Aberystwyth University has once again run the Students Digital Insights Survey, a survey that asks learners the impact of online and technology implemented learning. This year over 600 students at Aberystwyth University took this survey.
The Key Metrics
The JISC survey has changed in the last year with some of the key metric questions being changed, for the questions that have stayed very similar or the same we can compare to last year’s results.
Supported use of own devices
Access to online platforms off-site
Online learning environment
Quality of online learning on course
In a majority of these key metrics we saw a positive increase with Aberystwyth University having improved from the previous year. This trend of improvement is mirrored throughout the survey results. In the case of questions which changed in the key metrics a lot of them are incomparable because of the changes made. For example, last year asked about ‘Well-designed’ online learning materials. This was changed to ‘Engaging and motivating’ online learning materials. With online learning trends questions relating to motivation are typically exceptionally more negative, making questions that use these adjectives much more negative.
You can read more about Universal Design for Learning on the CAST Site.
The workshop will take place online via Teams. A link will be sent to you before the event.
Please see below for the session description and speaker biography.
In 2015, De Montfort University adopted Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as its institution-wide approach to learning, teaching, and assessment in response to its exceptional level of learner diversity. UDL is an approach that incorporates a variety of options to allow it to be accessible and inclusive for diverse groups of learners possessing a wide variety of learning needs and preferences.
In this masterclass, Dr Kevin Merry, will introduce the “Cheese Sandwich” approach to supporting learner mastery. The Cheese Sandwich has become the vehicle by which colleagues at DMU have begun to embed UDL into the design of their teaching sessions, modules, and programmes. Specifically, Kevin will provide a series of practical activities that will help colleagues to uncover the pedagogic foundations of the Cheese Sandwich. Furthermore, Kevin will invite colleagues to begin thinking about some of the key considerations that teachers must make when planning and designing learning experiences from a UDL perspective, and how this can be done using the systems approach of the CUTLAS method.
Finally, Kevin will finish off the session by addressing the elephant in the room – the issue of universally designed assessment. By providing guidance and practical examples from De Montfort University’s own Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education (PGCLTHE), Kevin will hopefully dispel some of the myths that exist around UDL and assessment, supporting colleagues to adopt more UDL centric ways of assessing learning.
Written by Lucie Andrews, English and Creative Writing
The best Blackboard modules are organised effectively, easy to navigate and kept updated. However, I would like to focus on how Blackboard could be used as a resource for study skills and excellent academic practice. During the Student Learning Ambassadors project, we discussed what is a well-designed Blackboard module and some of the feedback included the way we felt that the referencing and citing guide was not easily accessible nor comprehensive enough to cover all student’s needs. We also talked about the idea of including assignment model answers as a template of what needs to be included and how to format assignments correctly. One way to act upon this feedback would be to include a new folder within the assessment and feedback section that focuses on study skills in order to improve Blackboard as a student resource.
When analysing the different approaches to how different departments used Blackboard during the usability testing, I realised there was a useful section in the module menu called ‘Tools for Academic Writing’ in my department of English and Creative Writing that was not in the other departmental menus. Therefore, I would recommend that we should implement ‘Tools for Academic Writing’ across all departments by creating an additional folder within the assessment and feedback section to act upon some of the student feedback. Why should you consider this? And what will this new folder include? As Blackboard is the site used for the learning and academic aspect of the student experience, I believe that all students would gain from a folder dedicated to providing students with study skills and tips that will enable them to achieve excellent academic practice. Within this folder, it would provide a unique list of study skills relating to each department’s needs. Here is a general template of what this folder could include:
a detailed referencing and citing guide that meets each department’s stylesheet
a guide of essential study tips and skills including essay writing pointers
links to workshops offered by the university on study skills
a FAQ on study skills and general module information
As a student, I have personally found that there is mostly a focus on the material covered in lectures, seminars and workshops and a focus on the marks scheme and assessment criteria. However, there is generally less focus on how you can improve your writing/study skills independently and how to write an essay/assessment / referencing to the expectations that meets the standards of university practices. Therefore, this folder on ‘Tools for Academic Writing’ should be implemented in all department’s assessment and feedback section across the University as it would offer Blackboard something new that would enhance the student academic experience, and this would aid students to achieve better grades. Thus, I feel that by implementing a folder dedicated to study skills within each module that is specific to what students on that module need would enhance student’s learning experience on Blackboard and improve its resources.
Our next Academy Forum will be taking place online on Thursday 2nd December, 10am-11.30am. In this Academy Forum, participants will be sharing their experiences and approaches to designing blended learning.
In response to the pandemic, many of us had to adapt our teaching practices considerably. For most, this relied on an increase in the use of technology and online activities for students to undertake in their own time asynchronously. Blended Learning design looks at how you might approach or integrate online interactions with face-to-face teaching.
Participants will be reflecting on their current approaches to teaching and how they design online and face to face activities. We’ll be looking at some frameworks that will be helpful in planning for blended learning and be thinking about strategies for successfully and gracefully integrating online teaching into face to face interactions, and face to face interactions into online teaching.
We’re the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit. Based in Information Services, we work with staff across the university to support and develop learning and teaching. We run a wide range of activities to do this.
…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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.