Over the past six months a newly formed R&D team in CoSector have been carrying out user experience research, design and development work in order to improve the Bloom VLE service, based on the needs of the staff and students who use it daily.
The focus for the first area of work has been the student experience. The team wanted to understand the ways in which students currently use Moodle, including where and when they use it, on which devices, and what they need it for. They also wanted to find out the issues students face with Moodle and to identify opportunities for improvement.
They interviewed over 20 students from a number of different colleges and universities and received 200 student surveys. The team uncovered a range of issues, from problems first learning how to use Moodle, to difficulty uploading assignments (which can result in students losing marks if they submit late), difficulty finding content as there is so much posted, as well as the opposite: some courses that have very little material uploaded, which overall creates inconsistencies in the use and experience of the Virtual Learning Environment.
Across the range of FE, undergraduate and postgraduate students interviewed and surveyed, the team was able to identify three key areas of improvement for student users:
Three main reasons students use Bloom
- Accessing course material like lecture notes
- Uploading assignments
- Receiving grades
From there the team began to redesign the Bloom VLE, prioritising these areas. Through a series of personas, sketches, wireframes and prototypes, the team developed a range of new design proposals that have been tested with users. The findings from the testing are now informing the next phase of design work, which will continue over the coming months.
Inclusive design is an important concern in the team’s R&D process and they are in conversation with UoL’s Inclusive Practice team to explore these issues, understand the current work around them and to meet these needs in the VLE design.
Through the research the team also sought to understand the needs of distance learners and found that they can be very distinct from those of campus-based students. For example, students studying for a Master’s in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies at the School of Advanced Studies are based across the globe and rely on access to the VLE for all their course content and communication with staff and other students.
This throws up access issues: what do you do when you’re not based in Senate House? When all group work and class discussions happen online? When you may have low bandwidth or need offline access to your course materials? How can Bloom VLE cater to these needs?
The team will soon also be conducting further research with academics, learning technologists and administrators to understand how the system currently works for them and how it can be improved from their perspective. The way courses are designed and delivered of course also influences the student experience, so this next phase of work will consider the interdependencies between user groups.