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VLEs and other student systems

This time of year is always busy for Development Services.  By the end of July, we have to install any new systems needed for the start of the new semester in September.  This gives us a month of "normal running" which we can use to fix any unexpected problems, before the students start using the systems in earnest.  Our aim is to give the students the best service possible - ideally they should barely even notice all the IT that is making their life easier.

Each year brings its own particular focus for us.  Two years ago, the emphasis was on student administration systems, adding extra functionality alongside the new student record system.  Last year, we were busy integrating IT following the merger of the University and the Edinburgh College of Art.  This year, the focus is on the systems that students actually use directly.

Chief among these is the upgrade of the main Virtual Learning Environment.  We have run WebCT for several years.  Now we are replacing WebCT with Learn, the latest system from Blackboard (who acquired WebCT back in 2006).  This should give a welcome refresh to the experience of using the VLE and we are getting positive vibes back from many of the academic staff who have started to use it.  Distance Learning courses have the option of using our new Moodle VLE as well.

The university is also launching a major revamp of its student support.  We are currently developing some basic IT support for the first year of this new system.  Next year, we will work on a major project to significantly enhance the technical underpinnings of this new initiative.

The university portal, MyEd, is also being upgraded.  Like the VLE, the version we are currently running is a little long in the tooth and the new version should be a significant improvement.  Later in the year will we replace the student e-mail and e-diary system with Microsoft's Office 365, which will also give students the ability to use web versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint, with storage space for their documents.

More is in the pipeline for next year.  The next phase of the Shared Academic Timetabling project will give each student their own personal timetable, direct to their e-diary.  This may sound straightforward; the hard part is actually setting up the timetabling system itself.

All these new tools should give a much better service to students.  Hopefully, after the initial period of getting used to the new systems, they will be able to ignore the IT and just use it to help their studies.


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