The following is a guest post written by Gerald Haigh.
The Isle of Wight College offers a broad range of courses to approximately 8000 learners and is the main provider of further education for its island community. Graded ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, IW College has a reputation for excellence and innovation, and this is reflected in the recent adoption of LMS365, the Microsoft Office 365 learning management system developed by Microsoft Partner ELEARNINGFORCE.
The deployment of LMS365 together with a well-developed and increasingly successful bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy is beginning to transform teaching and learning at the College. Learners are becoming more independent, and lecturers are able to support them, individually and as groups, rather than simply deliver content. At the same time, the College is making considerable progress in meeting the 2014 ‘FELTAG’ (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) requirement for greater understanding and use of digital technology in support of learning across the FE and Skills sector.
Office 365, rather than a single product, is an integrated suite which, as a cloud service, is updated and added to as both technology and classroom practice move on into new territories. To look at the various Office 365 applications is to see immediately the potential for a full learning management system with the attributes of a proprietary VLE but, crucially, more flexible, more responsive to change, more easily tailored to the immediate and future requirements of the user.
LMS365, developed by ELEARNINGFORCE, sets out to enhance the potential of Office 365 as a powerful support system for education. Particularly important for the FE sector, is that LMS365 can become the core of a full e-learning system providing individual independent learning while, at the same time making full use of collaborative features within Office365. Paul Andringa, LMS365 Product Manager at ELEARNINGFORCE explains its origins:-
"We started with an on-premise, server-based SharePoint LMS, but the arrival of Office 365 opened up new opportunities in education to deliver and track courses, training materials and assessments on a ‘software as a service’ basis. It’s much easier for colleges and schools to maintain and use Office 365 without the need for new servers."
A start was made with a SCORM player, enabling the delivery of course materials for e-learning. From there, says Paul, LMS365 expanded to become a suite of tools which, as the ELEARNINGFORCE website has it:
"Helps learners find the training they need, identifies training they might need, and ensures participation in the training they're required to complete."
The two most obvious overall features of LMS365 are, firstly, that it is all online and immediately accessible from any device with a browser. Secondly – and this become more obvious as you look further into it – it has the potential to free college staff, both academic and administrative, and the students themselves, swathes of time-consuming bureaucracy. It achieves this by guiding users along, so that not only do they always know what needs to be done next, but the necessary prompts and resources are ready and waiting.
‘Course Creator’, for example, enables staff to put together new courses (or modify existing ones) defining learning modules, assigning staff and students, setting out any pre-requisites and generally facilitating all of the associated administration.
‘Module builder’ pulls together all the necessary content – PowerPoints, Office Mix and ‘Sway’ presentations, ‘SCORM’ content, YouTube or other video, SharePoint resources, web links for the various learning modules in a course. The builders of the modules can insert quizzes of numerous different types as necessary, track student progress in detail, make rules about allowing progression to the next module.
As always, though, the real quality comes out in the detail. Some of the striking features that stand out, even in a short run through of the system, include;
- Consistency of presentation and experience – the user meets the same interface, with elements in the same position at each level of the system.
- Ease of importing resources - A learning module can include a huge range of resources of different kinds from many sources.
- Detailed tracking. Learning managers can know every student’s rate of progress through a module, the number of attempts made and the score at each question in a quiz. Each student, similarly, knows exactly where they are within a course, a module and a unit. They can see how well they have done so far, and what exactly they need to do next to make progress.
- Detailed statistics - The tracking process produces a detailed picture of each student’s progress, providing information that can be used to help or advise the student and/or suggest the possible need for changes in teaching or the course content. Senior managers have a clear picture of performance by course, by module, by units within a module, by teaching group and individual student. By the same token, a lecturer or manager can take a student through his or her record of work and achievement showing hard evidence of where there are weaknesses and strengths.
- The insertion of quizzes – and there is a wide choice of formats - into the learning journey is a key part of the tracking process, allowing student and teacher to check progress and identify strengths and weaknesses. ‘Which answers were wrong? Why? Did the student not study the unit well enough? Was the unit itself not clear enough?
- Tailor made - Learning managers can write every feature and component of LMS365, including titles and descriptions, to reflect the preferences and conventions of their institution.
LMS365 at Isle of Wight College
For an insight into the implementation of LMS365 at The IW College, I spoke to Pete Gallop, Head of Technical Services, Jo Lutas, Head of Child Care and Adrian Trill, SharePoint Developer.
Pete Gallop explains,
"We had Moodle as our VLE and when Office 365 came along, we saw it primarily as a useful tool for student email and storage as it did not have sufficient functionality to make it into a VLE."
Pete went on to explain that their original reason for working with ELEARNINGFORCE was because they needed the SCORM player which is part of the LMS365 offering. Very quickly, it became apparent that the full LMS365 suite offered the tools required to support blended and independent learning.
Using LMS365 to the full would support the current move to introduce different styles of teaching and learning. It was decided that the best way to test the concept was to focus on one department, in this case Child Care. As Jo Lutas explains:
"It’s a big pilot, with one hundred and twenty students... Because we needed it to be realistic."
The aims were to research e-learning, upskill teaching staff in new delivery methods, and change the culture of working with fixed IT installations into something more mobile and flexible based around ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD). Teaching staff would use flipped and blended learning methods, working alongside and moving among students, tablets in hand, linking to a screen at the front of the classroom, providing support rather than delivering lecture content.
In order to do this, Microsoft Office 365 was established as the working environment, desktop computers were removed and replaced by Surface Pro3s for all staff. Large (60inch) screens were installed in five teaching rooms, connected to the Surface devices via Microsoft Display Adaptors. Student desktop computers were replaced by a laptop library, and a BYOD policy was encouraged amongst the learners. Students working on Level 2 courses and above are expected to bring their own devices. Lutas continues:
"Producing materials was easy - we used the MS Office suite with Mix, embeded video and the LMS365 Quiz builder. These were then packaged and loaded onto our Office 365 site with the ELEARNINGFORCE course builder."
The reported benefits of the e-learning pilot include increased differentiation, because students can work at their own pace, better tracking of student progress, the use of familiar software which also gives experience in transferable skills for later in life. All of this brings valuable savings of teaching and admin time and resources, with much less paperwork.
Student feedback has been enthusiastic.
"I found it really useful and helpful especially with the questions half way through that made me think and realise I had actually listened and took it in and did know the answer. (It)Was good to be able to pause and go back to hear it again."
(After a demonstration of Bushcraft Knives (saws don’t get burrs!) on the big screen)
"Wow, Now I get what seeing burrs on the edge of a blade is all about. Before when people pointed them out because they are so tiny I wasn’t able to see. I love this new technology."
Pete Gallop says, ‘The take-up for learning with IT was slow, but the arrival of ELEARNINGFORCE and LMS365 turned the tables. There’s less and less resistance. Sign-ons to the system have almost doubled in a year (125000 to 226000).
Adrian Trill adds,
"Simplicity was the key - If you can use Microsoft Word you can use this – you do not even need to have a copy of Word as it comes free with Office 365. you can just open LMS365 in your browser. LMS365 also enables us to use SCORM materials supplied by external providers – such those from the Heart of Worcestershire College Blended Learning Consortium, and we can also produce SCORM packages from providers such as the City and Guilds, who have a large amount of material which can be adapted for online use."
Jo Lutas says, ‘With ELEARNINGFORCE and LMS 365, meeting the FELTAG agenda becomes a real possibility.’
While the FELTAG agenda is a catalyst for technology across the FE and Skills sector, the real bonus is that if the right technology is carefully chosen and properly used by teachers and learners who understand the potential for different kinds of learning.
The learners benefit and so does the efficiency of the college.