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Saturday, 21 June 2014

Conducting a VLE review

A post for #octel week 5 based on reviewing Julie Voce's VLE review presentation. 

Julie's detailed and clear project report captured though audio and slides is extremely clear and well articulated. The complexity of the task is obvious, this was a large scale review and re planning of online provision for the teaching in a multi-site institution. I can fully appreciate the steps that were taken, there is a clear logic to the process and, despite some pain along the way the outcome was largely successful. I am very interested in the "failures" and "lessons learnt" slides as they hold useful messages for reflection.

Our language learning online environment Languages@Warwick was created three years ago to meet the needs of a small (by comparison) group of about 3,700 users engaged in a very specific activity: blended language learning. It was informed by my research into language teaching methodologies and learner requirements and developed through a piloting process with our teachers and learners. The aim was provide technologies that could facilitate best practice on language teaching and support innovative teaching. So the scale of our project was different. However, I do wonder if there is something else that can be learnt from our experience that may help those looking to implement institution wide VLE provision. Some of the details are presented in more detail on my CMALT e-portfolio. 

  • Who were your stakeholders?
our learners (from across all degree programmes), our teaching staff, our institutional managers, our IT staff. 

  • What resources were used?
our teaching staff (esp. those already using technology for teaching), our internal finance (income generating unit), an additional technical staff member recruited to help implement the project, external moodle hosting partner, technology advice using channels such as Jisc, ALT and listserves with other language centre contacts. 

  • How clear/achievable was the project plan?
  • What fallback position, if any, did you build into your plan in the event of full or partial project failure?
Given the narrow nature of the brief and the fact that existing online arrangements were not conducive to the best use of our resources (human or financial) the project plan was very clear and was monitored and reported on at regular intervals. It was also flexible and shaped by our stakeholders. The fallback position was to rely on institutional development which would have had a significant impact on our ability to compete for students so failure was not really an option!

  • What methods did you use to evaluate your project?
We use both quantitative and qualitative data on an annual basis to review our project implementation. This is then shared with stakeholders in a variety of ways including papers/presentations to conferences, presentations at internal showcase events, and reports and documentation to managers. 

  • How did you measure project success?
Success criteria include:
-the amount of engagement from our user base through the Languages@Warwick VLE (course resource counts, usage patterns, student feedback)
-the capacity for innovative language teaching (activity in research for Computer Mediated Communication, virtual exchanges)
-the developing digital skill set of our teaching staff
-addressing through suitable technical choices the relative advantage of digital teaching so that we maximise the engagement for all stakeholders.

  • Did you celebrate your success and did this encourage further developments?
Celebrating success was a key part of the strategy adopted. From the pilot stage on, we encouraged tutors to share their experienced with their teams and the Centre. We used a youtube channel and a twitter feed to disseminate successes and these were aggregated back in to a core" Using moodle for language teaching" course to which all users were subscribed. 

As Julie identifies from her experience and we certainly found in ours, even when you plan everything meticulously and execute with as much support as can be mustered there are still some major barriers that can emerge during such projects that can really take a toll on those charged with implementing them.

Communication: never as simple as it seems. As a language educator I was aware of the complexities of human communication, the close connection between communication and power dynamics. Too often we interpret the need to communicate effectively as simply providing a "push channel" - a space through which we broadcast decisions and information. This ignores the importance of "pull" communication channels, the means for interested parties to get the information that is relevant to them, giving them control and helping to enlist participation. If people do not wish to engage with your message you have to rely on hierarchical support which may or may not be there. If others are suspicious of the project agenda and feel it may effect their way of working, again there is a good deal of advanced communication to do! Our project was clearly aligned with our institutional Senior management vision and yet that was not enough to make the path to realisation smooth. Finding out what others need and listening to them is importantly and I think this was rightly prioritised in Julie's project even if it caused the time frame to slip. We need to remember we are all colleagues working together for an over aching aim and as such everyone is entitled to their opinion, concerns and input. Any project plan or gant chart that fails to take into account the complexities of implementing change in an institutional context ignores the vital ingredient - people. Great project management qualities include humility, patience and compassion as well as the steely determination to make things happen Such qualities ensure the project will not just succeed but it will last because others will want to help you make it so. 

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