Preparing to study” site drives traffic to the site and supports wider student induction.
  • The complexities of your module choices and interdependencies will be a significant factor in the suitability of this approach.
  • If using tests to collect module choice data, think about the design in terms of how to make it user-friendly for students and user-friendly for the staff who are pulling off and manipulating the data.

Next Steps

Case study last updated: June 2012

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