What Sheila's seen this week – #turnitofftuesday, 365 portals and a blended learning video

Like many other institutions we were hit by what we are calling #turnitofftuesday when Turnitin went down for a couple of hours on Tuesday afternoon.  As ever, this caused a lot of  stress for some of our students who were trying to submit assignments. As we had no notification from Turnitin about any service disruption we didn’t know about it until students contacted the help desk.

For us, this highlights the need for more transparency and guidelines for staff and students in this type of situation. Sometimes I think we need to have a large “don’t panic” button, for both staff and students, as there are a number of things we can do to quickly mitigate this type of situation. It’s also important to remember that for the vast majority of time the service has and is working – it’s just sod’s law that outages happen at peak times. That said, the lack of information from Turnitin has been disappointing to say the least. I know UCISA and HELF are “on the case” on behalf of the sector.  Developing guidelines around EMA (electronic management of assessment) is on our Blended Learning roadmap for this year, but we maybe need to move it up our agenda.

The tension between cloud hosted services and internally hosted is perennial, and at GCU we do rely on a number of hosted services related to learning and teaching, not least for our VLE. We are also embarking on an ambitious portal development programme called “Portals for All” which is based on Office365, and again relies on cloud based hosting. We will need to ensure that we do have transparent guidelines in place for service any service disruptions there too. Over this week I’ve been part of a number of meetings and discussion around functionality, data sources, time, culture changes (you know all the usual fun stuff). Our IS team and the external contractor have a pretty ambitious development schedule, but we should have a new student portal available by August.In the meantime if you have any experience of using 365 based portals I’d love to hear about them.

Since joining GCU one of the things I’ve been trying to do is to identify and to map all the different systems we use to core learning and teaching functionality. Unsurprisingly we already have a lot of duplication of services/functionality and the Office 365 platform offers yet more. So it is going to be really important for us to work with our IS colleagues to ensure that students and staff have a clear understanding of our core provision and support. Getting the balance between trusted, reliable services with flexibility to experiment is going to be crucial.  As part of this I’ve  developed a simplified model for blended learning which highlights some of the practices and systems we are currently using. This will be augmented with a number of cases studies. This short video gives an overview.