The Progression of Cloud Computing
in Further Education Colleges
VLE in the Cloud
A study based on Cloud Technology projects managed by the
Association of Colleges and funded by the Skills Funding
Agency - 2012 - 2013
Detailed outcomes from Individual Projects
4.6 VLE in the Cloud
Needs and Opportunities
Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are used extensively by further education Colleges. Many
VLEs have been hosted by Colleges themselves. Whilst providing control and flexibility, hosting
VLEs within Colleges requires servers and staffing. There is also a need to integrate VLEs with
other College systems such as MIS. Colleges have increasingly been hosting VLEs in the cloud,
which has the potential to increase systems’ resilience and enable integration whilst saving costs.
Exeter College: This project involves large-scale hosting of a new Moodle in the cloud to sit
alongside the College’s SharePoint portal. A first stage was to migrate the existing VLE to the
Hereford College of Technology with the Royal National College for the Blind:
“This project involves cloud hosting of Moodle for partially sighted learners. We are helping
visually impaired people to access Moodle and other websites or applications regardless of the
device they are using and whether they have existing enabling software available. College IT
departments are also benefitting from not having to install enabling software on every PC that
might be used by a visually impaired person and instead provisioning the software as a service
from the cloud”.
New College Durham: The move was to a hosted Blackboard site where the College would get
the benefits of software updates made by the supplier on request. This would mean some removal
of risk to the College when maintenance is being carried out. Offsite hosting also greatly mitigates
against disaster recovery/business continuity risks.
The existing VLE (Blackboard) was used to share course information and learning materials and
for communication between teaching staff and students. The College did not want to change the
way the VLE worked so we had to ensure the transition from internal system to external hosting
Nescot and Greenwich College: This project is a shared service cloud computing project between
Greenwich Community College and Nescot. The Colleges have existing shared service working
arrangements in the areas of finance, IT, staff development and senior management. The project
sought to establish a high quality shared VLE cloud based around common Moodle course
development. Technical issues such as synchronised login across different hosting providers have
been managed effectively. Common areas for the development of shared eLearning resources have
been agreed (Employability, Study Skills and GCSE Maths and English) have been developed with
specialist support from a high-quality online provider.
Project led by Portsmouth College involving six Colleges in total: This project involves six sixth
form Colleges sharing access and development of Moodle in a private cloud. Initially it is focused
on the teaching of A Level Physics in a context of scarcity of staffing and teaching resources.
Swindon College: Moodle & Mahara hosted in the cloud.
Wigan and Leigh College: Moodle and e-portfolio hosted in the cloud.
All projects involved are moving a College VLE, often with an e-portfolio, into a public or
One project, New College Durham, was based on Blackboard, with the rest being Moodle.
Whilst it is early to confirm benefits, a number of projects have experienced these. Hereford
College and New College Durham have confirmed ease of use of their new systems. Hereford
have reported a good experience in developing the system in the cloud.
A number of projects reported staff having to adjust to working practices where they had less
access to the VLE on the server. New College Durham users needed some time to get used to
the new system.
Four projects - Exeter College, New College Durham, Swindon College and Wigan and Leigh
College - involved moving or redeveloping a single College VLE to the cloud.
Three projects - Hereford/Royal National College for the Blind, Nescot/Greenwich and
Portsmouth College (Solent Sixth Form Colleges) - involved collaborative working between
Colleges to deliver specific learning gains. The Hereford Project involved making learning
materials available on Moodle for visually impaired learners. The Nescot project involved
the sharing of the development and use of specific learning materials e.g. in Maths. The
Portsmouth College Project involves the sharing of A level Physics teaching and materials
between the Colleges against a background of scarcity of staff and learning resources.
Hereford and Nescot have experienced particularly productive collaborative working given
that these projects are based on already established partnerships. The Solent Colleges have
had positive experience against a background of needing to do detailed work on agreeing
common syllabuses etc. The Nescot and Portsmouth projects utilise private clouds, whilst
the others are public clouds. The Swindon and Wigan and Leigh VLEs are hosted by ULCC.
New College work with Blackboard as a partner. Hereford work with Webanywhere and
Nescot with Synergy Learning, who are established Moodle Partners.
Portsmouth College have identified security as a key issue when working in a collaborative
context The technical implementation of these projects has been uniformly smooth. Exeter
College have encountered a challenge with LDAP authentication, which relates to integration
with their SharePoint system. The New College Durham implementation was
straightforward given that Blackboard is both VLE provider and development partner.
Exeter College have identified a need to pay high attention to the interdependency of SLAs
especially when these are the responsibility of a development partner. New College Durham
reported the need for agreements on personal data protection, when integrating the system
with UNIT-e, and that Blackboard had standard agreement for these situations.
Hereford reported savings on servers in both Colleges. Some Colleges reported a reduction
in staff time in removing the need to support VLEs on local servers.
Exeter College: Moodle hosted in the cloud to sit alongside the College’s existing SharePoint
Hereford College of Technology/RNC: Cloud hosting of Moodle for partially sighted students.
New College Durham: Blackboard in the cloud.
Nescot and Greenwich College: Private cloud sharing of Moodle system and teaching materials.
Portsmouth College: Private cloud sharing A Level Physics teaching materials and teachers.
Swindon College: Moodle hosted by ULCC in the cloud.
Wigan and Leigh College: Moodle hosted by ULCC in the cloud.
Exeter College: The College experienced some challenges with the chain of suppliers in achieving
the required functionality.
Hereford College of
Technology and RNC:
Third party support company
Webanywhere has set up
Moodle 2.4 in the cloud and
migrated Moodle 1.9 data into
it ready for user testing and
training. Three days were spent
discussing the look and feel of
the new Moodle.
Nescot and Greenwich
Community College working
with Moodle Partner Synergy
Procurement process complete
as per the College’s financial
regulations. Following interviews and presentations, Synergy Learning were selected to host and
to develop the shared cloud VLE Portal between GCC and Nescot and to develop the course(s).
New College Durham: Working with Blackboard.
Swindon College: Moodle hosted in the cloud, with Mahara, by ULCC.
Wigan & Leigh College: ULCC issues with staff leaving.
Project and Change Management
Exeter College: The College has selected its cloud hosting partner and migrated the existing
Moodle to the V. It is currently implementing the main project which is to create a new
cloud -hosted Moodle to sit alongside the SharePoint Portal. The functional and technical aspects
of this new cloud -hosted Moodle have been specified. The specification includes essential systems
integration and security requirements. Partners were selected through use of the HRC3
Framework (the Procurement Framework devised by Hertford Regional College).
The College encountered two challenges, which it has needed to resolve with its supply chain.
Unexpected security concerns surrounding LDAP authentication to the College’s Active
The need for the College to be able to access some administrative functions of the Moodle
instance in order to match the level of control enjoyed when using a locally hosted instance.
Solutions have now been agreed and the cloud -hosted ’production’ Moodle system is expected to
be live by the end of the Autumn Term 2013.
Hereford College of Technology and RNC: The existing VLE has been live, hosted in Iceland
since October, and is working very well for staff and learners. No issues have been encountered
due to it being cloud based. The VLE is accessible by partially sighted learners on PCs. Specialist
software lists for each device type have been compiled. Specialist software website has been built
and is active. Live speech from website is active. HCT online VLE is now running on Moodle 2.4.
Nescot and Greenwich Community College: Technical implementation has been relatively
trouble free. Shared resources development and content availability have been worked on. Shared
service approach has been successful to date and builds on existing shared services links.
Synergy with other collaborative partners is being achieved e.g. NCFE and REED for
Employability course development.
Exeter College: There is a need for clarity of who is responsible for what, and the interdependence
of SLAs is paramount where the SaaS partner is dependent upon third parties.
New College Durham: Standard Blackboard SLA covers all needs.
Exeter College: The existing, populated Moodle environment has been migrated to cloud and is
in production yielding experience of relocation and managing a cloud-hosted service. So far this is
serving over 48 courses. There has been significant engagement of teaching practitioners involved
in evolving new design. The specification for production environment and integration strategy has
been generated. Partners have been selected and implementation planning completed. The cloud
-hosted production environment has been implemented. The practitioner training programme
has been delivered and revised authentication strategy agreed and implementation planned. An
improved understanding of administrative functionality has been gained.
Hereford College of Technology and RNC: Innovative use of cloud-based SaaS has been achieved
to provide enabling software to end users without having to install on all machines those users
might possibly use. Basic Moodle accessibility is available even from clients with no enabling
software available. There is a layer to suggest available options (both free and chargeable) based
on detected device, including instructions. Cloud-based Moodle has had no negative impact on
performance from within or outside the College. There are fewer calls to the IT support team.
Nescot and Greenwich Community College: The shared cloud -based VLE is now live and
account synchronisation and seamless login has been implemented. The College is now focussing
on the development and implementation of a set of common courses in: Study Skills,
Employability and GCSE in Maths and English. These courses are critically important to both
Colleges. Independent learning for Maths and English has been highlighted in the new OfSTED
Common Inspection Framework. The development of employability skills is a priority for both
Colleges. Moreover, Nescot has recently established the REED centre in partnership with
Swindon College: Significant project activities including auditing courses for Moodle content and
use. This is being used inform training. The use of a shared server at ULCC can impact on speed at
certain times and plans to move to a dedicated server are being investigated.
New College Durham: College staff had to get used to differences in the new version software,
particularly new data structures. The export and upload of regular outputs from the College’s
student database was addressed at this stage culminating in the integration of the managed
hosting environment with our student information system UNIT-e.
Consideration was also given to the sharing of personal (student) data with the external host.
However, the College did not need to draft a data sharing agreement as Blackboard had already
provided a standard declaration for the two parties to sign.
Portsmouth College: A key issue for the development of multi-user systems has been that of
security, ensuring that users can upload materials without the risk of others overwriting or
amending. To overcome this, a different configuration has been developed with each partner
having full read-write access to their own designated iteration and read access only to those for
When common content is approved, it will then be copied from partner locations to a common
area which will then be available to download to local student access versions.
Systems are now up and running with usernames/passwords distributed to all subject teaching
“We will be able to evaluate savings when we have fully and successfully implemented the
production environment which we now anticipate to be during November.”
Swindon College & Wigan and Leigh College: Impact will be evaluated during Autumn 2013
into the beginning of 2014.
Hereford College of Technology and RNC:
“The cost of running the cloud VLE will be similar to that in-house taking into account the extra
JANET capacity required and service contracts. Centralising enabling software will reduce
licensing and support costs by around £5000pa across both Colleges whilst reducing student
software costs. We expect to realise these cost savings in the 2013/14 academic year.”
Sustainability and Expected Longer Term Impact
All of these projects are sustainable in terms of the scope to add further content, increase reach
and facilitate further collaborative learning. The projects that are in the public cloud will support
energy savings and reduced hosting overheads.
Replicablity for the Wider FE Sector
All of these projects are replicable in the wider sector as they involve a range of approaches to
migrating VLE to cloud in a number of different contexts.
With thanks to all project partners who contributed to the
development of this report and consultant Chris West
The Association of Colleges 2013
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