The upgrade of Learn VLE to Learn Ultra at The University of Edinburgh

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In this Spotlight on Learn Ultra post, Melissa Highton introduces the Learn Ultra project, which will upgrade the Learn VLE to the newest version. Melissa is Director of Learning, Teaching and Web in the Information Services Group and Assistant Principal for Online Learning.

The upgrade of Learn VLE to Learn Ultra is the next step in our VLE Excellence programme. You may remember from previous Teaching Matters posts about how our virtual learning environment (VLE) at Edinburgh is evolving, and that this is a multi-year process of continual improvement for a key service. The aim of the VLE Excellence programme is to ensure an enhanced experience for staff and students that supports learning and teaching.

Learn VLE does a lot of heavy lifting for the delivery of teaching and learning and thousands of people log into it every day to find what they need. This platform has not been substantially upgraded for more than 10 years and, although there is never a good time to upgrade your VLE, I am sure that this is the best time for Edinburgh. The Learn Ultra programme is a three-year project. We will start with early adopters to ensure that we gain specific insight into how the system needs to be tailored to the teaching at Edinburgh.

We will be using this Teaching Matters blog series as a place to share information about the ways in which Learn Ultra will support curriculum transformation, learning for sustainability, improving the student experience, sense of belonging and inclusion and accessibility throughout the programme.

There is a sense of urgency now about making this move. With the promise of so much transformation in our curriculum and all work going on in Schools to prepare new pathways for learning, we must ensure that our platforms are up to date. It would be a big risk to the University’s ambitions for teaching if we were asking colleagues to build a new curriculum in an outdated platform.

I have assembled a high-level steering group for the programme and, as with other learning technology projects, we will be working closely with academic user groups, implementation groups, and learning technologists in Schools. You can find out who your local representative is by visiting the Learn Ultra Project SharePoint Site.

The vendor (Blackboard) have significantly overhauled the user interface and navigation of Learn VLE so users will soon see changes. I expect there will be a process of ‘un-learning  and then re-learning’ the basic tasks you do every day, but I am sure that many of the features which are being introduced are very much in line with the kind of things colleagues have been requesting in feedback and lessons learned during the last two years.

We have been carrying out detailed user experience (UX) research with students. You can read about the research we have done on the Learn Ultra Project Blogs. Student and staff feedback will ensure that we design the basics well from the start and students will be included in the programme at all levels. They will be represented on the steering group and in the user groups. The student voice will be integrated through the UX research, and students will be employed to support the migration of content, gaining expertise in making materials accessible and understanding how course spaces can be optimised for learning.

I will be using a range of communication channels in the hope of reaching all colleagues who use Learn VLE for teaching. This includes course leaders and programme teams for undergraduate, postgraduate and online courses. There will be training available for you, and guidance coming out of the experiences of early adopters. If you are not signed up to the Learn VLE service newsletter, please do so via this link to subscribe to the Learn VLE newsletter.

photograph of the authorMelissa Highton

Dr Melissa Highton is Assistant Principal Online Learning and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services (LTW) in Information Services Group. Melissa leads services and projects in support of the University’s strategic priorities for digital and distance education on global platforms, blended learning on campus, virtual learning environments, technology enhanced learning spaces, the digital student experience and use of the web for outreach and engagement. She has particular interests in digital skills, open educational resources, equality and diversity and online media. Follow her on Twitter @HoneybHighton

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