Cutting-edge VLE for Plymouth University

How using SCRUM helped ULCC deliver an innovative and bespoke Virtual Learning Environment for Plymouth University in record time

In September 2013 ULCC won a tender to provide the hosting service and development work for a new single-sign-on Student Experience system for Plymouth University.

The University was struggling with its two existing online learning environments and a separate online submission tool. They required a digital learning environment (DLE) that would not only integrate with existing systems but also offer a range of other services to enable students and staff to develop, manage and use content, activities and resources.

The vision included seamlessly bringing together library systems with reading lists and resource-searching, file-storage, an e-Portfolio service and online training. Further it needed to be device independent so that the 30,000 potential users could access content and engage with teaching and learning from any device. 

Choosing the delivery method for the vision

Plymouth’s VLE development project was ambitious and difficult to achieve within the timeframe proposed in the tender. Challenges ranged from: multisite development and integration; being a large project with many products; numerous stakeholders i.e. academic, non-teaching staff, students, guest users, etc.; big transformation of platform from SharePoint to Bloom.

Initial specification was done using a waterfall approach and cross-site visibility and transparency needed to be coordinated on a daily basis.

Given those challenges, ULCC and Plymouth required a framework that was lightweight, enabled the collection of user input iteratively, provided transparency of the work across both organisations, delivered early dissemination of the expected benefits to the users, was able to change with the requirements, allowed to inspect and control the risks as the changes were happening, and could ensure quality
of delivery throughout the project.

The three pillars of Scrum – ‘adaptability’, ‘transparency’ and ‘inspection’ – addressed the above needs of the project and its challenges.

How ULCC used SCRUM to deliver

The Scrum framework had fortnightly development sprints that consisted of the following meetings:

● Sprint Planning (up to two hours) – before each sprint started to plan the stories to be delivered in the upcoming sprint. 
● Daily Scrum meeting (15 mins) – run every weekday in the morning.
● Sprint Review (up to 2 hours) – run at the end of the sprint.
● Sprint Retrospective (up to two hours) – run after the sprint as a ‘lessons learned’ exercise.
● Backlog refinement (up to 1.5 hours).

These Scrum meetings enabled ULCC to operate the project in an environment that was collaborative, controlled, manageable and adaptable to changes. Hence it enabled ULCC to optimise the business value in each sprint. 

“The overall setup of running Scrum under a Prince 2 umbrella has given ULCC a new way to deal with complex, uncertain and continually changing requests and made us more adaptable to customer demands. something we have incorporated into our branded VLE, Bloom.  David Kenworthy, Head of Software Services, ULCC. 

What ULCC delivered

ULCC delivered a single-sign-on learning environment running on Moodle. The first ‘live’ VLE service was released to Plymouth as early as January 2014. Access to this system was gradually widened as the development project progressed. The VLE was made available at full-scale on 22nd September 2014.

Plymouth University now has a service that provides students and staff with tools to develop, manage and use content, activities and resources. Users can easily upload and store audio and video content that can be embedded into a module or subject learning spaces.

There is integrated formative assessment, allowing the creation of formative tests and quizzes as part of the learning space; as well as online reading lists and enhanced collaboration tools. This is integrated with the library system, file-storage and e-Portfolio service. 

The three pillars of Scrum – ‘adaptability’, ‘transparency’ and ‘inspection’ – addressed the needs of the project and its challenges. For further information go to: