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Digital Learning Environment Project

Learn more about the Flexible Learning Programme's Digital Learning Environment Project - what we've achieved, where we are now, and the next steps.

What is the DLE project?

In May 2021, in support of the Flexible Learning Programme, a group of colleagues from across the University began to review what we want to see from our Digital Learning Environment (DLE) and what support will be needed – with a view to delivering a new DLE over the next three to five years.

The DLE project sits within the Technology workstream of the Flexible Learning Programme, and is led by Caroline Bowsher (Flexible Learning Academic Lead for the Digital Learning Environment and Professor in Biology).

Definitions

The term ‘Digital Learning Environment’ includes our Central Learning Environment (CLE), alongside the wide range of other digital tools and applications required to support teaching and learning.

The CLE is an environment which structures – and allows students and staff to navigate – learning content and tools. This may be a previously recognised Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) such as Blackboard, or another system such as Teams.

Why now?

A Digital Learning Environment (DLE) is as important to a university as its buildings and teaching spaces. It is impossible to imagine a university delivering teaching without the support of digital tools and online content delivery – particularly as we continue our journey towards more flexible and blended learning.

At the centre of the DLE is the CLE. Our current CLE system, Blackboard Learn, has been in place for 14 years and is due for renewal in 2025. Procurement, implementation, and business change for a replacement will take a minimum of three years to achieve so there can be no delay in starting the process. We need to act now to ensure all students can continue to access a rich and engaging learning experience (alongside our flexible learning ambitions) once our current contract comes to an end.

The DLE review

Before we could start to identify future DLE solutions, we first needed to review and define the current state and future needs of the DLE – including scope, objectives and outcomes.

In May 2021, the DLE review group was established.

Between August 2021 and February 2022, we held over 20 sessions with subject matter experts across the University to get their input.

In January and February 2022, we held four workshops with over 160 students and staff to get their views on our future DLE. Over 1000 comments were collected, and between February and April 2022, we used all the feedback gathered to create a set of requirements for our future DLE.

In June 2022, we held an update meeting for all staff to share our findings and update on next steps. Over 100 members of university staff attended the meeting – you can find the materials from the meeting below:

  • Meeting slides (which include a full list of the review group members and more information on our requirements and recommendations)
  • Notes from the meeting including answers to questions submitted by attendees 

Based on the feedback received from students and staff, a series of requirements were collated. These requirements informed a series of recommendations and next steps – which are captured in the final DLE review report.

Take a look at our interactive presentation which explores the DLE report in brief. 

 

Or:

The DLE Advisory Group

For the next stage of the DLE project, a DLE Advisory Group has been formed. Its membership consists of:

  • Chair: Caroline Bowsher
  • HUMS Academic leads: Sarah Dyer, Nadim Mirshak
  • FSE Academic leads: Niels Walet, James Brooks
  • FBMH Academic leads: Andrew Hall, Jane Mooney
  • ITL lead: Hannah Cobb
  • E-Learning lead: Dan Jagger
  • Head of Digital Learning: Ian Hutt
  • Academic Lead Digital Learning: Stephen Pettifer
  • IT (TL&SE) lead: Sharon Newton
  • IT Blackboard/VLE expert: James Newson
  • Library lead: Jennie Blake
  • Accessibility lead: Louise Pepper-Kernot
  • Student reps: Katie Jackson (Humanities Officer); Raheel Ansari (FSE Officer); Ansab Ali (Research Officer)
  • Business architect: Stephen Dashfield
  • Academic theme lead for Assessment (Flexible Learning Programme): Miriam Firth
  • Academic theme lead for Digital Learning (Flexible Learning Programme): Jane Mooney
  • Academic theme lead for Flexible Pathways (Flexible Learning Programme): Angela Davies

The following roles will support the group as directed by the chair:

  • Business analysts: Gavin Sugg, Helen Baxter, Pamela Ransome, Gauthami Talla 
  • Admin support: Harry Schofield
  • Engagement and communications lead: Adele Wilkinson
  • Change management lead: Evelin Peil
  • Project management lead: Chris Cookson

DLE timeline

We are now moving into delivery of the recommendations that were created as a result of the DLE review. The table below outlines the main high-level deliverables: 

Academic Year Planned activity
2022-2023

Set up Advisory Group - COMPLETED

Publish CLE tender document (further details below) - COMPLETED

Evaluate tender responses - COMPLETED

2023-2024

Award contract to chosen CLE Supplier - COMPLETED

Begin implementation process for CLE

Design evaluation processes for reviewing software in Teaching and Learning

Begin evaluation of software within Teaching and Learning

2024-2025

Release first recommended software list (September 2024)

Continue with implementation of CLE

Migrate data from existing CLE to new CLE

Training for users on CLE

2025-2026

New CLE goes live (September 2025)

Second release of recommended software list (September 2025)

2026-2027

Final release of recommended software (September 2026)

Hand over evaluation and software management processes to the responsible teams

CLE tender and usability testing

During the summer, over 260 staff and students completed usability testing on three systems: Canvas by Instructure, Blackboard Learn Ultra, and Brightspace - based on tender submissions from the three suppliers. Testers were selected from a cross-section of teams, and with a broad range of differing needs and expectations, in order to fully test the accessibility and user experience of each system.

The CLE Evaluation Panel then analysed the responses, alongside other data and criteria about each system’s ability to deliver across a number of key requirements. The system it was determined most meets the University’s requirements was Canvas by Instructure.

Instructure have been informed that they have successfully won the contract, and we are now in the midst of the ‘discovery phase’ – where, over the next three months (beginning November 2023), we will work with them to configure the system to our needs in a way that works for staff, students and the University as a whole.

We will ensure the feedback generated to date, including data from the usability testing phase, will inform the transition to Canvas – and will also continue to work closely and collaborate with students and staff from across the University. We’ll also be looking for early adopters ahead of the new system being rolled out in 2025.

To answer some of the most common questions received, we have compiled a series of FAQs which will be updated on a regular basis: 

Additional projects

Alongside the CLE project, we will also oversee a number of technology pilot projects. Further details about the scope of these will be published on this page when available. 

If you have any questions about the Digital Learning Environment review, or would like to feed in via email, please contact us atFlexibleLearning@manchester.ac.uk.