After a successful trial period beginning in 2006, Lancaster University’s Learning Technology Group (LTG) is re-evaluating a project named ‘SMS from LUVLE’. The project aims to provide an easy and immediate mean of communication between departments and students in instances where a regular email would not be quick enough, such as last minute lecture cancellations or change of venue.
The LTG currently has a variety of possible projects to choose from and talks with various departments of the university are being held to make sure the best decision for both students and staff is made. LUSU VP (Academic Affairs) Danny Ovens was keen to push this one for approval. He told SCAN: “If something should come out of these talks, it should be the ‘SMS from LUVLE’ project. With cuts going on everywhere within Higher Education, it’s important we keep providing new services for the students.” On a personal level he felt “it’s a brilliant idea and I know it will be well received.”
Having been tested about 500 times in 22 different departments, the original project was suspended in 2008 when funding from the Centre of Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) budget could no longer cover it.
One of the main users of the original project was Professor of Economics and Dean of Graduate Studies, Geraint Johnes. When asked how he implemented this service into his module he said: “During the month or so leading up to exams, I would send students a text every couple of days asking a question which was designed to provoke thought about some aspect or other of the course.”
A strong part of the discussion is that it will be an entirely “opt-in” service, there is no obligation to sign up as it does not want to be seen as another way for the department to bombard students with alerts. Data protection is another focal point, student’s phone numbers will remain anonymous through all communications. The service also comes free of charge to student’s phone bills.
Student opinions on the possible implementation of the service are positive. Reece Yates, an Earth and Environmental Science student from Lonsdale, said: “I think it’s a good idea as long as I don’t start to get over-loaded in my inbox every two minutes with useless things.” He added that “it’s good that you can choose to opt out of it as well, you aren’t tied down to it.”
Emma Carlin, a Geography and Sociology student also from Lonsdale, felt that “it’s something everyone would use so long as there is a distinction made between specific course and module updates and general departmental events and opportunities.” Her idea would be to “have a choice, one option that informs you just about your course and seminars, and then another to inform you of careers or departmental services available.”
As a lecturer who wasn’t part of the pilot service in 2006, senior Management School lecturer Dr Anthony Hesketh felt: “I am in favour of using any technology which enables better communication between students and their tutors to improve their learning experience” but did point out that “all pointers on the exam are already on LUVLE” and that they would be “a little too lengthy to text them to you.”
Equipment such as the servers and original service vendor required are all still available to the LTG. Development costs are estimated at £5,000 with an annual amount of approximately £12,226. Organisers hope for the project to be introduced at the beginning of the next academic year as only clearance from relevant departments and funding is required.
The LTG have several roles within the university, however their main service is developing and managing Lancaster’s virtual learning environment (LUVLE) to support learning and teaching. The new service would be linked to the existing technology of LUVLE; students will have the opportunity to provide their mobile phone number through their LUVLE homepage and choose which modules they want to receive alerts from.