Virtual learning at Liverpool College

Amanda Parker, Learning Resources and Technologies Manager talks about the success of virtual learning at the City of Liverpool College

Virtual Learning is a buzzword in education and it forms a vital part of the teaching process now. VLE at the college has been one of the stand out successes of the last year, with user numbers at 11,000, 90% of the student population.

We receive almost 10,000 visits a day – nearly double the same period last year – showing how students are embracing the resource. A number of them were even active on the site on Christmas Day!

However we’ve come a long way in the last few years. Our Old VLE needed a complete overhaul, it wasn’t engaging students successfully, it also needed to be better linked with the curriculum and the strategic plan for learning at the college. We’d also identified several areas of weakness which were causing potential bottlenecks to usage.

We knew we wanted to develop a VLE system which would suit the needs of students and teachers. The first steps were to set up staff and student group feedback sessions, where we identified what were the key areas for improvement. These priorities were things such as the VLE not being compatible with all devices, layouts not consistent and old software not responding well. Vital changes also needed to be made to content and the design to encourage student engagement.

After identifying the priorities we used both the skills and knowledge of our team and the skills of our own student body, giving students vital opportunities to contribute, to developing an engaging and responsive new layout for the site which would be usable on all devices. The basis of the new VLE site is addressing the issues which users found frustrating about the old VLE – for example students said they didn’t like having to scroll down long pages of resources to find what they were looking for. 

We then identified the need to separate out course pages into sections to make vital content and functions easier to navigate. We analysed the teacher and student workflow, designing a new course format with defined sections. These include a course information and course section, with each course integrated with their own social stream, where students and teachers can share information. Teachers can also choose to have hashtags pulled in directly from Twitter. We also have a live learning community section, also integrated with social media, an assignment area where students can upload their assignments and a reading list section, which is integrated with the library system, meaning students can access all the reading material they need without carrying books around with them. 

In addition to technical developments we have also implemented several strategic changes to encourage engagement and allow us to monitor usage patterns. These developments include a help centre for users with easy to follow tutorials including video demos, all aimed at making the VLE as user friendly as possible. We have also revised the content to not just contain vital information for coursework but also non course related information, with student news, announcements, jobs board areas etc, all designed to engage with the student body.

VLE is an ever evolving area though, so it’s not just about putting a good system in place it’s about keeping that system up to date and constantly improving it. With that in mind we have a technology steering group which meets to share new ideas and opportunities on e-learning and we also audit the VLE system regularly to ensure it is where it needs to be and in line with the annual strategic plan.’

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