Wednesday, 5 September 2012

September 2012 Learning Systems update

Since the last update, we’ve had two successful VLE releases, and continued the procurement process to find the replacement for our current real time collaboration system.
Over the two VLE releases we’ve added new features to ForumNG, updated the MyReferences toolset and made a number of changes to the HTML editor including improvements to its handling of TeX and MathML code and its tools for rendering tables.  In addition we’ve also made a significant number of improvements to the Structured Content tools within the VLE.  (Apology: The links within this post are only going to be reachable by members of the OU community)
In the August release we also started the pilot deployment of the new Participation Tracking report which will help the new Curriculum Support teams to identify individual users who are struggling with their studies, and who may need additional support.
There are full details of all these changes in the release notes which you can find on releases page of the online learning systems guide website.
We’ve also updated the guidance notes, the computing guide and the style guide to reflect recent changes to the VLE toolset.
As we might expect, the traffic levels on the VLE have been relatively low over the summer (about 3.5M transactions each week compared with the peak of almost 9M we saw earlier in the year) – but we're expecting the traffic levels to start picking up quite dramatically over the next few weeks.
In additon to the releases there have also been a number of back end developments carried out within the learning system team. We’ve been carrying out the preparatory work to allow us to switch the VLE over to running under the more secure HTTPS protocol – this shouldn’t make any difference to the learning experience of the users, but will enable us to have greater confidence that VLE traffic is fully protected.
Alongside that work, we’ve been evaluating Moodle 2.3.  At this point we are still running Moodle 2.2 on the OU VLE, but I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to complete the load testing to give Moodle 2.3 the go ahead over the next few weeks so that we can use this for our December release.
On the topic of releases. Over the last nine months we’ve been carrying out monthly VLE releases.  We are now going to swap back to our quarterly pattern, so our next planned release of the VLE will be in early December.
The September update was also an important release for the Quals On Line platform which is due to go live to students during the second week of September.
The procurement exercise to replace Elluminate has continued over the summer.  We are currently in discussion with a number of potential providers, and we expect to come to a conclusion at some point in November.
The final topic I want to mention in this update relates to Learning Systems team rather than to the Learning systems platforms.
As some of you will no doubt have seen from the announcement on the OU intranet, there are going to be some changes to the governance of Learning Systems within the University.  This will include the transfer of the Learning Systems team from LTS to IT at some point during the financial year that has just started.  There is currently an implementation team drawn from LTS and IT working through the implications of this change, and hopefully I’ll be in a position to say more about these changes and their timing in the next update.