At the point we launched this year’s search for examples of excellent use of virtual learning environments, we didn’t know we’d all be moving in! With learning shifted to virtual spaces, it’s useful to reflect on what this year’s nominations tell us about supporting the learner journey through good VLE provision.
We’ve all found ourselves in new learning spaces and many of us have felt a bit lost at first. Every year, the most common theme in students’ reasons for nominating is summed up here: “It is easy to navigate and move around within.”
A clear, custom course menu and consistent layout sets learners at ease, and makes for a more efficient learning experience. “Everything is clearly labelled in the correct folders and there is minimal faffing to find the correct information.”
While circumstances may have prompted a wholesale import of previous years’ content, keeping the site uncluttered is important too. “No extraneous frills or fuss. Everything I needed and nothing else.”
Students talk about organisation as the foundation for learning, as what motivates them to work independently, and what supports them to be systematic in their own work. “The course was organised in a way which always prompted me to do more work/reading than I’d expect”… “Content is logically organised in a way which enables the student to prepare in advance and develop as a scientist.”
Many students describe the importance of having an overview of the module at the start, with learning objectives outlined and advance access to resources. “All future lecture content is posted which helps for organizing my own independent study sessions.”
With assorted tools in use, it’s easy for content to get dispersed, but ensuring everything used is linked or featured from the ‘home’ site helps: “Amazing course and blackboard site with everything that I need for the module in one place. I found that this site made learning so much easier. I didn’t have to spend loads of time on finding resources and could spend my times reading them and putting them to good use instead.”
During isolation a sense of being part of a learning community is particularly valuable. A need to recreate the social aspect of learning in an online situation means opportunities for interaction and regular updates are essential – and this can happen in asynchronous, as well as synchronous learning. “Other Blackboard sites just upload information and we download but this is like community where we can spend time and learn.”
Purposeful use of discussion forums is something mentioned in a number of nominations, bringing this to the forefront of learning activities rather than just an added extra. Students also cite consistency in communication – with announcements regularly posted to share answers to questions, inform students of updates to content, or to recap sessions and preview what’s coming next. “My lecturer puts up a very helpful week by week breakdown on the announcements section.”
A narrative around learning materials can turn them from a collection of files into a learning journey. Students mention the important of guidance about how to use resources and a cohesive structure to the way content is delivered. “It mentions what to study before lecture, what to expect from lecture, and what needs to be done after lecture”…“It is far more in depth and has lots more useful breakdowns rather than tonnes of extra reading hiding the essential stuff.”
Being involved in their learning, with opportunities to contribute resources, share feedback and learn from each other, is something students highlight in comments. “The voice of student can be heard on this site.”
Finding their own place and path is something students mentioned as key to their learning experience online. “The work packages allow you to recap lecture content in your own time at your own speed, and throughout the module opportunities were offered to extend your understanding past the requirements of the module in line with your own interests.”
A range of materials and media allow students to choose how they study. “Resources were all personally tailored for our learning, rather than just random stuff found online”… “ There are so many resources available so we can choose the way we learn best for the course.”
Opportunities to extend their own learning through practice exercises and self-assessment quizzes are often highlighted by students, helping them assess their own learning needs and identify areas to work on. “Some exercises tested fundamental knowledge whilst others stretched my understanding of the topic to a level beyond what was strictly needed for the test.”
Blackboard’s ‘mark reviewed’ option gives students another way of measuring their personal progress through the course. “I love the ‘completed’ buttons for the extra reading and videos. Makes me feel accomplished and good for tracking progress.”
Physically, our ability to explore beyond familiar spaces is limited at the moment, but virtually, students value the opportunity to delve deeper into subjects and pursue interests further. “None of my other modules have had quite so many resources that appeal to so many different people. The emphasis is on what interests us and what we are passionate about, not just past papers and what might come up in the exam!”
Links to extra resources and activities is increasingly cited by students as something that makes a module stand out. “Clearly taken the time to get an extra step beyond the set syllabus for the module by including lots of audio, videos, and extra reading resources for complementing our independent learning.”
A number of students mention how helpful they find additional video resources that explain concepts, talk through a past paper or worked example, or summarise a longer lecture. “Special videos were created to summarise and discuss the main principles and concepts, which greatly helped when trying to learn the content of the module.”
Another feature taking students beyond the immediate module is the way it prepares them for their future career, something mentioned in a number of nominations. “The way he has organised it and the amount of effort he has gone to providing us with a great amount of resources, materials, and advice has been incredibly helpful for my studies and personal development. My tutor hasn’t just done all of this to help us get a good grade and make a great game, but to provide us with extensive and incredible portfolios for life in the industry after we graduate.”
Looking ahead, there’s discussion around how some of the new ways we’re experiencing of delivering teaching and engaging students in their learning might integrate into future teaching. Many nominated modules are already utilising this blended approach, ensuring that learning happens across physical and virtual spaces: “The online material was used in lectures and it just made a cohesive flow that made everything seem so purposeful.”
Working with our student judges, we have identified the standout courses making it onto 2020’s Blackboard & VLE Awards shortlist. We have also inducted eight modules into the newly formed VLE Superleague: course sites that have won previously and are still consistently nominated by students for the outstanding support they provide. Details of both can be found on our Blackboard & VLE Awards home page.
Our Awards event (May 15th) will be a little bit different this year, with the winners revealed in a newsletter sent out that day, and via our Twitter.