Moodle with noodles!

Image of XJTLU.

I recently spent 2 weeks at XJTLU in China supporting new staff with the CPS programme, and with their institutional VLE, ICE (Interactive Collaborative Environment). Is uses the Moodle software rather than Blackboard which we use to run VITAL.  After years of supporting staff here to use Blackboard it was a very illuminating experience to support a new set of staff, in a new country, with a new VLE system!

New staff at XJTLU learning to use Moodle.

Moodle, for those of you not not come across it is an ‘open source‘ VLE system (Blackboard is a commercial for-profit organisation) developed in Australia, but now widely used in many schools, FE & HE institutions across the world.

Moodle is a very straightforward and easy to learn system. Most of the staff (70) that we worked with at XJTLU picked it up very quickly – most not having used a VLE before. Some of the immediate key differences between Moodle and Blackboard include:

  • the ability to create visually & graphically more engaging modules.
  • easy to structure modules in different ways to suit different pedagogical purposes. For example, you can structure a module by topics, time (sessions etc.), social networking or linking to learning design software such as LAMS.
  • all across the software you can see small features which indicate that teaching staff have had an input to the development of the software. For example, it has a built-in ability to change roles to a student to take tests etc. without having to enrol and login with a student test account.
  • it just worked! We didn’t come across any major bugs, admittedly we only supported staff with some of the functions of the software.

Watch this short 5 minute video for an overview to ICE at XJTLU. This video includes examples of online study skills modules development by the XJTLU’s English Langauge Unit. These modules extensively use multimedia, quizzes, coursework submissions, Tunitin etc. to support their English language development.

Nick Bunyan

E-learning network meeting – 5th May

  • Open Educational Resources
    • VITAL upgrade news
      • Who needs a VLE?

This month’s well-attended network meeting was a wide-ranging event, with much useful and interesting debate generated amongst the group.

Open Educational Resources were the topic of an excellent presentation by Dr Tim Bullough and colleagues from the School of Engineering. Describing their CORE Materials  project for JISC, a major online OER repository, Tim gave an overview of the background, development and outcomes of the work he and his colleagues have been involved in. (Below is a very short extract from this talk where Tim is demonstrating a part of the repository).

Tim also highlighted an opportunity to submit a joint bid for further JISC funding to develop this project. The group was asked if it would be worth developing a similar University of Liverpool resource, which could allow staff to make their electronic learning resources (such as photos, texts, simulations, videos from teaching, research, outreach etc) visible to the wider University and/or external community (e.g. prospective students, schools and general public). These electronic resources could be aggregated at University, Faculty, School or research/teaching-group level within a searchable repository which could be beneficial for the University in many areas, from research to marketing. There was immediate interest in following this up as a joint University-wide project.

Please contact Tim directly (link above) if you would like to find out more about this funding opportunity.

An update on the VITAL Summer Upgrade was another item for the meeting. Most importantly, the date of when the course copy request form and preview system will be available has been moved back to the week of May 9th. As soon as it is available the network will be advised via the eLearning mailing list. A number of questions were asked. Particularly people wanted to know:

  • Will the upgrade affect students ability to access their last year’s modules to revise for summer resits? (Students will still be able to access their old modules for revision – after the upgrade date July 18th they will have to go to the archive to access these modules.)
  • Will departmental modules be affected? (Yes – these will need to be copied over in the same way as other modules to be seen in the new system.)
  • Will it be obvious to the students that there are two VITAL systems (archive and current) and where they should go to find modules? (Yes – there will be two VITAL links on the UoL Digital University front page. There may also well be a VITAL channel on the front page which has news, the two links, help, alerts, etc.)
All of which led neatly, and finally, to our small groups discussion item…

“What would we have if we didn’t have a VLE?” which was a polite way of asking who needs a VLE anyway?… a question the sector is starting to ask at various UK HE forums. Splitting up into smaller discussion groups and then feeding back to the room, comments included:

  • A system that recognises that learning is a lifelong activity – students take the resources and work with them beyond University.
  • A kind of iGoogle dashboard – plug in the best tools from whatever source for the relevant jobs, as and when needed.
  • Prefer to keep a VLE-like system as a means of ensuring a minimum, consistent standard of online provision for students.
  • An effective content management system (ties in with OERs?)
  • An academic Facebook style system.

Other news… Debbie Prescott gave a quick update on the eLearning Steering Group and the sub-groups that have developed from it, these currently include the E-assessment working group, the VLE review group and the R&D sub-group.  If you want to develop a proposal for the R&D funding please contact Debbie Prescott. We also explained that the new eLearning Policy for 2011-15 is currently being re-written and that we would like to get feedback from colleagues on this document before it is finalised.

The eLearning Unit took the opportunity to publicise their e-learning “Summer School” (Monday 13th to Thursday 23rd  June) and get ideas from the group for the “learning technology studio” which we are going to have at the Learning and Teaching Conference on 29th June 2011.

Thanks to everyone who came along to this meeting and contributed to make it an interesting and engaging event. We look forward to seeing you at the next eLearning Network meeting.

Next Meeting Date: Thursday 30th June 2011 (12:00-13:30) – all welcome. Please suggest a topic for discussion, offer an item for presentation to the group, or feel free to make any suggestions to about the structure or content of the network meetings.

The eLearning Unit

eLearning Network meeting 7th March 2011

The first eLearning Network meeting since the eLearning Unit (eLU) was created was held on Monday 7th March. We are always very pleased with how many colleagues turn up to these meetings and as usual we were happy to see another full room (35+ people!!) and some new faces :-).

The eLearning Network meetings are open to anyone in the university. We hope the meetings are an opportunity for you to find out what the eLearning Unit and CSD are currently doing and planning for the ‘e-learning future’. More importantly these meetings are an opportunity for you to meet with colleagues and find out what e-learning activities they are involved in.

After some concern over whether the worryingly slow PC would actually launch into action we finally got underway…

The agenda for the meeting covered a range of topics with contribution from CSD and eLU and the group as a whole in a discussion about what should be included in the VLE Review.

I started off by giving a blatant plug  for this blog 😉 and reminded everyone about the different ways that we are trying to communicate e-learning activities and developments across the university. We hope that the elearn-net mailing list becomes a place where staff can ask questions and share ideas so please feel free to post your thoughts and queries. 🙂

Anne Qualter (Head of the eLU) then gave an overview of the plan for the eLU and some of the challenges during the next year. Duncan Brown (CSD) gave details about the new hardware that VITAL will be updated to run on, which should improve performance and stability. Duncan also talked about the introduction of the Mobile Learn software and how this is being promoted throughout the University. We then had a discussion about what should be included in a VLE Review.

Thanks to everyone that attended – we feel this is a very useful way to share information, network with colleagues and hear about your views. Please feel free to post any comments you have about the meeting into the comments option below.

The next meeting is on Thursday 5th May 12.00-1.30pm. We look forward to seeing you then.

eLearning Unit

eLearning Steering Group meeting on 1st February 2011

As some of you already know, the eLearning Steering Group met at 2pm on 1st February 2011. The main focus of this meeting was to look at how we update and rewrite the e-learning policy which was current from 2007-2010 and scope out the VLE Review which will start soon.

We are interested in your views on these so please add comments to this post if there is anything you would like to be considered in respect of these two items.

The next eLearning Steering Group meeting is on 5th April. Please let Debbie Prescott know if you have any issues that you would like to see raised, or please pass them onto your faculty representatives to bring to the meeting. The faculty representatives are

  • Health and Life Sciences: Steve McKinnell and Avril Senior
  • Humanities and Social Sciences: Mike Knight and Jeremy Marshall
  • Science and Engineering: Nick Greeves and Dan Hibbert


eLearning Network Meetings

eLearning Network - join us!

The next eLearning Network meeting will take place on 7th March 2011, 12.00-1.30pm. Please book onto this event at (lunch will be provided).

The focus of this meeting will be to provide you with an update of what is currently going on with e-learning around the University. We would also like to get your thoughts on what should be included in the “VLE Review” that has been proposed by the eLearning Steering Group. We would like this review to be driven by learning and teaching issues rather than simply whether we have the right VLE (although this will be a factor). We hope that the review will consider which technologies we should be using to support learning and teaching.

Following this meeting the next eLearning Network meetings will be on

  • Thursday 5th May 12.00-1.30pm
  • Thursday 30th June 12.00-1.30pm

Further details will be available for the meetings in May and June shortly.


Oxford visit – Sakai factfinder

Paul and Dan recently visited the University of Oxford Computing Services Department to have a look at their installation of the Sakai system, an open-source “Collaboration and Learning Environment” (similar to a VLE)  which is deployed in some major UK institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge.

They were the guests of Adam Marshall, a one-time employee of the University of Liverpool. Adam very generously gave his time to talk through the experience at Oxford of running an open-source VLE, of the transition from one VLE system to another, broader issues of staff support, and he gave a guided ‘tour’ of the University of Oxford Sakai installation WebLearn. We were also treated to a very fine lunch!

Some key findings and resources from the day included:

  • Sakai allows you to create structures that suit your programme, rather than being tied in to an annual ‘modular’ system.
  • University of Hull’s resources on institutional VLE  migration from Blackboard to Sakai (includes very useful information on testing and migration of BB tests to Sakai)
  • Only the medical faculty are currently allowed to assess students formally online at the University of Oxford, this being done in specially built facilities.
  • Also seen was the open-source Mobile Ox developed by Oxford, a student information service for mobile platforms.

Paul and Dan also brought back a wealth of information and contacts which will prove an extremely resource to draw on should there be a general review of the systems offered at UoL in the future. Do leave a comment or email the elearning unit to find out more about Sakai,  elearning systems and support structures at Oxford, or even about the Oxford Sausage!

Further to this, Nick will be visiting the Oxford team on December 9th 2010 for an open day workshop on the latest version of Sakai currently under development, the Sakai Open Academic Environment: