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Case Study: The Evolution of E-Learning at the University of Birmingham


Founded in 1900, the University of Birmingham has 6,000 staff, around 29,000 students and an annual turnover in the region of £300m. Each year it attracts over 4,000 students from more than 100 countries. The support of new and flexible ways of learning and teaching is a crucial part of the University of Birmingham's academic strategy.

In 2000, The University of Birmingham created a Learning Development Unit to advance learning within the institution and deliver more varied and flexible modes of campus-based teaching. The university was also keen to support widening participation and expand the provision for non-traditional students through more distance learning and continued professional development courses.

E-learning was seen as being central to these goals and the university introduced a centrally supported e-learning service in 2001. It currently has over 2,000 courses on its virtual learning environment (VLE), over 1300 of which are currently active while the others are under development.

It has over 200,000 student enrolments and 6,000 visits per day to the VLE and while the adoption of e-learning was highly successful, by 2004, the university had outgrown its existing VLE and needed something new to cope with the rising demand for more sophisticated e-learning.

The university is now using WebCT Vista which is integrated into the its existing systems, including the student database, SCT Banner, for the central administration of student enrolments and records, as well as with its portal (SCT Luminis) and institutional catalogue (TALIS).

The university has also launched a new Personal Development Profile designed to give students the range of skills needed in their professional lives. Stephen Clarke, head of e-learning at Birmingham said: "Pre-registration students can meet other new students and potential room-mates by accessing online discussion groups. This helps them feel less daunted embarking on university life. We have also set up Wireless LAN facilities and cyber cafés in some parts of the university, another initiative which is encouraging the widespread adoption and use of online learning."

The university also gives students the ability to complete course reviews online, which has improved response rates, and the quality and quantity of student feedback. This gives the university access to valuable data that can be analysed in order to improve the content and quality of future courses and further enhance the standards of teaching.

“We are fully committed to improving the quality of learning at the University of Birmingham," Michele Shoebridge, Director of Information Services said. "We see enterprise-wide e-learning as an excellent way to provide students with a higher quality learning experience."


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