Keele, United Kingdom
In order for both students and teachers to make the best use of the resources offered by an LMS, not only should educational content be shared within the platform, the user experience should also be considered.
This is how it’s done at Keele University, a British university with one of the largest campuses in the UK and a center for academic research and excellence, ranking among the highest in student satisfaction surveys.
“Because the learning experience is a transversal objective of the university, we use Blackboard Learn to drive this goal. How? To being with, we have installed the LMS locally in order to ensure access to the platform at all times, in case we experience issues with the internet connection. This allows us to have greater control over it”, explains Tim Smale, e-Learning Fellow, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences.
Tim works at Keele University since 2007, and during this time he has supported personnel with the pedagogical use of technology to improve learning, as well as the development of apps for professors and students.
According to him, the university has improved its LMS use thanks to two main pillars:
1. Removing folders: on some courses:
There is usually a lot of content stored in the LMS within subfolders and categorized by topics or dates. Although this could seem like a simple way to find information, many students at times struggle to remember the exact topic and begin to ask themselves: “what was the topic of last Tuesday’s session?”.
So we decided, on some courses, to structure content in a single area without folders, giving students the possibility to search within the browser using Ctrl + F. However, this was not enough, given that some professors continued creating folders, hence, the best decision was to disable the ‘Create Folder’ button” using some CSS code we developed, Tim explains.
The ‘Create Folder’ button has been disabled for eight to nine months and students are loving it since the content is in a predictable place that is not stressful to navigate.
2. Breaking technological ‘barriers’:
One of the most stressful periods for students is during exams, a time where they will access Blackboard Learn to find the information they need. “Sometimes a student cannot quickly find the information and says: ‘I don’t know how to do this, I don’t know where it is’, and they look for a professor or technologist to help them find the content. To avoid this from happening and so that technology does not become a barrier when it comes to learning, it is necessary that everything (menu, tools and general page layout) is always in the same place. In other words, that the same templates are used to display content.”
LMS navigation becomes straightforward as things are not changing place overall. The idea is that this ends up being like using your cell phone, “you always remember where tools are located”, Tim states.
Blackboard Learn: a hub for many technologies
Besides its daily use, Tim highlights that Blackboard Learn allows the hosting of other tools. “When a student arrives and accesses the learning resources, the material, among others, through Blackboard Learn, they are accessing the center of everything. From there, other academic platforms begin to branch out, for example, Turnitin, links to Google apps, and academic repositories. The important thing is that students see the LMS as their starting point”, Tim adds.
*Tim Smale e-Learning Fellow, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences at Keele University. Photo: AFP Oli Scarff