Patience wares thin as LUVLE falters again

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Lancaster University’s Virtual Learning Environment (LUVLE) crashed again at the start of term, causing disruption for students returning after the Christmas break.

Many students found problems accessing their timetable, while at the same time the My Modules link failed to work. Those who could get through reported that the site was working very slowly, possibly due to the large number of people on it at the time.

Dr Richard Ranker, Manager of the Learning Technology Group at Information Systems Service (ISS), explained some of the problems students were experiencing, saying: “When we looked at the server usage we found that between 500 and 1100 students were logged in to that one server at the same time. We normally have about 300 at any given time”. Ranker went on to detail the faults that occurred effecting students, saying “unfortunately, a key server was so busy as to be unavailable three times on Monday, once on Tuesday and once on Thursday—that stopped anyone from accessing My Modules for five to nine minutes per occasion”.

The issues surrounding LUVLE has caused problems for staff and students alike. Some lecturers found that they could not upload course materials on to LUVLE and students were unable to access the worksheets that were online. The main concern for students was that many could not access their timetable and had no idea where their lectures and seminars were being held.

“The main problem with LUVLE is its inability to load on a regular basis, not only with logging in, but with the timetables, course materials and module overviews. The most frustrating thing is that these sorts of problems are still occurring three months in to the academic calendar,” said Robert Allonby, a second year Geography student.

Ranker also asserted that ISS have tried to keep students notified of problems. “To keep all informed, we posted a message on the My Modules login page. Essentially it told all users that there is unusually high demand now on My Modules but the other parts of LUVLE are responding well.”

Despite the fact that ISS have identified the problems, they admit to having problems in remedying them. Ranker went said: “We have tested and made two changes; unfortunately, neither had any noticeable effect. The first fix changed the number of logons permitted at a time, and the second made some data from LUSU, such as name of your College Tutor, unavailable. Since those two changes did not really help, we are investigating other avenues.”

ISS advises users to avoid trying to access course information through My Modules and recommends using the LUVLE homepage instead (http://luvle.lancs.ac.uk). But, many think that if the problems persist more should be done. It is apparent that moves have been made to replace LUVLE’s current system with MOODLE, a different virtual learning environment used by other universities in the UK. It is hoped this move will enable the site to cope with the high volume of users.

“To ensure that LUVLE can continue to offer students a learning experience enhanced with relevant technology, a pilot project is just about to start which will evaluate the benefits of providing learning spaces based on MOODLE,” explained Gavin Brown of ISS. “A group called Lancaster University Network Services (LUNS) is a seat of expertise in the deployment of MOODLE; for example they deliver a hosted MOODLE to schools across Lancashire and Cumbria. LUNS have the expertise to help the university’s Learning Technology Group (LTG, based in ISS) develop the next generation of LUVLE.”

The advantages of MOODLE includes an e-portfolio, which allows students to showcase their work, a video conference function and links to the online reading material and reading lists. MOODLE can also be accessed from any internet-enabled device. “The MOODLE-based virtual learning environment will be piloted in selected courses during the remainder of this academic year and, should the pilot project go well, it is planned that a substantial proportion of undergraduates would use MOODLE-based spaces by September 2011, with the remainder migrating by September 2012,” said Brown.

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