Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Making foolish assumptions

There’s a saying about making foolish assumptions, and it certainly applies in this situation. CILIP, a leading professional body for the library sector has recently launched a new Virtual Learning Environment for members, which will provide an online method of tracking and submitting the evidence of members professional registration activities (e.g. Certification, Chartership etc). It should hold all the information we need to do those things, and the My Portfolio area is an add-on to the VLE, a virtual portfolio which allows logging and submission of evidence of your professional activities directly. It should be better than the old, paper based, "oh god, I think I just destroyed half the Amazon, and now I have to index tab it...in triplicate!” option, and simplify and speed up what had become rather time consuming, mainly because of the admin. However..it doesn't appear that the changes, at this present moment, are much of an improvement. I initially went on yesterday to look for information about how my mentee should be tracking their professional activity using it. First though, I thought I should learn more about the VLE, so I went to the section “Getting started on the VLE”. There were two options available - one on getting started, and one on editing your profile. I went to read the getting started section...only to find it was a screencast. On YouTube. With audio. With no subtitling. There are a number of issues associated with the assumptions used with this approach to providing information. The assumption that everyone will have a learning style which works well with videos and audio. The assumption that everyone can access YouTube (one of the most popular sites for work filtering software to block). The assumption that everyone can see visuals when they access the site. The assumption that everyone can listen to audio when they access the site. The assumption that no subtitling is needed with an audio visual resource. And finally, and most importantly, the assumption that no users have visual or hearing impairments, which would mean that a video with no subtitling is completely inaccessible to them. I naturally thought that there would be a text based alternative. After all, given the issues listed above, you would expect there to be some alternative method for accessing these instructions available. However, surprisingly, this was not the case. There is virtually no text of any depth on the site: every section where you expect guidance and information has...a screencast. I cannot understand why anyone thought this was an appropriate or inclusive approach. Many people will be unwilling to sit in their lunch break at work and view time-consuming screencasts, when they could have read the same information in a fraction of the time if it was available as text. Even if they did want to learn in that way, many users couldn’t, and I am one of those people, with a workplace which blocks YouTube. Why is there no text-based guidance for anything? So, frustrated and dispirited, I left the VLE for the day. Then today, I thought I’d try to start logging my professional activities for Revalidation. I tried to look at the criteria for the Evaluative Statement for Revalidation - apparently it should be the same as the Chartership criteria, and can be found in the Chartership Handbook. However, it appears that you can’t see the Chartership Handbook, as clicking on the link to it within the Evaluative Statement tab in the Revalidation section, takes you to a page that requires entry of the enrolment key. However, I do not have an enrolment key as I’m not registered for Chartership. So I decided to put that on hold, and start logging my professional activities. 
My professional activities are meant to be tracked in the My Portfolio area but I’ve never used the My Portfolio area before. When I followed the link within the VLE to My Portfolio, and saw that I needed to log in, I assumed it was a new registration that I needed to do with My Portfolio, so I tried to register myself with my email address. It appears though that this email address is already registered with My Portfolio. So if my email address was already registered, then I assumed it must require my CILIP website password (as I entered via the CILIP VLE, which I had logged in to via the website) to let me log in, but it wasn't accepting that password.

I reset my CILIP website password, just to be sure I was putting in the right password, and tried again: still no access.
Then, I used the button to ask for a password reset, since nothing else so far had worked. I know the email address I asked for the reminder to be sent to is correct, since it’s already told me I’m registered.
Bad idea - I get this nonsense in response: 

The user you requested uses an external authentication method. <a href="http://vle.cilip.org.uk/mahara/contact.php">Ask your administrator</a> for help with changing your password. Or provide another username or email address.


Finally though, I have accidentally found out how to access My Portfolio! 

Attempting access through the link within the Revalidation “course” page doesn’t work (the route I was trying above): the only way I have found to access it is through the Home page of the VLE (but not the "My Home" page, which is a sub-page of the home page, confusingly). In the top right corner is a reference to Network Servers, and CILIP Portfolio sits within that area. Clicking on that link will take you straight into the My Portfolio. But only that link, on that specific page, because as soon as you move into any of the VLE areas to actually use them, that area disappears. This whole process has been extremely dispiriting. I’m not sure if any user testing was done before its launch or whether it was rushed out for a deadline. Either way, it would have been better to delay the launch, than to release something that is far from user-friendly. Like others I was enthusiastic about its launch and was eager to engage with it and document my professional activities. Unfortunately, my experience has been less than positive and all that initial enthusiasm has ebbed away. And I’m not alone - other people are encountering the same issues and frustrations with the site. What concerns me is that somebody was paid to do this, and my membership fees contributed towards it. Myself and other CILIP members partly funded it. Yet it’s currently in a state where it is of limited practical use to myself and other members and, as a result, I am unlikely to use it again until these issues have been ironed out. I hope CILIP resolve these issues as soon as possible. The development of the VLE has been one that has been broadly welcomed and greeted with enthusiasm. It will be a shame for this initial enthusiasm to turn to widespread disillusionment with something that could be a useful and valuable tool.
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