Case Studies

The Royal College of Art Revamps and Streamlines Moodle Platform by eThink

By November 20, 2019 No Comments
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About the Royal College of Art

The RCA provides students with unrivaled opportunities to deliver art and design projects that transform the world. A small, specialist and research-intensive postgraduate university based in the heart of London, the RCA is a high-performing institution, a radical traditionalist in a fast-paced world.

The RCA’s approach is founded on the premise that art, design, creative thinking, science, engineering and technology must all collaborate to solve today’s global challenges. The RCA employs a cadre of around 1,000 professionals from around the world – spanning professors, researchers, art and design practitioners, advisers and visiting lecturers – to teach and develop students in around 30 academic programmes.

RCA students are exposed to new knowledge in a way that encourages them to experiment. Working across scientific and technical canvases and beyond set boundaries, they seek to solve real-world problems.

Challenges & Goals

A Need for Cutting Edge Technology and Features

The RCA aimed to craft a modern ‘one-stop-shop’ learning solution for its students that housed all of their learning components and additional resources in one central location. Limitations of its current platform included a variety of plugins which required updates and no streamlined SSO (Single Sign On) system. The RCA also required additional components that would benefit its students, but needed integrations to tie these pieces together and bring all of the learning resources and programs they were using into one location. In short, the RCA wanted to completely refresh its site, starting from scratch to craft something new with the help of a provider that would fully-manage its site and provide them with in-depth support services.

“The main issues we had with the existing LMS were that it was not easy to navigate or interact with and we wanted to make the process of updating the system smoother,” said Juli MacArthur, Learning Technologist at the RCA. “A more modern, visual theme and an upgrade of integrations were necessary to meet the increased requirements for accessibility and the demand for more visual systems.”

– Juli MacArthur, Learning Technologist
Royal College of Art

Manual Enrolment and Data Entry

The RCA’s goal was to increase the efficiency of its system by implementing autoenrollments based on cohort and classification category to help save considerable time for administrators who were previously required to update records manually. With this in mind, the RCA began looking for a partner that could help implement and maintain these time-saving changes so its administrators could shift their focus to other projects that would provide value to its learners.

Branding

The RCA felt as if its site did not reflect its brand. The RCA was using the ‘Clean theme’, but it had been implemented with limited customization and branding attributes. The RCA hoped to build a new site that better reflected its brand and provided lecturers with more creative course design and styling options. The RCA wanted to add additional functionality to its Moodle site to facilitate that creativity.

LMS Support

The RCA desired to alleviate the pressure of managing the system from their in-house team, which would provide them with the time to work on other important initiatives around content, design, and deployment that would enhance the learning experiences for its users. “We wanted to focus on support surrounding the development and training required for the Moodle site rather than focusing on technical support,” said Juli.

Solutions

The RCA wished to remain a Moodle institution as staff members were familiar with the platform from its previous system and from using it at other institutions, but creating a more usable and engaging site was a priority. The RCA chose to work with eThink Education, a Certified Moodle Partner with clients across the globe, to create a new and
improved Moodle instance that would solve its current challenges and allow them to make the most out of the Moodle platform.

Fully-Managed Moodle Instance with Unlimited Support

With eThink’s fully-managed Moodle solution, the RCA enjoys full access to the eThink Team to assist with every aspect of their Moodle site. eThink’s unlimited support model provides the RCA with the high level of support that they need to alleviate the bandwidth issues they struggled with when self-hosting its Moodle instance. Through the initial discovery process to implementation, eThink worked with the RCA to identify its eLearning needs and configure its Moodle instance to meet those specific goals. eThink’s continued support means the RCA has a partner to discuss eLearning trends, best practices, and pedagogy with – or to simply be a sounding board to help the RCA visualize its path to eLearning success now and in the future.

“The process from initial discussion to launch was an excellent experience. The team was dedicated to providing the best service and meeting all of our needs and requirements. The discovery process, in terms of setting out what
we needed and how we would go about it was very clear, with a transparent plan through each step of implementation. We had to change and amend plans based on changes to our working practice in regard to authentication and cohort management, so eThink was excellent at providing guidance and supporting these changes. We had calls at least twice a week to ensure project deadlines and targets were met and to ensure we were happy withprogress. eThink continues to be an excellent support network for solving issues we come across and for managing parts of the system.”

Updated Technology: Moodle 3.6 with Branded Theme

eThink Education implemented a new instance of Moodle 3.6 for the RCA, complete with a branded theme that brought its vision to life. The new Moodle instance is clean, fresh, and easy for both administrators and students to navigate. The site was set up following the desired branding goals of the RCA, including the frequent incorporation of its logo and the use of its school-wide branding colors.

The RCA’s new Moodle site includes a comprehensive dashboard where students can access all the necessary information in one streamlined location. This was achieved using marketing tiles and positioning important information in relevant areas so students have access to additional resources right on their dashboard.

“We had a very minimally customised theme and, as an Art and Design college, a large number of learners are visual learners and navigators, so using a theme which played to those strengths was key. eThink provided examples of other sites which helped us to identify appropriate themes and which met our branding requirements,” said Juli.

New Integrations & Plugins

eThink worked with the RCA to implement a variety of integrations and plugins to seamlessly connect its Moodle instance with the other tools that the college was already using, providing a streamlined user experience for both staff and learners.

SSO Integrations and Enrollments

By utilising LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), eThink implemented a SSO system so students could use the same login credentials as other systems to access its Moodle site. This system was also used to establish automatic enrolment into courses based on the institution’s Active Directory fields. Students are entered into cohorts, which are linked to courses, so the process of populating courses in their Moodle site is automatically carried out.

G-Suite Integrations

By integrating G-Suite into RCA’s Moodle site, RCA lecturers and students can sync their personal G-drives to their Moodle sites and import documents and resources. This integration simplifies the process of uploading documents and sharing between users on the Moodle platform.

TurnItIn

An integration with TurnItIn, the institution’s chosen plagiarism detection software, supports academic integrity at RCA by scanning documents submitted in Moodle to aid in the prevention of plagiarism. The integration helps to support student, lecturer, and school success by supporting academic integrity through streamlined feedback and
reporting.

Panopto

The Panopto video platform allows lectures to be captured and embedded directly into the Moodle platform without the need to download and upload between the two systems. This third-party integration streamlines the use of video in Moodle so that teachers and students can engage one another through an additional, impactful medium.  Additionally, this integration allows for a dedicated central location for the housing of all videos, while limiting the file upload size to ensure stability of the site.

PebblePad

A seamless integration between PebblePad and Moodle allows RCA students and staff to access their PebblePad portfolios and resources on Moodle. This streamlines the process for staff and students alike and makes it easier for students to work on projects and collaborate in one place.

Style & Design

eThink incorporated additional third party plugins to allow the RCA users to expand past basic fonts and styles in Moodle to create a more design-focused experience. These plugins allowed lecturers more flexibility to create unique, engaging courses.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud Hosting

As an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Advanced Technology Partner, eThink Education hosts the RCA on AWS, the leading cloud platform. eThink uses AWS hosting because it offers a stronger foundation for future innovation, ultimately providing RCA with more agility in how it would like to make changes to its learning program down the road. eThink’s AWS hosting provides a secure cloud services environment that offers compute power, database storage, content delivery, and other functionality that will help RCA scale and grow in the years to come. 

Results

Time-Saving Automations & Integrations (Including Student Enrolment & Cohort Management)

Migrating from a self-hosted Moodle instance to being hosted and supported by a Certified Moodle Partner allowed the RCA’s administrative team to take their time back and focus on student success, rather than the time-intensive management and upkeep of their Moodle site. With eThink’s real-time student record sync, courses are now immediately populated into students’ Moodle dashboards based on their assigned cohort. Students can instantly access necessary information once they are categorised, and RCA staff can spend less of their time managing these details within the Moodle site.

“With a number of very complex groups of students, we needed a dedicated way of auto-enrolling students and making enrolment into courses quick, easy and simple,” said Juli. “eThink was extremely helpful in providing different ideas around ways we could manage this process and took on much of the burden of this process with
multiple iterations of cohort-building before we came to a final solution.”

The incorporation of other plugins and integrations streamlined the RCA’s Moodle site and allowed students and staff to see all their necessary resources in one place. Seamless integration of TurnItIn, G-Suite, PebblePad, and Panopto created the true one-stop-shop that the RCA hoped to provide for its students.

The RCA also now has the ability to easily add and change plugins and integrations based on its changing needs. With eThink, instead of feeling stalled as it did previously, RCA has a true partner that will provide support when it comes to new tools, technologies, and strategies that will better assist students and staff in achieving their goals, now and in the future.

“Moving to a managed service redirected valuable resources away from technical support and allowed us to focus on providing training for staff and students and increasing engagement with the system,” said Juli. “eThink continues to be a strong support to us in terms of new plugins, report building, troubleshooting, and smaller administration tasks, which takes the weight away from administrators and allows [our team] to support students and staff more readily.”

Enhanced Student Experience

The RCA’s new Moodle site includes custom branding that more closely reflects the design and visual preferences of the college and its students. Expanded font and design options through third-party plugins have helped bring the site to the next level, and provide for innovation beyond standard Moodle themes and capabilities. These additional design features have allowed the RCA to reflect its artistic branding and ideals in its online courses for an added visual impact.

Not only is the new Moodle site more visually appealing to students and staff, but it also has dramatically increased functionality. Through integrations, the implementation of a comprehensive dashboard and an overall more approachable and user-friendly interface, RCA students have access to all of their necessary information in one place to allow for better learning and communication. Additionally, the RCA plans to take this custom branding even further with a branded Moodle mobile app that will allow students to take their learning offline and on the go. With this improved student experience, the RCA has received positive feedback and increased engagement among students and staff alike.

Some of this positive feedback includes…

From staff:

“Communicating with students via Moodle rather than email meant that info didn’t get lost in inboxes. The
interface is intuitive and students found it easy to navigate. It was fantastic for giving feedback.”

“Clear Layout, Design is Fab. Love the integrated calendar, nice interface -honestly – very little I don’t like.”

From students:

“Being able to display and update information quickly and easily [has worked well in Moodle].”

“Moodle is now more intuitive to use.”

“That everything is contained within it – I don’t have to go to multiple places to get my course information.”

“Easy access to bookings, tutorial timings and other resources.”

Conclusion

After partnering with eThink, the RCA was able to transform its Moodle site by incorporating the latest technology and integrations, effectively bringing its learning platform goals and vision for the student experience to life. With the creation of a new, updated Moodle instance, the incorporation of time saving integrations and plugins, and the addition of new stylistic and branding touches to the user-interface, the RCA’s Moodle site now serves as an efficient and engaging one-stop-shop for students and staff to access course information and additional learning
resources and activities.

“Working with eThink has allowed us to streamline workflows in terms of student and staff management, saving us time in regard to system management,” said Juli. “This, in turn, is cost effective and adds to the value the support staff can offer to academics and students.”

“Moving forward, our Moodle site managed by eThink will support teaching and learning across all programmes offered by the Royal College of Art and create a more accessible digital campus. Increasing our online presence is key to improving student experience and enhancing the way students access content remotely and at their leisure.”

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