University of Bath

Experience a four-fold increase in the use of the virtual learning environment

Background

The University of Bath is a distinguished university in the historical city of Bath with a vibrant research culture and an excellent academic reputation. It also boasts an outstanding graduate employment record. With over 18,000 students and a strong electronic presence in the classrooms, having a reliable Moodle system is important for the University to maintain its outstanding reputation.

The Challenge

The University of Bath were having reliability and stability issues with their Moodle system - their main challenge being maintenance. They experienced difficulty finding adequate technical staff capable of managing and maintaining onsite hosting. At the time when they started seeking alternate hosting options they had 8,500 different users accessing their system daily, as well as 140,000 pieces of course work being uploaded each year. Since the pandemic this has increased to 19,000 unique users accessing the system daily. The system was seeing a lot of heavy usage. The academic staff use technology to support their teaching practices, which has led to Moodle being one of the most valued systems in the academic community. The majority of modules in the University have an active Moodle presence and it is essential for them to run properly in order for Staff and Students to access all of their learning materials.

“With an increased demand from students nationally and the pressures and challenges of the pandemic at Bath, as well as the University commitment to transform our curriculum, our Moodle usage is likely to rise even more. While Moodle usage was high at Bath before COVID-19, since March we have seen a four-fold increase in the use of the VLE. Moodle has become the central University tool to support blended teaching, and its role will continue to expand and develop as the University continues to transform its curricula in the coming year” Christopher Bonfield, Acting Director, Centre for Learning and Teaching.

The University of Bath needed to safeguard their Moodle environment and reduce the risks associated with system failure. Their students and staff needed a trustworthly system that would keep working regardless of usage within the University, and they needed support that was proactive and available 24/7. This is what led them to seek an external service provider.

The University of Bath have their own developers onsite and needed a company who would work with them to achieve their goals, rather than just providing a hosting service. They were told “We don’t do it that way” by other service providers, who all demanded they change what they were asking for. Catalyst took a different approach.

“I knew Catalyst would work with us to achieve our end goal rather than telling us how we should be doing it.Catalyst responded very positively to our requirements.  We had very carefully defined our baseline requirements and Catalyst were the only respondent who could fully meet our needs.” Lisa McIver, TEL Systems Manager 

Catalyst was flexible and open with their approach and wanted to meet the University’s learning goals, rather than trying to get them to change their requirements. The University of Bath communicated directly with Catalyst developers both during and after the hosting changeover, which they found invaluable. Having one-on-one contact with the people who were actually implementing the migration meant that nothing was lost in translation. There were no barriers to breakdown and the Catalyst developers knew exactly what the University wanted to achieve as they had communicated with them regularly and directly. This enabled the University to get exactly what they wanted, rather than ending up with something that didn’t quite meet their needs. Catalyst and Bath worked collaboratively as a team.

“I immediately felt that Catalyst would work constructively with us, enabling us to achieve our institutional goals. I very much had a sense that they would be working in partnership with us.” Lisa McIver, TEL Systems Manager

Catalyst were flexible and proactive in their partnership with the University, even during the contract negotiation phase. Despite having a very short period of time with which to get up to speed, they began working on the project immediately in order to roll it out by the date the University requested. A university is a busy place. During the semester both students and staff need constant access to the system, which leaves no opportunities for system upgrades. During the summer months when there are fewer students on campus, distance learners are in the middle of an important period in their academic calenders’. There are no significant periods of time when the system is not in use, so the University has a very limited timeframe in which to make upgrades. Because of this the hosting transfer was done in record time, simultaneously with an already scheduled upgrade. There was no wiggle room on the time frame. It had to be done at that time, or not at all. “

The University of Bath had been having issues with stability in the year before the hosting migration, but were unable to discover the cause. Working with the University’s developers, Catalyst were able to find the source of the problem and suggest ways to work around it. They did a deep dive into the system and tried to find ways to improve it. The University says this proactive attitude was very important to them. Moving to an external service is not a simple process and they found it difficult to judge what the cost would be during their initial enquiries to other providers. Catalyst worked with the University through every step of the process, and kept them informed about their financial options.

The Result

Years after transitioning to an external host, the University of Bath are still happy with their partnership with Catalyst. So far their system has had 99.94% availability, which is in excess of the figure promised to them (99.5%). The University recently ran a large scale quiz with over 300 students accessing the system simultaneously, and with Catalyst’s help, they flew right through it without any issues. One of the notable differences to the University is that they now have staff available through their partnership with Catalyst who have time to address any issues and keep on top of everything. Because of Catalyst’s proactive attitude, downtime is usually picked up before anybody even notices anything is wrong.

“We’re very happy with our relationship with Catalyst. It’s great to work with people who understand the system and are proactive… They genuinely want to help us achieve our goals.” Christopher Bonfield, Acting Director, Centre for Learning and Teaching

Both students and staff need to be able to rely on the system they are using in order to work efficiently, and they were lacking that confidence when their Moodle system was unreliable. The University says the increased confidence that their staff has is hugely important to them. Although the stability of service has had a positive impact on them financially, it is the benefits to their reputation that the University is most pleased about.

“It was great working with specialist staff who are skilled in the support of Moodle and provision of robust service.” Lisa McIver, TEL Systems Manager

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