Digital Learning Team   15/05/2020

News | Ideas | Events

In this special edition newsletter we reveal the winners of this year's Blackboard & VLE Awards, sharing some of the features and examples students highlighted as making a real difference to their learning.

Prof Alex NeillProfessor Alex Neill, Vice-President (Education) states:

"I would like to congratulate all of the winners and those shortlisted for the Excellence in VLE Awards this year. As always there was an incredibly impressive and noteworthy range of modules nominated and I am thrilled to share and highlight their successes, even more so as they were voted for by the people who really matter – our students.

The Awards are now into their 8th year and I am proud of the efforts our staff and students are going to enhance how we deliver education to everyone at the University -  even more so in these challenging times where new and innovative methods of teaching are more important than ever."
We'd love to hear more about what you've found works well in your VLE site - especially during this period of remote teaching.  To share ideas or seek advice from others in the community, follow us and join our conversation on the Digital Learning Connect online community

The Digital Learning team 

The (Virtual) Virtual Learning Environment Awards 

When we asked students what they valued in a virtual learning environment, we hadn't anticipated quite how much learning would be taking place in virtual spaces.  What's clear from student nominations is that the best VLE sites don't just support what happens in synchronous teaching sessions - they work in partnership with them. "The online material was used in lectures and it just made a cohesive flow that made everything seem so purposeful.”

This blended approach is particularly significant at present, and the opportunity to share examples of how learning might extend into online spaces was one we felt was valuable to take forward.

Students have submitted over 2000 nominations since the university's Blackboard & VLE Awards began, putting forward a record number of modules this year.  Undeterred by lockdown, our student judges have taken time to carefully consider all of these and shortlist the stand-out courses, then explore these sites to select the best examples.  With the final judging round taking place online, we were able to involve a comprehensive guest panel including Associate Deans for Education alongside representatives from SUSU, iSolutions and CHEP.  

Bobbi MooreBobbi Moore, Digital Learning team lead says:

"Congratulations to all our winners and shortlist - I've been blown away with the standard of courses nominated this year for the Excellence in VLE Awards 2020.   
It's also wonderful to see the launch of the Blackboard and VLE Superleague to recognise previous module winners that are consistently nominated by students year on year for their ongoing good practice and support. 
I would like to sincerely thank all the students who nominated a course this year, our course judges, as well as the Digital Learning and MLE teams for all their work making these Awards happen. And in particular, I'd like to thank Anna Ruff and colleagues who have been a driving force behind the Awards, and produced very useful resources on VLE good practice from student feedback."

The Winners
"It was really difficult to choose. I liked these as some had additional materials to push students beyond core if they wanted to, because they used simulation and videos to support understanding and or had videos to really stress key concepts all of which are excellent practice."  (Judge's comment)
Competition was - as ever - close, but after nudging ahead at each stage of the judging process the following courses were announced as this year's winners:
EDUC1059: Digital Society: Education and Learning
"It was challenging to pick from such a great selection of courses. The elements that helped me pick my winners were: clarity of structure, emphasis on collaborative and social learning, frequency of announcements / communication, openness of feedback, and breadth of resources including 'stretch' resources for students who want to go further." (Judge's comment)
FEEG1003: Thermofluids
"Thoughtful and methodical design. They promote an interactive and collaborative environment." (Judge's comment)
MEDI4022: Psychiatry
"All the courses chosen had a clear layout and a lot of time had clearly been spent adding a rich and varied collection of resources and activities. They were accompanied by clear explanations and a chatty/dynamic feel to the content. The stand out feature of these courses was their use of pre loaded materials for lectures (good for accessibility), use of flipped learning, and use of discussion and collaboration tools to provide feedback and to encourage students to be involved in the course and their own learning." (Judge's comment)
Trophies for the winning courses will be available later in the year.  
The Superleague

It's evident that many previous award-winning sites continue to provide outstanding support for students as they feature in nominations each year.  As a result, we have now introduced the VLE Awards Superleague. There are currently a selection of eight courses that meet the criteria, and we hope to work with these courses to explore ways of sharing the good practice that students recognise every year.

Staff Self-nominated Awards

This year, we asked staff to share what they were doing to support all learners in their module site, focusing on accessibility and provisions made to allow everyone to participate fully.  The judges were impressed with the imaginative and inclusive approaches to learning demonstrated in the sites put forward in this category.

PSYC2021: Language and Memory was chosen as this year's winner in the self-nominated category.  Judges' comments are below:

"This course stood out for the friendly way in which learners are coached through the course. There is clear guidance about what students need to do and where they can go if they need help. There are weekly short answer tests and taught sessions are recorded in Panopto. Students can clearly see learning outcomes for each week alongside a summary and key readings."

"This Blackboard course has a very high level of focus on supporting students as they study the module.  The care taken is evident through the attention to detail and use of a student-friendly 'voice'.  While providing resources ahead of lectures is good practice, adding further stretch questions for private learning after the lecture is rarely seen in my experience."

Later in the year, the university's Blackboard offering will include Blackboard Ally, which will further support staff in ensuring all their students can engage fully with the learning opportunities offered through the VLE.
What do this years Awards tell us about remote learning?
Common themes in student comments are collated, with students most often mentioning a clear structure as something that helped and motivated them - "Very organised and effective use of Blackboard. This makes a big difference to the amount of effort and time students put into modules, e.g. in lecture and seminar prep and involvement" - as shown in the graph above.  In this blog post, we take a look at what students' comments tell us about remote learning, identifying four key steps in the online learner journey, and considering how we can use this to progress beyond the next few months. We hope that sharing examples of good practice will help you as you move learning into a virtual environment. More examples and tips can be viewed on our Blackboard & VLE Awards homepage
"The lecturers show great efforts to communicate frequently and enthusiastically with their students, and the regular Q&A releases where lecturers release all questions they'd been emailed with answers is a great way to engage with students in a personal manner, yet still cope with the massive demands. They used visual resources and videos to great lengths and put in massive amounts of effort to ensure the students had enough information and access to helpful resources." (Judge's comment)
What next?
This year, we also ran an awards evaluation, asking ADEs, DHoSEs, former winners and shortlisted course representatives what we might do to increase the impact of the awards in offering support for colleagues and improving provision for all students.  

What are the best ways of cascading out some of the excellent and innovative ideas to colleagues?  How can peer sharing be facilitated in schools and faculties?   Particularly at a point where everyone has needed to embrace technology enhanced learning, what good practices can easily be replicated?

We are also looking at how we might work with students to take this forward, and will share findings in our blog later in the year.
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