Learn Foundations UX: Routes to the Virtual Classroom
As part of Learn Foundations’ latest round of user experience research, I have been interviewing students and staff about their use of real-time virtual and hybrid classrooms. This post looks at the multitude of ways students access their virtual teaching spaces and how we can make them easier to find.
As we have moved to more online teaching and learning this year, live video interactions online have become a way of life for many of us. Now that the classroom is just a click away, some might not miss the real-life adventure of a dash through rainy Edinburgh from one campus to another. But if there is less physical effort involved in arriving safely at your online classroom, there is still a good chance it won’t be as straightforward as it could be. And I can’t be the only one who’s found themselves in an empty and dark Collaborate room on occasion?
Course teams and Information Services have done amazing work to deliver live and hybrid classrooms over the past year, but the constantly evolving situation will have inevitably led to some confusing experiences for students:
- Different platforms used for different courses and even within the same course as course teams adapt to changing needs or technological limitations (real or perceived).
- The “door” into virtual classrooms in different places from one course to the next, or in more than one place.
- The virtual classroom and the virtual learning environment being entirely separate.
- Students reliant on looking out for emails or notifications containing links to live online events if last minute changes are made to course arrangements.
- Information about how and where to enter online classrooms found in different locations from course to course.
- While the approach to virtual classrooms is in flux, staff don’t have a consistent approach to setting up online sessions, causing complication and unnecessary work.
Work is continuing on many fronts to provide the tools, support and training needed to optimise the use of virtual classrooms – but how could Learn be used to help simplify how students find their way to live teaching sessions?
My recent conversations with students as part of this round of user experience research have highlighted the positive effect that a clear and logical structure in the Course Materials section of their courses has had on their learning experience. Embedding all the week’s activities into this structure in such a way that there is a clear path to follow to complete the tasks they need to for that week has been really appreciated by students as they come to terms with online learning.
Building in links to online live sessions within this weekly structure is a simple way to standardise how students find their virtual classrooms, regardless of which platform is being used. If not a single click away, the live session can easily be linked to, or signposted clearly, to prevent students from having to go hunting for the link or tool they need. Another benefit of this approach is the opportunity to engage with materials that might be needed for, or relevant to, the live session they are about to enter. And, with a clearly defined route to the virtual classroom, there will be a reduced need for staff to send out emails or announcements containing links to online classes and instructions on how to access them.
Given the challenges course teams have had to deal with in the past year it is not surprising that the approach to live classrooms has involved a degree of experimentation and improvisation. With the potential number of moving parts and infinitely customisable nature of Learn, one of the challenges for Learn Foundations’ work is to build in as much consistency as possible while still giving course instructors the flexibility they need to teach and deal with changing and unforeseen circumstances.
But while work goes on to solve the conundrum of which online live teaching platform works best, the pathway to the virtual classroom is something we can influence now to help create better experiences for students.