New BTEC Moodle Concept Walkthrough (Part 1: Our Current VLE)

So far I have written about the feedback from our staff focus group sessions and shown off mock-up images of our new Dashboard and Gradebook concepts, these are just two components of a much larger restructure of our Moodle VLE which will (hopefully) provide a more logical and user friendly method for structuring courses, units and assignments.

In addition to these there will be a new student dashboard, new course dashboard for teachers, new course gradebook and ultimately a new streamlined workflow for setting everything up.

I will write more about the actual workflow for staff and post some mock-up examples of how this will look over the next week or so, we are about to move into development so these will have to be finalised very soon.  However I thought it would be nice if I first gave a proper explanation of the proposed changes and introduce designs for the new system that you may not have seen yet.

So first of all I’ll give an overview of our existing VLE system

My Courses

We are currently using the “My” area of Moodle as the initial landing page after logging in (we call it “My Courses”), although I have made a few tweaks to it in our theme the functionality is essentially the same; users are presented with a list of course pages in which they have been given a role…

The "My Courses" page lists course pages that users are enrolled in.

The “My Courses” page lists course pages that users are enrolled in.

As mentioned in previous posts, this can get a bit unwieldy if BTEC courses are structured using a separate page for each unit of the course.  BTEC students can end up with 20 -30 pages listed here and they are not necessarily in a sensible order.

To make things more confusing and difficult to work with, none of the detail within the unit pages bubbles up to the My Courses page by default.  I have applied some customisations within the theme to bring out assignment deadlines but these only show as alerts when there are less than 10 days to go.

From the BTEC user’s perspective there is no overview of the course as a whole, students can see all the units but they need to actually go into each unit to see what assignments need submitting and when, they also have to keep checking if they are expecting feedback.

Course Pages

Our current course format has seen a lot of development to make improvements from the “topics” format provided within Moodle by default, all based on feedback from students and teachers in previous rounds of development.

When we originally put together our VLE system (just over 12 months ago) one of the main issues I was asked to address was the need to separate out course pages into sections to make vital content and functions easier to navigate.

So our tabbed course format contains the following sections…

  • Course Information – standard Moodle topics layout
  • Social Stream – custom learning community & social media integration
  • Course Files – central files area
  • Reading List – integrated with library system
  • Assignments – custom assignments list and grade book

Although we have received great feedback the format still does not work effectively for BTECs; the Social Stream and Reading List tabs were designed to be central course resources, however if units are separated out into their own pages then we end up with 20-30 Social Streams per course. This quickly becomes difficult to keep track of for staff and students.

Assignments, Grading Methods & Gradebook

Assignments are set as discrete activities within a course page in Moodle, by default there is a Gradebook in each course area which aggregates all the grades and feedback from assignments and other activities.

If you have more than 5 assignments this gets pretty ugly!

I have taken this further within our existing course format by including an Assignments section (see Course Pages above), this aggregates just the assignment activities and lists them all on the one page separate from the main gradebook. If this page is viewed by a teacher then it will show the number of submissions for each assignment, if viewed by a student then it will show the submission date and a “Submit Now” button.

Things begin to fall down for BTEC courses when it comes to Grading Methods and Scales. There has been no standardisation across the college so we have the Advanced BTEC Grading method (which does help but has some limitations), a standard BTEC grading scale and we also have outcomes enabled. Unfortunately a mixture of all three are in use, sometimes even within the same course!

This is very confusing for students, especially when the way grades are represented can be different between units depending on the grading methods employed by different teachers the course. It also becomes impossible to report on, especially when trying to produce an overview of student progress across all units within a whole course.

Next Steps

With all this in mind it is possible to see how we can make some major improvements, along with constructive feedback from focus groups we been able to put together a pretty good picture of where our current VLE structure is failing BTEC students and teachers.

In part 2 of this post I will provide a walk through of how we plan to address these problems to improve the experience for our users.

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