This project will review the current use of the University’s main virtual learning environment, Blackboard Learn, and support the adoption of a standard course presentation across the institution, as outlined in proposals to the Senate Learning & Teaching Committee on 20th September 2017. Feedback from the Learning and Technologies Advisory Group (LTAG) indicates some work on the graphic design would be welcome, and Headscape have identified the need for the VLE services to be more clearly identified with the University. The proposals support the University’s Learning and Teaching Strategy with the aim to improve NSS scores as a result of consistency in VLE course outlines. Whilst the main focus of the project is to improve Undergraduate courses in the VLE, we expect the project to deliver benefits that can be applied to all types of course, including blended and fully online. The project will run 2017-19.

Inconsistency in the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) has led to dissatisfaction amongst students across the HE sector and analysis of the NSS data indicates that the introduction of a standard may address some areas of dissatisfaction (Reed et al, 2015). The largest VLE used at Edinburgh is Blackboard Learn, used by over 80% of our academic courses. Consultations in 2016-17 with staff and students by the Learn Service team and the commissioned Headscape review in 2016 indicate that inconsistencies across all our internal and external systems cause frustration and dissatisfaction for students.

A recent ISG innovation fund project looking at students’ perceptions of Learn indicates that accessing course content and information in a clear and consistent way is a priority for students. This is supported by wider research on students’ negative experiences of digital technology in Higher Education (Selwyn, 2016) as well as the importance of ‘hygiene factors’; the extrinsic factors that can impact on satisfaction and well-being in places of work and study.

The recent change in NSS questions to shift focus toward how IT ‘supports students’ learning’ rather than on access alone means that addressing these inconsistencies in online student experience needs to be a priority.

Research indicates that minimal VLE standard is a hygiene factor that can address areas of dissatisfaction as well as provide the foundation upon which learning and teaching innovation may flourish (Reed et al, 2015).

Many other Universities have already implemented standards or thresholds for VLE usage, including: Surrey, York, Oxford, Edge Hill, Swansea, Aston, Newcastle, Sheffield Hallam, York St John, Surrey, Aberystwyth, South Wales, Cardiff, Leicester, Northampton and Bedfordshire.


This project aims to improve the digital experience for all students and users of the VLE, specifically by addressing two key priorities in the 2017 Learning and Teaching Strategy:


  1. Improve the digital experience for all students and users of the VLE by reviewing and enhancing ‘the experience of students on joint Honours programmes’ and thereby reducing the citation of Learn as a source of dissatisfaction.
  2. reviewing the way our ‘digital estates support high quality learning and teaching and interaction between staff and students’.

It will do this by evaluating current inconsistencies in the way that courses are presented and navigated in Blackboard Learn and seek to adopt a consistent standard for all programmes of study, including Joint Honours programmes.

Progress and outputs from the VLE Standards work will be included in institutional reporting to the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland (QAA).

This project will also work closely with the teams working on the new lecture recording and Resource Lists services, the leads of which will be part of the project steering group, to ensure that they are integrated into the standard VLE course presentation. The  project will aim to build on lessons learned from the VLE Consolidation projects and outputs from Service Excellence and the User Centred Portal project by delivering cultural change via better more consistent use of the VLE.


Objectives and Deliverables


Objective / Deliverable Ref





Baseline VLE usage in UoE.



Establish project governance.



Conduct consultation exercise to benchmark current VLE usage and identify challenges in adopting standards.



Pilot across one or more schools / programmes to assess feasibility and resourcing for standard course design in Learn. 


D1.4 Complete Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA). MUST
D1.5 Recommendations Report July 2018 outlining options for next steps to roll out to wider institution. MUST
D1.6 Agree plan based on 2017/18 review and pilot(s). MUST
D1.7 Agree and document VLE Standard policy/guidance. SHOULD


Adoption of an institution-wide VLE standard.



Creation and management of  VLE Standard templates within the VLE.



Agree Communications plan for rollout of new standards.​



Agree Support and Training plan(s) for rollout of new standards.​


D2.4 Rollout of standards across agreed set of courses. MUST

Embed agreed standard templates into IS VLE service and activities including subsequent upgrades, training and advice.

D2.6 Ongoing review and consultation of adoption of VLE standards and technical assets. MUST
O3 Deliver a more consistent and improved VLE  Experience.  
D3.1 Review baseline measures for areas to be targetted including reducing mentions of VLE as source of dissatisfaction. MUST

Set targets for improvements in agreed areas including Resource Lists and Lecture Recording.

D3.4 Review and set targets to reduce staff dissatisfaction in VLE use. SHOULD

Benefits and Success Criteria

  • Develop a deeper understanding of our user requirements and priorities with regards to use of the VLE
    • Acquired via desk research and user consultation across all schools/colleges, Measured through collation of the following and presented as published report
    • Previous UK and International research
    • User Experience analysis
    • Consultation/feedback gathered via multiple methods, including surveys and focus groups


  • Greater consistency in course presentations within the VLE leading to student satisfaction with VLE and location of key course information within the VLE.
    • Measured by NSS, case studies and other surveys – with fewer incidences of students citing the VLE and navigation of courses as a source of frustration
    • Comparison will be undertaken with existing baseline and available evaluations


  • Better student experience for those studying on Joint Honours programmes, especially where those programmes are across two schools
    • Measured via targeted piloting of VLE Standards on Joint Programmes and evaluated via case studies and focus groups indicating that consistency has resolved a source of student dissatisfaction on Joint Honours programmes.


  • Supporting and enhancing the requirements of the Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy (2016) by extending to the online domain.
    • Measured by potential updating of existing policy or drafting of new one to demonstrate support for this standard.


  • Enable greater scaffolding and support for academic and professional staff to develop courses in a more consistent way, and create a greater understanding of how the VLE works to support their course context

    • Measured by increase of training sessions attendances, support material/guidance, example courses and templates
    • Positive feedback from school support staff , Case studies and evaluation that templates have improved support for course development within the VLE.
    • Additional training materials and support documents (materials can be aligned to promote consistency and be made relevant and accessible to more staff and students)


  • Schools can benefit from approaches already being adopted by other schools/units/programmes as key elements and exemplary behaviours will become more visible
    • Statistics from tool review to see trends in course structure and usage compared to courses prior to template (Quantitative)
    • Improved connections within Learn User Group and other Learning Technology initiatives for sharing focussed interests in course development (Qualitative)

Project Milestones

Target Datesort descending Title Stage
15-Dec-2017 End of Planning Plan
19-Jan-2018 Establish Project Board Execute
18-May-2018 Complete Consultation exercise Execute
25-May-2018 New Templates Available Deliver
15-Jun-2018 Recommendations Report Deliver
22-Jun-2018 Agree Terms of Reference for Pilot(s) Semester 1 (2018/19) Deliver
14-Dec-2018 Complete Pilot(s) Semester 1 (2018/19) Execute
25-Jan-2019 Review Pilot(s) and Agree plan for Rollout Execute
25-Jan-2019 Agree Communications Plan Execute
25-Jan-2019 Agree Support & Training Plan Execute
24-May-2019 Institutional Templates Available Deliver
28-Jun-2019 Complete Rollout across institution Deliver
30-Aug-2019 Post Rollout Support Deliver
13-Sep-2019 Delivery Sign Off Review Deliver
27-Sep-2019 Project Closure Close

Project Info

VLE Standards
ISG - Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL)
Management Office
Project Manager
Laura Woods-Dunlop
Project Sponsor
Melissa Highton
Current Stage
Start Date
Planning Date
Delivery Date
Close Date
Programme Priority
Overall Priority