An Excellence Gateway case study
Published: 19 November 2010
This case study was produced by JISC RSC (Regional Support Centres) London on behalf of the Excellence Gateway.
Sector relevance: Further education and Sixth Form colleges
Keywords: Improving teaching and learning; improving responsiveness to learners; improving institutional effectiveness; personalisation of learning; formative assessment; giving feedback to learners; independent learning; motivating learners; formative assessment; portfolios; reflective practice; summative assessment; work-based assessment; attendance monitoring; behaviour management; learner progress data; learners' progress; motivating learners; reflective practice; target-setting (learners); achievement rates; attainment; celebrating success; success rates; positive progression initiatives; development of teaching and learning resources; sharing/using good practice; management information system; equality and diversity awareness; value for money; managing change; staff development; information standards and interoperability; managed learning environment; communication
Lewisham’s learner portal, eME, delivers personalised information to learners rather than requiring users to search for it within a mass of college systems. The portal epitomises a philosophy of education in which learners are empowered and have control over their own learning coupled with aggregated systems to support this process. eME allows users to assume responsibility for their own learning by devolving control through a variety of integrated tools. It also enables learners to share their ideas and work with their peers as part of the learning journey.
About Lewisham College
Lewisham College is a large further education college in South East London. It operates from two sites in Lewisham and Deptford, and works with a diverse range of partners including schools, universities, trade unions, businesses and public sector organisations.
Lewisham’s reputation for innovation and excellence was first formally recognised with a Beacon Status award in 1999. The College now has four Beacon awards and in April 2006, went on to receive an overall grade of 'outstanding' from Ofsted.
Lewisham College has an annual budget of around £38 million, which funds provision for 16,000 students. Almost half of these students live in the London Borough of Lewisham, while most of the others come from adjoining boroughs.
Lewisham is recognised as one of the most employer-responsive colleges in the country. In December 2007, the College was awarded the Training Quality Standard, and it has received accreditation for vocational excellence in information and communication technologies.
Lewisham College's portal project was funded by Becta (the former government ICT agency) and managed as part of the 'Transforming curriculum delivery through technology' programme. The project aimed to make efficient and effective use of technology to provide modern and accessible integrated systems to support academic, social and pastoral activity and including direct access to data. This initiative built upon Lewisham’s work on personalisation incorporating the ‘Learner Voice’, learner autonomy and ownership to provide added flexibility, adaptability and extended access to learning.
“We developed a vision of where we wanted to be. From this and our underlying principle of personalisation, the idea of the learner portal emerged”.
Patricia Forrest, Head of e-Learning and Innovation
The challenge was to reduce the cumbersome and bureaucratic systems of planning, recording and monitoring learner progress and so to help transform teaching and support practices. Lewisham set out to achieve this with integrated systems that are accessible via a single sign-on from both in and out of the College.
Image 1: 'The Vision' – Lewisham College's learning strategy underpinned by the principle of personalisation
Lewisham College shared its vision with leading learning platform suppliers. Each supplier was invited to present on how their product/service could help deliver Lewisham’s vision for a learner portal.
The final decision was reached in May 2009 with Lewisham College opting for a Moodle service contract with the University of London Computer Centre (ULCC) (a Moodle partner). Moodle provided most of the functionality Lewisham needed but, crucially, as an open-source product, this choice offered the College the opportunity for a customised solution and the chance to influence future developments in line with its vision of personalisation.
The new Lewisham College learner portal comprises three core elements:
- Moodle (replacing Blackboard) – an online course management system
- Mahara– a reflective e-portfolio
- e-PDP– a personal development plan
The learner portal went live in September 2009. Staff were trained on Moodle and the e-PDP between June and September.
Priority was given to getting all the ‘heavy users’ of Blackboard trained quickly. The e-learning and innovation team helped to move their content using the zip tool Bfree. However, teachers were also encouraged to review their existing course content and to extend their use of Moodle to make full use of its interactive tools. The next priority was the introduction of the e-PDP to replace the paper-based ‘Student Planner’.
The e-PDP is supporting learners to become more independent, confident and self-directed by helping them to understand how to articulate their personal goals and evaluate their progress towards them.
Learners set their targets and reflect on their progress supplemented by termly tutor progress reviews on their e-PDP. They also regularly check their attendance and punctuality records, timetable and EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance) and financial status – all pulled from the College's management information system (MIS) system and seamlessly displayed to learners via the learning portal.
A personalised programme of eCPD has been developed to upskill staff to enable them to use technology effectively. Members of the e-Learning and Innovations team work closely with senior practitioners, providing advice and development opportunities for all staff.
Each school within the College was allocated a liaison person within the team who provided tailored training in groups or on a one-to-one basis, together with online support.
The Mahara e-portfolio (MyPortfolio) was not ‘rolled out’ at this stage because of limitations on time, but it was made accessible to staff and students. Both Patricia Forrest, Head of e-Learning and Innovation, and Jo Burbidge, Projects and Innovation Manager, were surprised to find staff and students taking up Mahara independently and using it for their eCPD, reflective blogs, interactive CVs and for social networking.
Even without a training focus, Mahara has generated enthusiasm. Patricia Forrest puts its success amongst students down to some similarities with Facebook.
Cumbersome and bureaucratic systems of planning, recording and monitoring learner progress have been improved through the integration of these systems coupled with a clear strategy to transform teaching and support practices.
Learners and staff now have direct access to the following:
- Course content 24/7
- Assessment and feedback opportunities
- Interactive CVs
- Support from many college agencies
- Monitoring and guidance
- Individual target setting
- Reflection tools
- Integrated college/course/personal calendars
- Attendance, punctuality, financial and EMA records
- Latest information on college life
- Opportunities for learners to have their say
- Clubs and forums
- A social networking site
One of the key improvements for users when they first log in to eME is the clear signposting of the tools and services available to them. Along with access to their own personalised information and course area, the portal gives staff and students instant access to general college news, ‘what’s on’ information, along with topical features on health, bullying, Black History Month, etc. Interactive polls and quizzes on the front page of eME “take the temperature of the College” giving immediate feedback on how satisfied/safe students feel on site.
Participation by students in feedback on their course, their progress, support services, etc, has also increased with the introduction of online learner surveys. Before an internal inspection takes place, a link to the survey is sent out to students. Compared to a relatively low response to previous face-to-face feedback events, these online surveys have attracted 90% response rates and provide quality managers with much better information about the learner experience at Lewisham in advance of classroom observations.
Image 2: Staff eCPD reflections
“I think eME is such a wonderful resource which encourages independent learning thus raising skills and aspirations. It makes integrated delivery easy (my students can practise/improve a myriad of skills whilst using eME without even realising!)”
A member of staff at Lewisham College
By introducing open-source approaches to the learner portal, Lewisham College has achieved yearly savings of over £50,000 in annual licenses. This has also allowed it to build on additional functionalities and respond to learner needs at a faster rate than previously using proprietary systems.
The College also has a strong track record of collaborative working with other providers, as Patricia Forrest says:
“We work on the principle of colleges getting together, identifying funding and developing new models to support personalisation, ensuring that everyone else in the sector benefits from it.”
Patricia has encountered a lot of interest from colleagues in other colleges thinking of migrating from proprietary to open-source solutions, especially the daunting prospect of moving the whole college from one system to another.
“We believe that our shared knowledge and expertise around the concept of the ‘Learner Portal’ with many sector providers has acted as a catalyst for change and adoption for many leading to financial savings as well as increased collaboration in the sector.”
Other systems and tools in use include Turnitin– which is embedded into Moodle to counter plagiarism – and the Heritage library system, which enables students to book a PC and manage their book loans through eME.
Lewisham has recently adopted Google Docs and other ‘cloud computing’ solutions as part of a further move away from in-house storage and email. College tutors have been active in driving this, making use of features such as synchronous editing and easy feedback to students, while the e-Learning team investigates the best out-sourcing solution for storage and video-conferencing and how these services might be integrated into eME.
Future ambitions for the learner portal include the introduction of AJAX technologies for an (iGoogle-type) interactive web experience for users and the integration of Assessment Manager to support assessment, track evidence and facilitate verification requirements for workplace training.
Key lessons learnt
- Greater development and customisation potential of open-source against proprietary solutions
- Outsourcing hosting has enabled the College to move quickly to implement new services and avoids need for in-house expertise
- Interoperability– seamless through open-source applications like Moodle, Mahara and e-PDP
- Provide bespoke training– one-to-one, group and online to support the introduction of new systems
- Collaboration and mutual support– a cost-effective model for the sector
- Lewisham College website
- Lewisham eME Student Portal
- University of London Computer Centre (ULCC) website
- For more information about this case study, email the JISC Regional Support Centre for London.
Read other related case studies
- Lewisham College: Personalisation and mobile learning at the heart of the learning strategy
- North Hertfordshire College: Improving the learner's journey through the use of technology
Disclaimer: The Regional Support Centres (RSC) and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) support the development of educational e-learning. In the case study, we may refer to specific products, processes or services by trade name, trademark, manufacturer or otherwise, or link to websites or supporting material. Such references are not endorsements or recommendations and should not be used for product endorsement purposes.