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Report on Innovative e-Learning

March 26, 2011


This report is compiled from JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) e-Learning case studies. They have been selected to illustrate four potential key areas of e-Learning innovation enhancements to  current product offerings including:

  • e-Assessment authoring
  • Adaptive learning
  • Evidence of competence
  • Social learning networks

In considering each innovation this report will demonstrate:

  • Influence on vocational skills
  • Effect on resources
  • Influence on policy
  • Student satisfaction

e-Assessment Authoring

The Edinburgh Universities’ College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine’s Learning Technology Section developed OSCA (Online System for Clinical Assessment) as a direct means to:

  • Reduce costs and administration through automated marking
  • Reduce the potential for student collusion
  • Set standards
  • Build better reporting methods of student ability

A typical OSCA examination requires the student to consider 20 different clinical assessments each lasting approximately 5 minutes and at the time of print, OSCA had been applied in 40 formal examinations. Through consulting with learning technologists and observing student responses under mock examinations, content authors where able to learn techniques for writing effective questions. This led to a web based content management system comprising of an expansive range of question templates that soon became popular amongst staff.

Positive evidence of effectiveness was informally gathered through student feedback sessions. This feedback suggested that delivery was clear, concise and offered a good range of assessment types. Importantly the students considered OSCA to be an “appropriate and ‘professional’ way of conducting exams”

The success of the initial deployment contributed to the continued evolution of OSCA by means of new assessment templates and re-use of the expanding question bank. It has also been a driver to develop staff skills further in designing quality assessments. OSCA is now moving beyond its original focus and is replacing dedicated commercial systems utilised in other faculties.


Adaptive Learning


Edinburgh Universities’ College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine’s Learning Technology Section developed a unique form of selective branching entitled Labyrinth. This solution was applied by students to create virtual patient scenarios allowing them to contextualise their learning in a manner not previously applied. After learning the basics of Labyrinth, scenarios can be developed at an individual depth and pace without need for further tools or software. Furthermore the online portal allows collaboration to author scenarios. The scenarios themselves once developed could then be re-used as learning objects.

Feedback confirmed a positive result to the technology, forcing students to think professionally. There was a significant improvement in staff acceptance of e-Learning as a means of educational delivery and demonstrable savings in time, cost and resources. The development team continue to improve the Labyrinth process and enhance the student learning experience.


Evidence of competence

Newcastle Universities’ use of e-portfolios to develop a reflective approach in medicine was applied to gather evidence of learning as well as cutting down on physical paperwork. Important design considerations included easy delivery and flexibility under different contexts.

Developed in–house, a one year trial was evaluated and demonstrated the e-Portfolio efficiency by showing benefits to student learning with 80% of students claiming it to be a useful learning experience and 72% saying that it had influenced their approach to education. It also easily met the sector requirements for Personal Development Planning (PDP) as 93% of students declared that it had led to reflective reporting following a placement. As well as the key improvements in student performance, there has been tangible savings in administration and resources.  From the wider institution positive results have been received where the e-Portfolio has been contextually tailored to support other curricula thus demonstrating its “flexible nature”.

Patience, tenacity and “clarity of purpose” have all played a role in the success of the system. Rather than being a solution “driven” for technologies sake it has required ten years of iterative design and pedagogical refinement.


Social learning networks

At Glasgow University the implementation of a Moodle VLE (Virtual learning environment) for Scottish History courses has offered a way to increase the depth of learning for more advanced students. Further levels of specialised information were provided for these students, including study timelines and supplementary materials. The goal of the implementation was “modest” therefore after limited staff training it also proved “straightforward”.

Significantly it has transformed student results. The proportion of students who were awarded an A grade jumped from 1% to 15% while the number of student failures fell from 12% to 5%.

Feedback questionnaires and focus groups were all equally positive. The availability of lecture notes online meant that students could review prior to attendance. This led to more dynamic and engaging lectures. Interestingly it was found that if the notes went into too much detail then attendance at the lecture itself went down from 2/3 to 3/5 or even ½ the class.

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