Just finished participating in the weekly #CMALTcMOOC hangout with Thom, Todd and Ian, and decided to put out a ‘quick and dirty’ blogpost about one operational issue that I encountered this week.
Virtual Learning Environment glitch
Our institution uses its own VLE – yOUlearn – which is based on the Liferay platform, and which is continuously being designed and developed in-house. Last weekend, the system was updated and Monday morning a new version was available. Because it was the first Monday of the month, I needed to update the list of available thesis positions for our Master students.
And somehow, during the updating of the page, the named links at the top of the page would disappear, time and time again, whereas they worked fine just 10 minutes before. So I reported my experience – via e-mail – to my colleagues, the learning techs collaborating with the software developers, and suggested that it may be a bug from last weekends’ update. After about an hour of e-mail back-and-forth, we sat together at a PC, and I was able to demonstrate that I wasn’t just ‘imagining things’ or that I ‘must have made a mistake’. It turned out that an HTML-cleanup module was triggered for users with the ‘teacher’ and ‘author’ roles, and this was only supposed to trigger for users with a ‘student’ role, to prevent the addition of scripts and potentially malicious code.
Reflecting on that experience, I had several thoughts:
- It’s a good thing that the Open Universiteit is a small institution (approx. 600 staff), with close links between staff at all levels. That allowed for a quick resolution of this issue, which would have affected all teachers and tutors. Having worked at a huge institution in Leuven (with 8.000 staff), this experience would have been a bit more daunting, I presume. But then again, even a University the size of the KULeuven would never dream of developing a VLE from scratch 😉
- Through the years, colleagues have learned that I am pretty good with technology, and that makes the (learning) tech people more willing to take my experience seriously. Personal experience and reputation seem to play a role in this type of encounter. In Dave O. White’s terminology: the colleagues at the OUNL consider me as an experienced ‘digital resident’ as far as our institutional learning technology is concerned, and accordingly seem to take my input more seriously.
- The culture within the VLE development group is its own sub-culture. Their focus is on the reliability, robustness and scalability of the technology that they are developing, and not so much on the usability or functionality from a user perspective, or on the teaching and learning aspects. In my discussions with the development team, I keep bringing up the importance of having end-users (both students and teachers) closely and continuously involved in the development, but that concept seems to be so difficult – maybe even threatening – that user involvement is still very limited.
- Referring to Amber Thomas’ ALTC keynote (below), I think it is important to have individuals translate between learners, teachers, learning technologists and ICT-people. I often take the role of the ‘Tech translator’, and very much enjoy it.