Friday, 1 February 2013

Making progress on the VLE

A little update from the last blog post.  Turns out after our excellent and productive #ukmeded chat my blog was passed to someone involved with the VLE at Cambridge. There has been some behind the scenes work going on about redesigning the VLE and a workshop style meeting was set up for yesterday afternoon and having been sent the blog and worked out who I am emailed and invited me specifically.  I'll give a full run down on what went on in a sec, but in brief I am very positive about the whole thing now and the engagement by all concerned was great.

We had a whole afternoon 2-5pm, refreshments and lunch galore, and we had 6 students and 4 staff members to really get to the bottom of how to make the whole VLE better and more user friendly. In the discussion we covered a huge number of issues linked to the VLE, learning, course organisation and even student welfare, and it was so refreshing to feel listened to as an equal about my learning.

The students were:
Me a final year (aka stage 3),
Two 5th years (stage 2's) one of whom is the ex clinical society pres and one the current,
Two 4th years (stage 1's) one of whom is the academic and welfare officer for clinsoc
One of the level 2 (a year before graduating) grad entry students who has worked in software development before coming to medicine

The staff were:
One of the Associate Deans, A GP who is in charge of the GP parts of our course and who has taken on the VLE
Two of the curriculum office staff who are involved in administrating the course and specifically content on the VLE
One of the IT staff

We started with a quick presentation about the plan for the afternoon which largely broke into two big sections, sorting out the structure of the VLE and coming up with a better looking front page and by extension a more functional website. But first we did a quick brainstorm on what we didn't like about the current incarnation and came up with a huge list which covered everything from the last blog post and a good few littler niggles as well.

The biggest dislike was that the site with its very flat and illogical hierarchies make the site near impossible to navigate. And that means things get hidden and put in the wrong place and generally lead to my previous ranting. So we needed to work out structure that could address that, and focus on some logical hierarchies. We began with an idea proposed by the Associate Dean that focused on a placement based model as opposed to the placement and speciality confused split we have at the moment. A lot of discussion went into refining the initial idea but we were all very pleased to get rid of the placement/ speciality split and to form some real hierarchies. The students also pushed for  the inclusion of what we're calling Longitudinal Learning maps, as we chose to split the provision of that material by placement we wanted somewhere with an overview without duplicating material. We chose to have pages which linked to the material elsewhere and showed as a kind of "map" for the learning for the year. In the end we worked out something that looks like the below:

One of each tab has been expanded to show the principles. What I really like is the hierarchy reflects how our course works and should help to integrate some of the overarching learning into every placement. It might even force some of the placement and speciality directors into thinking about how their things integrate with each placement!

We spent a long time on the structure but once we had worked it out we turned our attention to a functional and attractive front page. We decided to ditch a lot of the elements currently on there, including the calendar, messages and upcoming events as they all have very little functionality currently. It was felt that we wanted a very streamlined front page with simply a button for each stage which would take you into the start of the above hierarchy alongside a couple of other buttons such as  to the longitudinal learning maps, to the student welfare info and to some "General" Clinical school official information (we couldn't come up with a good name for that one). We also spoke about having a tool bar at the top of every page which let you return to the stage home and to the general home as well as a menu to the above "general info". We also wanted some indication of where we were in each hierarchy either by the web address or a bar on screen which said something like Stage3> Medicine> Learning resources.

We spent some time at the end discussing some other niggles (including the terrible picture they insist on showing us of ourselves) and a bookmarks tool which is being introduced as a bit of a fix until the big changes come in. It was just going to be rolled out to us but we have persuaded them that for all changes big or small they need to get a group of students to Beta test the new features as the VLE is cluttered with things that could work but just don't. There were things we suggested that can't be done in Moodle's current set up and there were things we suggested that the team had explored if other medical schools were doing.

All in all we came up with some very positive changes for the VLE but the fantastic thing about the whole process was that it was real grass roots development of a system that the student interact with all of the time. I can't help thinking how nice it was to sit down with such a responsive group of staff and I wonder how many of our other med school niggles might be solved if such engagement was the norm, I came away buzzing. Thanks to everyone on the #ukmeded chat for sparking some great discussion and ideas and for passing on the blog and getting me involved!

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear the update and the progress that's been made since we had the #UKmeded chat on VLEs that you lead. Thanks for sharing the outcome of your meeting, hope all goes well with the changes.