The University currently offers two centrally supported Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Blackboard Learn and Moodle. Both these services are supported by information Services (IS) and benefit from the highest level of resilience with infrastructure located in both the University's main hosting sites. These VLEs are supplemented by a range of 'best of breed' software products which offer additional support for teaching and learning activities.
Edinburgh Law School currently uses a custom-built web application (eScript) to deliver seven degree programmes by online distance learning: six LLM programmes and one PG Certificate. In 2016-17, there were 200-250 students on-programme.
In addition, eScript delivers the School’s online Continuing Professional Development (CPD) provision, with around 60 students per year.
eScript is one of many bespoke platforms commissioned by academic programmes within the University to support online learning. In common with other bespoke platforms, it provides a highly customised user experience, with a strong sense of Law School branding. However, it has not been built in a resilient manner and the technology that underpins eScript is reaching end of life. Although supported by second line support teams during standard office hours, it is not classed as High Priority in the University Disaster Recovery Classification.
Following the review undertaken by the VLE Consolidation Project (TEL038) in 2016 and subsequent consultation with the Law School, it has been agreed that the courses and functionality currently provided by eScript will be migrated to Blackboard Learn. The VLE Migration project will manage the transition from the existing eScript system to Blackboard Learn.
This project will manage the migration of eScript course content and functionality from the bespoke VLE to allow the six LLM programmes, the PG Certificate and online CPD to be delivered via Blackboard Learn.
To achieve this, this project will:
Migrate eScript course content from the existing VLE to Blackboard Learn or appropriate centrally supported service*
Migrate eScript functionality from the existing VLE to Blackboard Learn or appropriate centrally supported service*
.* There may be additional bespoke systems that have been developed as part of the eScript web application that are not ‘core’ VLE provision and that cannot be replicated in Learn. Examples in other disciplines include ‘Labyrinth’ branched scenario learning and a rotation evaluation system. If any current eScript functionality cannot be provided by Learn an alternative solution will be identified and delivered as part of the project.
If new/additional functionality or features are requested and additional time or resource is required to deliver this, all efforts will be made to include this in the project but it will be subject to availability of staff and time.
Migration of course content and functionality will be completed by the end of June allowing the LLM programmes, the PG Certificate and Online CPD to be taught via Blackboard Learn from September 2018.
The overarching objective is to maintain a first-class student experience of online learning through the migration to a well-designed, effective, resilient and sustainable VLE and to retain the sense of community that characterises the current online learning environment.
Objectives and Deliverables
To enable the delivery of six LLM programmes, the PG Certificate and Online CPD provision via Blackboard Learn
To migrate course content from the existing VLE to Blackboard Learn or appropriate centrally supported service* by 30 Jun 2018
To migrate functionality from the existing VLE to Blackboard Learn or appropriate centrally supported service* by 30 Jun 2018
A migration plan will be agreed by the Project Board and reviewed at key checkpoints. A prototype will be created and populated, and will form the basis for the Learn VLE structure. Course content will be migrated to Learn to allow courses to be delivered.
The project aims to transfer all current eScript course content and supporting VLE processes (functionality) to Learn. It should be recognised that Learn is not a like-for-like replacement for a custom web application and there may be some constraints in the level of customisation available, as it is a proprietary system. However, Learn offers a wide range of features and is already used extensively by the University, supporting 4,825 (79%) of its academic courses with an average of 549,000 logins per month (academic year 2016-17).
The project will be supported by colleagues in Educational Design and Development and Digital Learning and Media to ensure the School’s requirements are understood and matched with Learn’s capabilities as far as possible.
An archive of the current eScript system will be provided to allow access for current and interrupted students, as well as staff, to view their original materials. This will be in read-only format and they will be expected to use Learn once launched for any current course requirements. It should be noted that the technology underpinning the eScript platform is approaching end of life and is unlikely to be supported by Microsoft beyond 2020, so there are sound technical reasons to reduce dependency on this technology in the short to medium term.
A documented operational support model will be developed, including additional support for the year following go-live.
The vision of Edinburgh Law School is to have the best possible online platform to support its teaching, producing competitive and attractive online courses that encourage other colleagues within the Law School & beyond to use and develop the online environment.
The overarching benefit of the project will be to maintain the positive student and staff experience of the virtual Learning environment that underpins Law School online teaching, ensuring that it is based on resilient infrastructure.
Moving to Blackboard Learn brings the Law School online programme in line with the rest of the organisation, providing a consistent user experience and facilitating cross-programme teaching. Learn also offers time saving benefits in annual course preparation work, for example automatic course creation, bulk student and staff upload are all facilitated by links with EUCLiD.
This also provides a more sustainable solution, allowing the School to take advantage of centrally provided IS support, training, documentation and consultancy as well as improved service continuity and disaster recovery provision.
The Edinburgh Law School Online Programmes will be ready to be delivered through Blackboard Learn from July 2018. This will include migration of current content and functionality to the new environment.
Where eScript functionality cannot be provided by Learn, an alternative solution will be identified and delivered as part of the project.
Student and staff experience of the Learn virtual learning environment and of the migration process should be positive. This should be tested by survey during the year following launch (this will be a post-project activity).