Supporting the future of e-learning at St Albans School

June 6, 2018

St Albans School is a long established independent school in Hertfordshire, UK. Founded in the year 948, the school has the distinction of being one of the oldest in England, and indeed the world.

Today, the school boasts a modern campus and provides a holistic education focused on academic excellence and strong pastoral care.

“A school that is proud of its long and distinguished history, yet one whose prime focus is the needs of its students for the world of the future.”

Jonathan Gillespie, Headmaster

The brief

When Titus Learning first met with St Albans, the school had been using Moodle for some time, but were looking for a better alternative.

At that stage they were considering the best way forward to improve the platform and increase engagement and usage from staff and students.

“A third party provider would save us quite a lot of time and energy setting things up internally, which is why we approached Titus Learning.”

– Charles Gould, e-Learning Coordinator

Following a process of detailed consultation with the team at St Albans School, the initial brief was agreed upon, in which we established four key project areas:

  • Migration of Moodle from an existing supplier to new infrastructure and upgrade to the latest Moodle version.
  • Integration between Moodle and Double First’s MIS, Engage, the school’s management information system, as well as other third party tools currently in use.
  • Creation of a new Moodle theme to overhaul the look and feel of the site and improve the user experience.
  • Provision of proactive support alongside ongoing hosting and maintenance.

Migrating the existing platform

As St Albans School was already using Moodle, rather than starting from scratch, we were able to migrate those elements which would be carried across to the new platform.

“We were delighted with the personal level of contact Titus Learning offered during the transition phase. Furthermore, Titus Learning’s offering mirrored our goals and where we wanted to go next, and therefore, it was a good fit.”

– Charles Gould, e-Learning Coordinator

Previously the Moodle platform had been hosted on an on-site server at the school’s premises, however in order to improve both the performance and ease of maintenance of the system, we proposed moving the platform to a cloud environment on Amazon Web Services.

The key benefits of this change included:

  • Giving remote access to Titus Learning to manage security patches, version updates and monitoring of the Moodle system.
  • Improved performance and provision of extra capacity during peak demand.
  • Enabling better integration between Moodle and third party services (see below).
  • Allowing for scalability to meet increased requirements in future without the need for further migration.

Integrating Moodle into school life

In terms of integration, the school’s number one priority was ensuring that the new Moodle platform worked seamlessly with the new management information system, Engage.

“It was critical that Titus Learning could be on boarded and integrated our new MIS, which was being launched at the School simultaneously. That was very important, to ensure that that part of the system was as effective as possible.”

– Charles Gould, e-Learning Coordinator

We implemented our own custom integration agent to synchronise data between the two systems, including:

  • Active and pre-admission student data.
  • Teaching and non-teaching staff data.
  • Timetable data.

This allows the imported MIS data in each of these areas to be viewed in Moodle without the need for separate access to the MIS system. The school are therefore able to make this data available as appropriate to staff, students and parents alike.

“One of the most important aspects is the ability to offer wide-ranging digital assessments. Titus Learning’s big win is on the digital assessment side.”

– Charles Gould, e-Learning Coordinator

In addition to integrating the new MIS system, we also ensured that other tools, including the school’s homework management system and content production tools were tightly integrated with the new Moodle platform.

Staff at St Albans School use the Office 365 suite for content creation, so this integration was of particular importance. The key areas of functionality include:

  • Single sign-on into Moodle and Office 365 services such as Email, Calendar, OneDrive and OneNote, and user sync between the two platforms.
  • Full calendar integration (synchronised in both directions).
  • OneNote integration offering students the ability to submit work and teachers to provide feedback via OneNote.
  • OneDrive integration allowing users to upload files into Moodle courses that are stored in their OneDrive.
  • Embedding of Office 365 documents within Moodle courses via the oEmbed filter.

Improving the user experience

To ensure that the new functionality would be used on a day-to-day basis by the whole school community, a key part of the project was to improve the user experience (UX).

Following a detailed consultation, our design team created a new bespoke Moodle theme to address the school’s main requirements.

We used an iterative workflow, showing regular wireframes to the team at St Albans School during the design process. This allowed us to amend and improve the designs “on-the-go”, an approach which avoided any unnecessary rework.

“The process went very smoothly overall. There was a keenness to address concerns and to offer valid opportunities during the development process, to examine what stage, for example, UX was at, and to make amendments at that stage.”

– Charles Gould, e-Learning Coordinator

The custom theme which we implemented improved on the previous Moodle in several areas: saving time by streamlining common tasks such as adding content, a “my apps” menu to give quick access to commonly used features, and a personal dashboard showing vital user info.

Supporting the future of e-learning at St Albans School

A key part of our service is the creation of a Moodle implementation plan which runs from the development of the platform, through to the launch and beyond.

We were involved in assisting St Albans School with the promotion of the new VLE to stakeholders, training staff and students, and notifying users of ongoing developments. During the development phase, as well as post launch, our dedicated support team were available to address any minor issues which may crop up.

“You can’t imagine every possible scenario, but as we’ve come across challenges, and have reported those back to Titus Learning, then the support has been strong. That’s been very helpful, and it’s certainly helped confidence at the School.”

– Charles Gould, e-Learning Coordinator

Looking to the future, our team continues to liaise with the schools’ VLE team, as well as monitoring the usage and performance of the Moodle platform remotely to ensure everything is running smoothly, as well as providing regular security and version updates, in line with the new releases provided by Moodle HQ.

To learn more about the work we’ve done with Moodle, or to find out how we could help your school or organisation improve engagement, communication and learning outcomes, book a short online demo with one of our team.

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