Paul Westmore, IT Director at the University of Plymouth, explains how a single sign-on digital learning environment has helped the institution create an edgeless edtech learning experience for its 20,000+ students…
Plymouth’s ambitious digital strategy describes our goal of becoming an edgeless university – our vision that students and staff can experience university entirely digitally if they want to. In order to achieve this vision, we decided we had to replace our existing module-focused virtual learning environment (VLE) with something more dynamic and flexible: something that was mobile-first, housing a range of resources and systems all behind a single sign-on.
The new digital learning environment (DLE) would become an online hub where students and staff could access all content such as lectures and course materials, submit work, receive results, and interact with each other through one online system.
We have a large student body with ever-changing wants and needs. The University of Plymouth is home to more than 20,000 students and almost 3,000 staff. A further 17,000 students are studying for a Plymouth degree at partner institutions in the UK and around the world, making Plymouth the UK’s 15th largest university. As such, we wanted to create a learning environment that was the sum of all the components that go into Plymouth’s student experience.
We asked CoSector – University of London to implement and support the hosting of Moodle, a traditional VLE based platform. However, one of the constraints of Moodle is that ordinarily documents cannot be shared with different programmes so CoSector – University of London set up a bespoke solution where the documents are held in a different system, creating one learning asset which is shared between multiple programmes.
Year-long edtech rollout pays off
During a year-long project, we rolled out the DLE across multiple sites. Today, Plymouth’s DLE brings together a number of systems integrated through Moodle as the hub. The new functions included timetable information, coursework submission, e-assessments, quizzes and ‘minimum module information’ consisting of details of each module, electronic reading lists, past exam papers, forums and wikis – all to help students make more informed decisions about their learning journeys.
Single sign-on technology provides easy integration and movement between systems such as Talis Aspire (reading lists), PebblePad (ePortfolio), Panopto (content/lecture capture), Turnitin (originality checking), in addition to a range of excellent tools including formative and summative testing, submission and feedback. A subscription to LinkedIn Learning provides a wealth of online video-based courses for staff and students to enhance their courses or develop their own skills.
The uptake and use of the system have been unprecedented. Around 13,500 students access the DLE on a daily basis and 90% of the Mobile with Plymouth App usage is now related to teaching and learning activities.
Usage of the DLE continues to grow year on year and in 2018 serviced 6,000 module sites, hosted 1,200 formative quizzes, contained nearly 30,000 embedded learning resources and supported over 8,000 eSubmissions. Students accessed over 25,000 hours of captured lecture content, viewed over 170,000 LinkedIn Learning videos and generated over 350,000 originality reports via Turnitin.
Following the integration of the new system, we received a very positive response to the National Student Survey (NSS). Some of the student feedback included; “The DLE is a fantastic and easy to use resource…” and “Resources available in the library and DLE are great, with a good range of books, articles, online seminars, etc.”
The centrality of having a single-integrated user experience has been really crucial to the success of the project. The University of Plymouth’s DLE has now become a portal into the teaching and learning community of the University.