ILT: Inspection and Blackboard
Middlesbrough College were inspected in November 2003 and the report was published in March 2004. In November 2003 the college was just getting into its stride with its first year on Blackboard. We had about 350 active courses, a large Learning Resources ‘course site’ and a Student Services ‘course site’. Whilst the deputy lead inspector was interested in our Blackboard statistics, our resources and general usage, most of the inspectors did not appear to be too familiar with the nature of a VLE.
Comments suggest that unless there is clear evidence that eLearning is embedded into the curriculum and obvious in classroom activities, it was ignored by inspectors. Lesson plans really need to exemplify the role Blackboard courses will be playing in teaching and learning. For instance ‘homework for this lesson, including lesson notes are available online by following the Module B link.’ Tutors really need to discuss or demonstrate to inspectors where they posted this material, especially if a number of students were absent that day.
The concept of 24x7 learning, demonstrated by statistics to inspectors was mostly ignored. But where obvious use of ILT was made in lessons, including hands-on Blackboard course use, ‘brownie points’ were scored. This was repeated across the curriculum where in Sciences, Engineering and Construction and ICT , we have strong Blackboard courses with lots of activities and tests. (Perhaps on reflection full access by inspectors should be given to Blackboard in their base room.) But unless students in their focus groups strongly support the VLE inspectors may not get the message. A student online survey could help here!
We at Middlesbrough College were in a fairly embryonic stage with eLearning in November when we were inspected. We had fairly limited courses in some areas of the curriculum and this is obvious in statements like ‘limited use of ILT resources’. But of course eLearning is just part of the inspectors ILT brief, use of Electronic Whiteboards and computer resources will also feature heavily.
A year prior to Inspection at Middlesbrough College I was involved in the inspection of another large general F.E. and Tertiary College. The experience was similar. Inspectors did not really understand what a VLE was and how it complemented curriculum delivery of a more traditional nature.
It is crucial that inspectors are made aware of the unique properties of a VLE (throughout the Inspection report it is referred to as the college intranet!).
It is also useful to raise the awareness of students. In focus groups they frequently failed to mention “Blackboard” because it was so much part of their learning experience it had become invisible.
From the lecturer’s point of view, schemes of work should clearly identify “Blackboard” time.
Lastly, make sure your e-learning technologist and manager have the opportunity to speak to Inspectors!