So Long, and Thanks for All the…

…challenges, suggestions, and insights into many different departments at the university! The last 11 months have been an absolute blast working with the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit as an Online Learning Specialist.

Having started with the 2020 Annual Learning and Teaching Conference, it was wonderful to be able to be a part of the 2021 instance of the same event towards the end of my time in this job. This time round, I even presented (albeit in my role as Lecturer in Theatre and Scenography with TFTS) – you can find the recording of that paper here. Those two events bracket an intense time of learning and teaching for me: alongside my lovely colleagues, I designed, developed, and delivered training sessions on everything from Blackboard to Vevox. I supported staff from all kinds of departments in the switch from in-person to blended learning, to online-only, and back. It is no exaggeration to say I am in awe of the dedication, determination, and ingenuity displayed by colleagues all over the university. I am sure that the resources produced by the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit will continue to support staff as we head towards another academic year potentially full of necessary adaptations. Keep an eye on the Staff Training pages – I for one will be sure to make use of them.

As my Online Learning Specialist colleagues and I move on to other challenges, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all Information Services colleagues, and especially the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit, for being so welcoming and allowing me to gain a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for the many-facetted work of that department. Diolch o galon i gyd!

Improving accessibility – lessons learnt from a blended approach  

Over the course of the conference, we had a wide range of presentations. A theme which emerged for me was the way in which the use of a blended learning approached offered increased accessibility specifically by tailoring module content which suited the needs of students. At Aberystwyth University, we are proud to have such a diverse range of students and provide an inclusive teaching approach. Some of the ways in which our courses have been adapted in response to the challenging teaching circumstances we have had throughout the pandemic had a significant impact on improving accessibility to our students.  

Neil Taylor of the Computer Science Department did a fantastic talk on his experiences in creating accessible interactive web-based resources. He was seeking to resolve confusion over the location of documents which he had created to provide information for third year dissertations. He developed a sphinx-doc which compiled all this information into one place and a more easily accessible format. He was able to configure different themes and fonts to suit the needs of the students. Neil’s talk emphasised the importance of the webpage interface design in in ensuring wide accessibility. To find out more click here for the presentation.   

Members of the English & Creative Writing Department gave a presentation that presented a case in favour of the hyflex model. Dr Louise Marshall, Dr Malte Urban and Professor Matt Jarvis led the presentation which really evaluated the benefits of the hyflex model of teaching. There was an appreciation by students about the flexibility of the online teaching approach, which meant that whether they were absent due to isolation, illness, or other circumstances, they could still engage with the content and attend the sessions. Two students from the department, Alex and Louise, both spoke about their positive experiences of the hyflex model and how it improved accessibility and inclusivity. I have to admit this was one of my favourite presentations so if you have the chance, please give it a listen. To find out more click here for the presentation.  

Dr Tristram Irvine-Fynn from the Geography and Earth Sciences Department gave a presentation of the creation of 3D Fieldtrips to Cadair Idris. This was inspired to complement the role of fieldwork within Geography modules.  By adapting resources the department have created a more accessible environment and active learning experience. It is a fantastic learning resource  and there is a lot of potential to increase and expand its use. To find out more click here for the presentation.  

Kittie Belltree, Mary Glasser, Cal Walters-Davies, & Caroline White  from the Student Support and Careers Services gave a presentation on the impacts that blended learning had on neurodiverse students. They noted that not all student experiences of blended learning were particular advantageous and that some neurodiverse students found it difficult to adapt to the new methods of learning and teaching. In the presentation the accessibility service provided information as to the ways which staff can support neurodiverse students and to help ensure their module content is accessible. They also provided a helpful guide to inclusive teaching. To find out more click here for the presentation. 

I think what the rapid switch to hyflex model has shown is the potential wider use of different methods of teaching. It has led to lecturers being able to trial and implement bolder methods of teaching and assessment. It has given departments a chance to reflect on the way in which course content is delivered and taught some key lessons and skills which can be used in the further development of course content.  

Students as digital producers

Professor Rafe Hallett from Keele University has recently delivered a fascinating keynote talk exploring the idea of students as digital producers.

The presentation encouraged educators to explore which modes of co-creation are already inhabited by their students and enable them to work collaboratively in the production of knowledge. As pointed out by Professor Hallett, this constructionist approach leads to a more meaningful experience. Students produce outputs which are available externally to university systems and can be showcased and shared as ‘theirs’. This contributes to the feeling that their work ‘matters’, in contrast to submitting assessment in a standard format which is read, marked and archived.

Enabling students to be digital producers requires them to build on skills they already have, but also to develop digital criticality to choose the right digital resources for what they are trying to do. It is one way of facilitating more authentic assessments, a concept explored by Kay Sambell and Sally Brown our recent mini-fest.

What we need to consider when planning for 2021/22 teaching?

The time to get ready for 2021/22 teaching is fast-approaching. Although there is still much uncertainty about what we will be able to provide, we would like to share with you a few points worth considering when planning for next year. These points derive from our reflections and experiences of supporting staff and students over the past academic year, as well as considerations from colleagues across the sector.

How will we measure student engagement?

What we mean by student engagement and how we measure it has changed over the past year. Previously we might have gauged student engagement in the classroom by simply observing their participation during the face-to-face sessions or monitoring their attendance. Since teaching online, we perhaps paid more attention to Panopto statistics, participation in interactive activities on Blackboard and chat in Teams. Making it clear what you mean by engagement and how you are going to measure it, in what is likely to be a new delivery format for you and your students, can help you evaluate your methods and help students understand what is expected of them (Love & El Hakim, 2020).

What will our students need?

We know that during the pandemic many students suffered from isolation, studied in various home conditions and struggled with anxiety and motivation. Going forward we will need to take this into account and balance the increased need for contact hours and socialisation with best pedagogical practices. Although we won’t be able to approach this upcoming year with certainty, it is essential to provide students with a sense of structure wherever possible. One of best practice emphasised during past months is creating ‘roadmaps’ which tell students what they need to do and by when. Another recurring theme across the sector is building a community of learners to address isolation.

How will we manage student expectations?

Managing student expectations is never easy and may be even more challenging this upcoming year. One way of managing expectations effectively is by engaging in a continuous conversation with students and being able to adapt wherever possible. Treating students as partners in their learning design also requires  explaining why we educate them the way we do, even if it is not what they expected. Finally, scaffolding their learning regardless of the form it takes is likely to increase their satisfaction.

How our roles as educators and education professionals will change?

The flipped-classroom approach which our institution promoted this academic year changes the power dynamic in the classroom. It allows students to have more choice over how they learn and when. It also places more emphasis on tutors being mentors and facilitators rather than lecturers. Going forward, the relationships between students and staff is likely to be transformed further. As mentioned earlier, it may be an opportunity to work in partnership with our students, enabling them to be the agents of their learning experience. 

What software can I use for teaching?

Although our Unit’s provision focuses on supporting core tools such as Blackboard, Turnitin, Panopto and MS Teams, a list of software available to AU staff is much longer.

We have recently procured the university polling software – Vevox which can be an excellent addition to the tools you are already using. During the Annual Learning and Teaching Conference (book on the conference) our Vevox account manager Joe Probert will explain how Vevox can be used for learning activities. On Wednesday, we will also have an opportunity to join a webinar on how to use Vevox in your hybrid classroom. If you like to see how Vevox has been used by other institutions, you can also take a look at these case studies.

Another tool that we have previously written about is Padlet which is free and widely used across the sector. Take a look at our previous blog post which includes some ideas on how it could be applied in teaching. There is also a recording of the presentation on Padlet by Danielle Kirk delivered during the 7th Annual Learning and Teaching Conference.

Based on findings of the Digital Insights Survey we have also published a list of digital tools and apps useful for learning. You may choose to recommend these to your students by sharing this post with them or pointing them to specific tools helping them with what they need.

If you decide to use any of the third-party software for learning and teaching, there are a few considerations you need to make to keep yourself and your students safe online.

See: Using Third-Party Software for Learning and Teaching

If you have any questions about using software in your teaching then contact us on lteu@aber.ac.uk.

Taking your (PowerPoint) Lectures Online: Kate Exley Workshop

The Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit is pleased to announce a special online workshop run by Dr Kate Exley on Wednesday 7th July at 10am.

The workshop will be useful for colleagues who are modifying and transferring their traditionally delivered lectures for on-line learning.

Please book your place online [link]:

https://stafftraining.aber.ac.uk/sd/list_courses.php

Places are limited so please book as soon as possible.

Session Overview:

Many colleagues have been involved in providing blended or on-line learning for many years but the Covid pandemic has meant that we have all needed to quickly provide much of our teaching and learning at a distance. This has involved moving our lectures, previously delivered in large lecture theatres and classrooms, to online platforms. The speed at which this huge change has happened has in itself caused significant challenges for staff and students alike.  This blended workshop aims to provide some guidance, examples and a forum for colleagues to share their experiences and ideas for enhancing this provision.

This workshop is presented in two parts:

  • A set of 3 short videos will be made available on or before the 30th June 2021 and should be viewed independently before joining discussion forum – approximately 45 minutes independent study.
  • A discussion forum hosted via Teams on the 7th July, in which participants will have the opportunity to ask questions, share experiences and discuss the topic – lasting 1 hour.

By the end of the two hour, session you should be able to:

  • Consider the purpose of the on-line lecture in Covid times
  • Discuss a range of practical design issues when taking lectures on-line
  • Share experiences and ideas with colleagues ‘in the same boat’
  • Begin to plan your next steps & what you can implement from the workshop

This workshop is mapped primarily to A2, A5, K2, K3 on the UKPSF. 

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Mini-Fest: Assessment – 17th May – 21st May

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The Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit is pleased to announce its first mini-festival. The aim of the mini-fest is to bring together training sessions and workshops offered by LTEU around a particular topic with an external speaker. For this first mini-fest, we’ll be looking specifically at assessment. The mini fest will run from Monday 17th May until Friday 21st May and will be taking place online via Teams. Please book on the sessions that you wish to attend on our online booking system.

We are going to be joined by Professors Sally Brown and Kay Sambell to talk about assessment design post covid on Monday 17th May for a 2-hour workshop at 10.30am. Their paper Writing Better Assignments in the post Covid19 Era has been widely discussed across the sector since last summer:

Improving assessment and feedback processes post-pandemic: authentic approaches to improve student learning and engagement.

This workshop is designed to build on lessons learned during the complex transitions academics made last year when face-to-face on-campus assessment became impossible. A whole range of approaches were used by academics globally not only to cope with the contingency but also to streamline assessment and more fully align it with learning.

We now have an important opportunity to change assessment and feedback practices for good by boosting the authenticity of our designs to ensure they are future-fit.  Drawing on their work undertaken throughout 2020, https://sally-brown.net/kay-sambell-and-sally-brown-covid-19-assessment-collection/ the facilitators of this workshop Professor Kay Sambell and Professor Sally Brown will argue that we can’t ever go back to former ways of assessment and will propose practical, manageable approaches that fully integrate assessment and feedback with learning, leading to improved outcomes and longer-term learning for students.

Professor Kay Sambell is an Independent Consultant widely known internationally for her contributions to the Assessment for Learning (AfL) movement in higher education. A 2002 National Teaching Fellow (NTF) and Principal Fellow Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), she is President of the vibrant Assessment in Higher Education (AHE) conference series, ( https://ahenetwork.org/) and Visiting Professor of Assessment for Learning at the University of Sunderland and the University of Cumbria. Kay has held personal chairs in Learning and Teaching at Northumbria University, where she co-led one of the UK Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning which specialised in AfL, and, more recently, at Edinburgh Napier University.   

Kay.sambell@cumbria.ac.uk

Website: https://kaysambell.wordpress.com

Professor Sally Brown is an Independent Consultant in Learning, Teaching and Assessment and Emerita Professor at Leeds Beckett University where she was, until 2010, Pro-Vice-Chancellor. She is also Visiting Professor at Edge Hill University and formerly at the Universities of Plymouth, Robert Gordon, South Wales and Liverpool John Moores and at Australian universities James Cook Central Queensland and the Sunshine Coast. She is a PFHEA, a Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) Senior Fellow and an NTF. She is widely published on learning, teaching and particularly assessment and enjoys working with institutions and teams on improving the student learning experience. 

S.brown@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

Website: https://sally-brown.net

In addition to Sally’s and Kay’s workshop, LTEU will be offering sessions and workshops over the course of the week:

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Netiquette – Communicating your expectations for online participation

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Mary Jacob, Lecturer in Learning and Teaching, LTEU

The term ‘Netiquette’ means etiquette for interacting on the internet. In the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit, staff often ask us about appropriate guidelines for students when interacting online.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to netiquette. Because different teaching scenarios require different guidelines, you will need to decide on the most appropriate rules for your own students. We’ve written this document to help you make those decisions when teaching synchronously (e.g. via Teams) and asynchronously (e.g. discussion boards), using verbal and/or written interactions.

If you can make your expectations clear to your students, it will give them confidence and reduce potential issues. Here are our key tips:

  • Tip 1: Make your expectations clear from the start and reinforce as needed. What seems obvious to us may not be obvious to our students. Telling them what we expect helps students behave appropriately and learn better.
  • Tip 2: Don’t change the rules mid-stream. Changing the rules after the module has begun could be confusing. Anticipating potential issues in advance can help us to avoid them.
  • Tip 3: Be fair and inclusive. The assumptions we make may not address all of the challenges our students face. Considering their diverse backgrounds and needs helps us include everyone.
  • Tip 4: Model good online behaviour. We serve as a powerful role model when we put into practice the same things we want our students to do.

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What else could we do to support student learning? (according to students themselves!)

We have recently had an opportunity to deliver ‘Make the most of your online learning’ sessions to Peer Guides, Student Representatives as well as Residential Assistants. These sessions focused mainly on introducing students to resources which are available to them: Supporting your Learning module on Blackboard (which will shortly be rolled out to all students); and the Quick Guide to Student Success.

We have also taken these opportunities to ask students: ‘What else can we do to support your learning?’. We would like to share with you some of the feedback we received along with suggestions on how these could be addressed:

Assignment extensions 

Although this is not something that can be resolved by teaching staff, it may be worth including a link to the Course Extensions information along with other assessment related information.

Clear structure

Some students expressed difficulties in navigating their workload related to online learning and a need for a clearer structure on how and when the content will be released to them. Therefore, we would like to encourage staff to include a short table with content release dates (it can be included in Module Information) and sticking to dates and times of seminar and live sessions which have been timetabled.

A table showing dates on each content being released on Blackboard

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Kate Exley Workshop Summary

Last month the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit invited Dr Kate Exley to run a workshop for Aberystwyth University Staff called Moving your (PowerPoint) Lecture online.

What emerged from participants were lots of useful strategies for engaging students whilst teaching online. We’ve summarised some of the discussion below.

Learning Design:

  1. Simple strategies were most effective, such as using word document and uploading into chat
  2. Make use of Polling Software to engage students in their learning
  3. Build in ice-breaker activities to establish initial engagement
  4. In longer sessions, set a task and factor in a screen break
  5. Include tasks for students to do in advance and use the live sessions to scaffold their knowledge
  6. Include social tasks as well as formal tasks
  7. One department are running day long workshops with the option to ‘dial’ in the staff member if they’ve got any questions
  8. Stick to one or two large scale activities in a 40 minute session
  9. Be aware that students might be entering the synchronous session not having engaged with all tasks beforehand
  10. Use collaborative tools such as shared document, whiteboard or Padlet to collectively generate notes
  11. Being more informal in recorded lectures
  12. Offering weekly live q and a drop in sessions
  13. Asking students to meet in groups outside of timetabled activities
  14. Share real life examples / case studies in teaching and ask students to contribute with their own examples
  15. Ask students to look things up / research in the synchronous session

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