Case study: using the DLE to educate students in lab skills

Context

LABplus contains a range of laboratory and field equipment in addition to bespoke resource boxes. Each resource is designed by academic and technical staff to support modules and enhance students understanding of laboratory and field techniques.

In addition to the physical resource boxes and equipment housed in LABplus there are virtual resource boxes available through the LABplus website. These virtual resource boxes were initially developed by the Experiential Learning, Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (ELCETL) learning technologist from 2006-2009. Each virtual box contains copies of all documentation associated with the resource, links to recommended student reading, links to recommended websites, videos, interactive maps, images where applicable and supporting academic content. These virtual resources were previously accessible on the former LABplus website.

With the introduction of the Digital Learning Environment (DLE) in 2014, I made the decision to transfer the academic content and resources from the former ELCETL website onto DLE subject sites. The main driver for this decision was ensuring that the resources remain sustainable.

The former website became outdated and began affecting the student experience. The main feedback points from a student survey carried out in 2012 were:

  • the website was difficult to find
  • the website was difficult to navigate
  • the resources on the website were useful; however, links and videos did not always work properly
  • videos and interactive maps did not work with Google Chrome
  • resources not linked to modules.

The business and pedagogic reasons behind the move to the DLE were therefore very clear, as the existing set up was not performing.

Benefits

The main benefit for me is how user friendly the DLE is. I find adding new content and material so much easier than through Dreamweaver. It is a more collaborative tool as I am able to add academic staff as teachers so they can edit and add content to the courses too.

The benefits for the students are that the content is far more accessible. Students are familiar with the format of the DLE, they are able to search courses easily and I have been able to link the LABplus DLE courses directly to the appropriate module course.

The functionality and flexibility of the DLE has enabled me to re-create most of the learning resources that were designed through the ELCETL as well as creating new resources.

Lessons learned

The main issues with the project related to the former website. I had difficulty sourcing the video files that had been embedded and I needed to recreate the interactive maps from scratch. The transfer of content took around three months of me working on it part time amongst my other responsibilities. The DLE is very user friendly and intuitive and this made the process far easier. It was an enormous benefit having the support from the University Learning Technologists working on the DLE in answering questions and solving problems.

The students have reacted very positively to the new courses and the content is being used more frequently. The time I now spend updating/editing resources has greatly decreased as I feel confident using the package.

Testimonials / feedback from staff and students

“The LABplus DLE pages are easy to access and have a surprising amount of resources on them. It is set up in a clear and organised way and it’s simple to navigate. I only wish I had known and made use of this facility earlier in my course as its a great help.” Stage 2 conservation biology student.

"The LABplus DLE has a range of helpful sources and guides, which are tailored to specific modules. It is very easy to navigate as its grouped by subject area. It's also very useful as the resources can be accessed at uni or at home." Stage 2 biological science student.

Future work / plans

I intend to keep adding new content to the existing DLE courses whenever new resources boxes are designed for use in LABplus.

If you have a Plymouth University IT account you can see examples of the LABplus DLE pages by following the link.

Case study provided by Jane Yea, Senior Technician (LABplus).