By Anna Udalowska
Pedagogical literature emphasises the importance of students’ active involvement in all initiatives which impact their learning experience. As we, the LTEU, work so closely with teaching staff advising them on best practices in learning and teaching, we felt that our provision would benefit from students’ direct involvement. We decided to partner with a group of students, acting as Student Learning Ambassadors, to focus on one of the most frequently raised issues in student feedback – Blackboard modules’ design.
A lot has been done already to improve navigation and consistency of Blackboard modules, e.g., we introduced departmental Blackboard menus and Blackboard Required Minimum Presence. There are some excellent examples of Blackboard modules out there, some of which are showcased in our Exemplary Course Awards. Nevertheless, comments on difficulties in navigation and lack of consistency of the Blackboard module still appear in student feedback (e.g., Digital Insights Survey).
Before starting the project, our Unit had an opportunity to attend a workshop on student-staff partnership delivered by Ruth and Mick Healey who are the leading consultants in this aspect of student engagement. The session as well as follow-up consultation focusing specifically on the Student Learning Ambassadors project was invaluable. Although our project was focused mainly on consulting students, we did our best to implement underlying values of student-staff partnerships, empowering students to take ownership of the project, helping them to realise the impact of their work and reflect on how it benefited their growth.
The Student Learning Ambassadors project was advertised through the AberWorks scheme and the AberCareers platform as well as among current Peer Guides and Student Representatives. In the week before the project started students completed their induction which included familiarising themselves with health and safety working procedures, information security and data protection guidelines, and introduction to the LTEU.
We started on Monday, the 12th of July, with a 2-hour long session which included icebreaker activities, establishing ground rules, going through the project’s schedule and introducing students to the project’s Teams site which we used to communicate as a group outside of the live sessions. In this session, we also emphasised the why behind the project as well as the impact that it will have. During the first session, we started brainstorming ideas of what a well-designed Blackboard module means to us, created a list of items that should be included in a Blackboard module and categorised them. Throughout this and other sessions we used a mixture of entire group activities and smaller group activities in breakout rooms to allow for equal contribution. After the first session, we combined notes and put them up on the Team’s site. We then asked students to take a look at the final document and make any comments and edits they thought are needed.
Day two and three of the project were spent on usability testing of two Blackboard modules whose coordinators kindly agreed to volunteer for these activities. During the usability testing, we worked with each student individually asking them to firstly explore the Blackboard welcome page and then each of the modules. At the end, we also asked them to show us a module from their department which they liked and found easy to navigate. We concluded with a short chat on what they would like to focus on in their blog post. Each student chose one aspect of Blackboard module design, e.g., assessment information, handbook, contact details etc. and explained what they find useful.
On day four, we gathered back as a group to complete two final activities. Firstly, we created a table with common Blackboard design issues, their impact, and proposed recommendations for fixing them. Then, after giving the Ambassadors time to familiarise themselves with the RMP, we collectively went through each section of the document making adjustments based on their comments.
We concluded the week by offering Ambassadors an optional workshop to help them reflect on what they achieved during the project, what skills they gained and how they could showcase what they’ve done in job applications or interviews.
I was really impressed with the quality of work produced by the Ambassadors. By the end of the project students produced the following:
- What should be included in a module (Day 1)
- Usability Testing – general feedback (Day2 &3)
- Usability Testing – feedback for module 1 (provided to the module coordinator)
- Usability Testing – feedback for module 2 (provided to the module coordinator)
- Recommendations for staff on common Blackboard issues
- Proposed changes to RMP
- Reflections on running the SLA project
Forthcoming blogs written by students:
Do your modules on Blackboard speak your student’s language? –
By Angela Connor
Information on Assessments – Tips from Students –
By Elisa Long Perez & Gabriele Sidekerskyte
Implementing ‘Tools for Academic Writing’ across all departments –
By Lucie Andrews
The importance of comprehensive module handbooks –
By Nathalia Kinsey
Organisation of Blackboard content – Tips from Students –
By Erin Whittaker, Katie Henslowe and Charlotte Coleman
The Importance of Splitting up the Reading List –
By Ammaarah James
As my role does not usually involve working directly with students, having the opportunity to run this project was really rewarding. Some of the recommendations I could offer those running similar initiatives would be:
- Include icebreakers and take time to get to know the students and let them get to know each other.
- Try not to be too formal, enjoy the project and approach it with curiosity – this will transfer on how your students will see it.
- Give students as much ownership of the project as possible, e.g., include aspects of the project where they have the autonomy to choose a focus.
- Work with them individually and collectively, this will help you to listen to each person, but also allow for group brainstorming and bouncing ideas off each other.
- Help them reflect on what they’ve done, it is easy to complete an impressive piece of work and quickly forget what exactly you’ve done to achieve it. Offering an optional section to help students see how they can use what they’ve done to progress their plans can add value to your project.