One of my little areas of expertise at Northumbria was providing analytics data and reports on Blackboard usage and it’s something which was missing here at Sunderland, for the VLE at least. Unfortunately the way Learning Studio works it has not been possible to implement Google Analytics tracking code system wide, but I’m not easily deterred! I found a way to embed the code into an announcement on the landing page so that we can at least get client side data: numbers, technology, location and mobile use which is all useful in informing development.
If the report looks a little familiar, well, that’s just because great cooks bake nice cakes no matter what kitchen they’re in!
The team’s web pages on the University’s website were pretty out of date when I started, though I actually first noticed a few weeks beforehand when doing some research on the department and found some broken links. After I started I soon learned that the pages were actually much worse, with many having gone without revision for over two years. It turns out that it was my predecessor who primarily took responsibility for these, so I was happy to adopt the responsibility myself.
I thought it would be a nice, quick and easy job. I was mistaken. Once I delved into them I found that there were many more pages than I realised, going as deep as four nested levels in some places. I have flattened this structure right out, reducing it to two levels at most and standardising the template, entirely removed around half of the pages – most of which related to the 2012 project to transition the VLE from WebCT to Learning Studio – re-wrote many other pages, tidying things up and making the language more professional and affirmative, and of course fixed all broken links and email addresses.
Finally I created a banner in the style of other departments within SLS and added a sidebar on the right for a Twitter widget and a feedback button, replacing the old link on the left which was out of place as it links to another system.
One pithy definition of madness is that it is the act of repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results. So it was that back in April I was asked to create a Twitter account for the team which, having done so, was promptly ignored and left to languish. To this day all six glorious tweets from that account were made by your humble author. Today, or rather spread over the past couple of days as a ‘bitty’ job, I have resurrected the old ‘LDS’* Twitter account and renamed, revamped and brought it back into use.
So, am I mad? My intention behind this is to have a more informal avenue of communication between the team and our customers, but to be a success it will require active engagement and relevant content. UoS_WaLTS has one thing going for it that NorthumbriaTEL didn’t: me, enthusiastic and not going anywhere anytime soon this time.
Another little job I’ve been doing for similar reasons of engagement is improving the announcements page on SunSpace, which was just dull black on white text, trying to make it look nice and keeping the content current so that it isn’t reduced to just annoying wallpaper which people scroll over to get to their courses, to which end I have also embedded a widget for our Twitter feed into the announcements for all users section.
* Learning Development Services, the old name for my team before merging with Web Services.
A colleague (thanks James) sent me this article on the The Post-LMS LMS which makes for an interesting read, but it made me curious to see if there was any hard data out there to support the speculation and I came across this analysis of relative market share of various VLEs up to 2013. Of note is the continuing rise of Moodle, Desire2Learn and the ‘Homegrown Systems’ category which includes the various MOOC platforms, and of particular interest to me was the realisation that eCollege was one of the first, but never seems to have taken off, although it is reassuring to see a little rise since Pearson’s acquisition and the quality of the platform has, according to my colleagues, noticeable improved in the past couple of years that we have been using it.
Voting is open for the 2014 list until September 19th, with results to be revealed on the 22nd: http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/voting/. Note that you need to be a learning professional for your vote to be counted.
First day in the new job, very exciting. Lots of new challenges and technologies. As well as the things I was prepared for like Pearson Learning Studio and Mahara, there are so many things I didn’t know I wouldn’t know, JIRA and Confluence for example, and multiple instances for different purposes just to make things more confusing! To be honest, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed at times, but summer is the best time to join a university when things are relatively quiet; I have time to learn and prepare for the September madness.