Wednesday the 9th of May saw the simultaneous launch of the JISC-funded Virtual Training Suite  across the United Kingdom. The launch took place in six academic institutions: Edinburgh, Leeds, Bristol, Nottingham, Kings College London, and Manchester. We attended the Scottish launch, which was held in the main library of Edinburgh University.
The Virtual Training Suite consists of forty online tutorials designed to help students, lecturers and researchers improve their Internet information skills. The tutorials offer self-directed learning, take around an hour each to complete, and include quizzes and interactive exercises to lighten the learning experience. The subject coverage of the tutorials is impressive, ranging from "Internet for Health and Safety", "Internet Politician", "Internet for Nature" to "Internet Anthropologist" and "Internet Developer". This wide range of quite specific subjects means that most people should find one (or possibly two or three) tutorials that very closely match their subject interests.
The event began with Micheal Breaks, University Librarian of Heriot-Watt University, opening proceedings wearing a bright yellow Virtual Training Suite t-shirt, reminiscent of the attire worn to raves a decade ago. As Michael outlined the VTS, a slideshow sequentially outlined each of the guides in the background.
Following this, a video was played of Michael Wills , the Minister for Learning and Technology, who gave us his positive verdict and approval on the Virtual Training Suite. His central message was how the Virtual Training Suite would help users to "harness technology efficiently".
The highlight of the launch was a phone conference link-up between all six of the launch sites. Despite cynical mutterings of "it'll never work" from several attendees, it actually worked, and we were treated to Nicky Ferguson from the Institute for Learning and Research Technology seemingly auditioning for the job of Eurovision Song Contest Presenter e.g. "Come in Edinburgh, can you hear me Michael?".
A fine lunch was served to all attendees, the number of which seemed to mysteriously double as the food was dished out (the fact that EDINA work in the same building being surely a coincidence :-) ) As usual with any event organised by EEVL , a large number of goodies such as pens, balloons and so forth were available to take away; in fact, my previous place of work significantly reduced its office costs due to EEVL-related items being picked up at events.
A fully equipped lab was available for people to experiment with the Virtual Training Suite. Previous to today, I had already gone through eight of these, being interested (but at the same time alarmed) at how much new information I hoovered up. One of the interesting points about using the VTS tutorials is that in no way does it seem like hard work; but, after an hour or so, you discover that you've actually learnt a lot. Perhaps that is, and will be, the secret of their success.
Over an extended lunch, several delegates and VTS developers shared their thoughts. Robin Rice (Data Library, Edinburgh University), the developer of the Internet for Social Statistics tutorial, said "I think the most important addition the VTS brings to Higher Education is the subject specific context for learning to use the Internet effectively". Peter Maggs (Library, University of Newcastle) said "I particularly like the development of the scenarios...several students I have worked with have used the VTS to develope a worked practical example". Many other developers, Information Intermediaries and (most importantly) users gave unreserved positive comments.
- The Virtual Training Suite Web site is at: http://www.vts.rdn.ac.uk/
- The launch speech by Michael Wills, the Minister for Learning and Technology, can be found at: http://www.vts.rdn.ac.uk/video/index.htm
- The EEVL Web site is at: http://www.eevl.ac.uk/