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Cloud for curriculum transformation

How ULCC helped MMU provide a cost-effective, personalised, extensible and mobile learning experience to over 34,000 students

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | April 17, 2014 | Primary

The challenge

In 2010, with top level support and direction from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Student Success, Manchester Metropolitan University set up the Enhancing Quality and Assessment for Learning (EQAL) Programme. This programme set out to make a step-change improvement in student satisfaction by refreshing the entire undergraduate curriculum. Change on this scale is extraordinary for the sector and the university’s new Business Improvement Team worked hard to ensure that work in four complementary areas was coordinated effectively. 

What are the four strands and their intensions?

Each strand of work depended on the others to deliver the programme’s intended benefits. New rules were required for the new undergraduate curriculum that would dovetail with smarter administrative processes and systems. Quality assurance and enhancement processes had to be redesigned to cope with the simultaneous redesign and approval of every first year module, then every second year and eventually every final year. New web and mobile technology had to be developed and built to ensure that all students would receive maximum benefit from the changes. 

The approach

After an extensive and public review of its learning technology requirements, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) chose to move from Blackboard Vista to an integrated and extensible Virtual Learning Environment that could provide students with seamless and personalised access to study information and learning activities from a variety of devices. 

MMU decided on a blended shared-services approach to deliver its vision based on integrating cloud services – Moodle, Equella, Talis Aspire, campusM and Office 365 – with administrative systems run in-house. To deliver this ambitious vision, MMU needed an experienced hosting partner with a strong track record of integration and customisation who was willing to collaborate with other partners.

This required the right partners who had the skill and expertise to deliver MMU’s vision, but also make sure there was expertise in the institution to bring it all together and wrap it around the learner. The Open Source nature of Moodle meant that MMU could customise and experiment whilst drawing on ULCC’s extensive experience in delivering Moodle to the UK education sector. 

“We knew that people knew Moodle a lot better than us, and wanted to tap into that expertise. Hence the decision to go with a shared service and hence the decision to go with University of London Computer Centre (ULCC), because we’d heard very good things about them from the rest of the sector.” Mark Stubbs, Head of Learning & Research Technologies.

The project so far

MMUs timescales were fierce: six months of planning, consultation and preparation culminated in new curriculum rules, which set up the first 12-month implementation cycle. Web forms were developed for capturing curriculum once and ensuring that all relevant information flowed without further manual data entry to the systems where it was needed. Programme teams and module leaders really stepped up to the challenge, entering their newly designed curriculum into the forms, so that they could be approved after suitable internal and external scrutiny. The new first year modules were set up automatically in the Student Records System and the new Moodle Virtual Learning Environment.

Teaching schedules for timetabling the new modules were captured at the level of detail required to produce personal timetables for all first year students. In September 2011, the new first year went live, bang on schedule, and work began on entering the new second year modules for September 2012. In September 2013 the new final year went live. MMU had re-written its entire undergraduate curriculum, and provided every undergraduate student with a personal timetable, assignment schedule, reading lists and learning materials via Moodle and a free smartphone App, for which over 27,000 have registered.

Outlook

EQAL is now moving into its embedding phase, mainstreaming innovations and providing tutors with the information they need to drive continuous improvement of their programmes and modules whilst supporting student retention and success. The collaboration between ULCC and MMU continues with a number of projects currently being discussed:

✥ Assessment Framework:
The aim is to develop additional features to enhance the assessment and feedback tools within Moodle, playing to the strengths of plagiarism detection solutions while handling the complexity of multiple markers, moderation and the secure transfer of marks into student record systems.

✥ Learning Analytics: MMU has partnered with ULCC to develop initial weekly summaries of Moodle engagement that can be included alongside attendance and assignment submission data to provide an early warning system to spot students who may be struggling. Further work is planned to share this information with students and their personal tutors. 

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