HUB - Learning in the Cloud

About this idea

Abingdon & Witney College is a General Further Education College located in Oxfordshire.  We are currently undertaking a project to develop our own completely bespoke Virtual Learning Environment using Microsoft’s Cloud-based Office 365.  The driving force behind this move is the acknowledgement that as an institution, we owe it to our stakeholders to ensure that we operate at the cutting-edge of Cloud-based systems and technologies, in line with our Learning Technologies strategy.

 

Working collaboratively with Microsoft and other Office 365 platform application designers has empowered the College to produce a VLE that encompasses all of the functionality our learners and staff require in order to attain at the highest level and at an affordable cost.  What makes this project standout is the unique combination of the three standalone services:

 - O365 will enable real-time sharing of resources via its Cloud services and serve as an overall construct for the new VLE.

 - A new online submissions application will provide a central ‘hub’ (which has inspired the name) for learners and teaching staff; here assessments can be uploaded, graded and returned via the Cloud, dramatically reducing the number of steps, and therefore lecturer time, this type of process previously required.

 - Utilising cutting-edge features enables our IT Services Team to design the VLE with our learners and teaching staff in mind, producing a functional, interactive platform that’s easy to navigate and is aesthetically pleasing.

Implementation of HUB will be two-pronged; IT Services will continue to develop the platform in conjunction with Microsoft and the O365 App designers in order to ensure maximum functionality for staff and learners.  The college has also appointed a QL (Quality Lead) for Learning Technologies, who will be responsible for bridging the gap between traditional pedagogical and emerging eLearning practices.  The QL will have a team of three Digital Learning Design Apprentices, who will be trained under the National Apprenticeships Framework.  The Digital Apprentices will be on-hand to provide support to teaching staff and learners on any aspect pertaining to Learning Technologies.  This new Learning Technologies team will work closely with IT Services to maintain clear lines of communication to ensure that the VLE is most effective.

 

In order to manage a successful transition to the new VLE, we have just completed a small pilot in the first half of Term 1 with a number of curriculum areas trialling HUB.  The new VLE makes the most of Office 365’s Cloud-based sharing features, enabling teachers and students to collaborate on learning resources in a truly blended way that hasn’t previously been possible.  Both staff and students were able to embed any online artefact that allowed it thanks to the flexible design of the course HUB pages thoughtfully crafted by our IT Services. All assessments were submitted, graded and returned via the new platform.  The Learning Technologies team documented each curriculum area team’s efforts, the findings of which were presented at a College-wide CPD event on 22 October 2015 – Tech Fest.  All this with a view to roll-out HUB across the rest of the College by the culmination of the academic year 2015/16.

 

This is a fantastic example of cross-collaboration, with Curriculum and Business Support staff working together towards one common goal.  The team consists of:

Tim Rose – Quality Lead for Learning Technologies

Jamie Snell – IT Systems Support Analyst

Adam Jones - IT Systems Support Analyst

3 x Digital Learning Design Apprentices (to be recruited)

 

Our hope is that the Jisc Elevator 'Accessible by Design' project could provide much-needed support throughout the process in order to ensure success.  This new approach could help blaze a trail for other Further and Higher Education institutions, who might be looking to break free from the shackles of the conventional VLE service providers that remain stuck in a pre-Cloud world.  We hope to release staff from teaching commitments in order to share best practice and the next phase of the College’s ILT Strategy is to recruit ‘Digital Activators’; those learners who are early adopters and well-placed to help both staff and students develop their ILT skills.

 

Once implemented, HUB will facilitate more effective Teaching, Learning and Assessment across the board, encouraging autonomy in learners and affording teaching staff more time to concentrate on delivery of content and higher order thinking skills, thus increasing levels of attainment.  This is a truly ambitious project and one that will have a profound impact in the skills development and access to the latest ILT for both staff and students alike.  The purpose of this project is to see how the new Cloud-based VLE can enhance the learner expereince, particularly for part-time students and work-based learners.  Part of the research will focus on the technology used by these types of learners to access their learning online, so we can accurately asceetain how best to cater for their needs.  The results will be packaged in such a way that other instituions can adopt the successful attributes in order to engage part-time and work-based learners in the Virtual Learning Environment.