University of Essex
University of Essex

28 January 2013

How good data is streamlining e-learning

Filed under: Information — Tags: , , , , — Benjamin Steeples @ 2:44 pm

From the start, one of the mantras of the Learning Technology Team has been to reduce administrative load where at all possible. We’ve now got an ever-growning library of scripts and shortcuts that make our lives a little bit easier each year, but there are still many tasks that are repetitive and laborious; when doing something 100-plus times, you can guarantee that you’ll make a mistake somewhere.

As a separate development, the University has been making advancements with online timetables. These have been available for students for a few years, and this year have been made available to individual staff (ie. teaching timetables). Part of this work has been improving the quality of data; mainly ensuring that the correct teaching staff have been assigned to the correct modules.

What do online timetables have to do with e-learning, I hear you ask. Well, looking at the online timetable data gives us a very good idea of who is actually teaching a module, and in what capacity (lecturer, GTA, etc.). At the start of this academic year we undertook a small project to take this timetable data, and see if we could use it to drive access permissions to our e-learning systems. This would supplement us having to add permissions by hand, reduce the possibility of mistakes (eg. it would also remove permissions when someone stopped teaching a module), and reduce the administrative load for us and academic departments. At the time, we weren’t sure how successful this would be, but now we’re in the second term of the year w are fairly confident that it has worked as intended.

From the autumn term (Oct ’12 onwards) Online Coursework Submission (OCS), Listen Again, and Moodle have automatically assigned access and editing permissions based upon teaching timetables. We’ll be exploring whether we can automatically set permissions on the Course Materials Repository (CMR) later this summer; as part of larger CMR developments.
In terms of what permissions are being assigned, academic staff generally get editing access  (eg. Teacher role in Moodle), and GTAs are assigned read-only access (eg. Non-editing Teacher role in Moodle). Administrative staff aren’t covered by this, and we still assign their permissions by hand. All of these permissions can be overridden, so if we need to give a GTA a higher level of access, we can.

This approach still has some oddities. Since it’s based on teaching timetables, some staff have found themselves on Moodle courses that they barely have any contact with (eg. teaching for one hour in a 25 week module). Similarly, some module supervisors haven’t been given access, as they don’t have any teaching commitments on the module in question; but, as above, this can be overridden. You can help us by checking your online timetable, and informing Central Timetabling (email: CTO) if there are any corrections to be made. Within a day or two, the e-learning systems should adjust your access accordingly.