Digital Approaches to Education During CV19, a Critical Perspective

Today we have a post from one of our lecturers, Matthew Rogers-Draycott, in which he offers his perspective on the digitisation of higher education, and the role of curricula such as the RAU’s blended learning model during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Matt is a lecturer here at the RAU specialising in Entrepreneurship and Marketing, and he acts as the Programme Manager for a number of undergraduate degrees in the School of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Between stints in business Matt has spent the last 16 years working internationally as an entrepreneurship educator and course leader in a wide variety of institutions. He is also a passionate tech geek with a keen interest in digital approaches to education. You can follow Matt on Twitter.

Matthew Draycott, lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Marketing

We hope that this this post will be the first in a short series in which Matt shares some of his experiences of digital delivery.

Digital Approaches to Education During CV19, a Critical Perspective 

When I was asked to write this blog it was hard for me to decide what to focus on. In institutions across the UK staff are coping with such a variety of pains and pressures I wondered how I could write something that would be useful and meaningful. In the end, I decided to try to summarise my thoughts about the RAU’s approach to online education in this phase of the CV19 crisis and how I felt about this in the hope that it might provide some useful insights for other colleagues. 

Unlike many in the sector I am not a newcomer to designing and building digital learning materials. I created my first online course in 2011 and, in a previous life, I often championed the use of flipped classrooms, virtual learning spaces and gamified delivery through projects such as Mashhop.com (a pretty glorious failure), eventsblogs and conference presentations

Having read this, I bet many of you are thinking that, in the current environment, I am getting exactly what I always wanted… Please allow me to disabuse you of that notion. What I have long hoped for is a planned shift toward a more digitally integrated curriculum which is not, in the main, what we are currently producing.  

Matt delivering content in the classroom and using lecture capture software (Panopto)
Matt delivering content in the classroom and using lecture capture software (Panopto)

At the RAU, for example, our CV19 delivery model is designed to provide a blended curricula, a middle ground between fully flipped and traditional in-class teaching.  

While I believe that this is a good model which has pushed me to create some impactful new learning materials and encouraged me to update many lectures in a fashion that I might otherwise have avoided, this is still a long way from the deliberately constructed ecosystem I would like to see higher education institutions such as ours embrace. 

The difficulty here is that our model, like many others in the UK, is treading a fine line between the need to build more structured, synchronous, online content while maintaining an element of asynchronous face-to-face delivery. Furthermore, its rapid introduction leaves me feeling that deeper considerations of philosophy, pedagogy, and methodology have been curtailed in favour of streamlined approaches which can react to our ever changing environment.

To be clear, I am not criticizing the model, I am supportive of it, and I think that its compromises are understandable given the competing pressures it must, pragmatically, mediate between. That said, I am also keen that we do not present this as something it is not, a major step-change toward the mainstreaming of digital education approaches in higher education. 

Matt's home recording set up
Matt’s home recording set up

If we are going to shift in that direction, temporary solutions, such as those that we are currently offering will not be enough. Students are savvy consumers of digital media, they expect content and delivery systems which have been designed from the ground up to engage, entertain and educate. I believe this will result in the need for new training programmes, better equipment, and a radically different conceptualisation of the curriculum design process. All of which will likely put the need for specialist support staff, training, and development time to create these kinds of experiences in sharp focus, especially when balanced against the myriad of other agendas institutions such as ours must seek to fulfil.

It is, therefore, becoming increasingly clear to me that we as educators need to make time and space in our ‘new-normal’ to share insights and ideas that will help all of us to develop our practice as. No matter how difficult that may be.  I know that is what I intend to do more of. I am going to commit to more blogging, posting and dissemination to share some of the tips, tricks and ideas that I have hit upon to improve my materials and I hope this will encourage others to do the same. 

Module design on the Catalyst project

Background

2½ years ago the RAU, in collaboration with UCEM and CCRI, started on the development of four new postgraduate and undergraduate programmes in what’s called the “Catalyst project”. The new programmes are designed to stimulate and support enhanced leadership in the land management and agri-food sectors, especially suited to the post-Brexit era that meets the unprecedented combination of challenges posed by the rapidly changing political, economic and natural environments.

The first stage of the Catalyst project was to write the programme and module specifications. The programmes have been created in conjunction with CCRI and RAU’s industry partners, including the National Trust, Waitrose and National Farmers’ Union, to carefully tailor the programmes to meet skills gaps and respond to changes in industry trends.

Once the specifications were in place, the Learning technology team worked on developing processes for the pedagogical and technical design and development of the programmes and modules.

 

Development of processes

Prior to starting module development we worked with UCEM, who specialise in online education, to develop processes for the design of our modules, taking best practices in pedagogy and online learning into account. Extensive research and conversations with other education organisations has gone into the development of module templates, design processes and academic training.

 

Postgraduate programmes development process

During the second stage of the Catalyst project, we developed two online postgraduate programmes: MBA Innovation in Sustainable Food and Agriculture and MSc Sustainable Food and Agriculture Policy.

We designed a 12-week module design process, with “on-time” training sessions to support the academics in their design and development. This process has been adapted from UCEM’s module development processes and works in stages.

This process uses UCEM’s model named “Student Outcome Led Design (SOLD)”; meaning that the final assessment is designed first, focusing on assessing the module learning outcomes, and the module is designed to develop the skills the students need to complete the assessment.

To kick off the design and development of the modules, the Learning technology team hosts a “Start-up day”, a day-long workshop consisting of multiple stages:

  1. Introductory training in module design, accessibility, design processes, online learning tools.
  2. Module conversations based on question cards designed to stimulate the thought process and familiarisation with the module
  3. Assessment design based on the module’s learning outcomes
  4. Planning “themes” based on the learning outcomes and final assessment
  5. Planning formative assessments – working towards the final assessment
  6. Planning weekly “learning points” i.e. what will the students learn this week?

The Start-up day is hosted with around 6-7 module leads and two Learning technologists in a room to allow for easy sharing of ideas and experiences.

startup day

After the start-up day, the academics go and speak to colleagues, library etc. to gather ideas and resources for their module, prior to a 1-1 design & planning session with a Learning technologist to flesh out the content further into learning activities and to write an action plan for development. This module design is written out into a templated sheet for a Quality review meeting with the programme lead, an additional academic with an interest in the subject and where possible one of our external partners. This meeting is an open discussion to discuss the module design prior to its development.

Once the module design has gone through the Quality review, the module lead, contributors and the Learning technologists develop the online learning activities over the next 10 weeks. The Learning technology team provides academics with templated sheets to write their content in, so it’s ready to be turned into online learning activities and consistent with other modules on the programme. These templates have clear instructions for the academics and links to short training pages. During the whole process, each module has a lead Learning technologist the academics are able to contact when they get stuck, need guidance or would like to brainstorm ideas for an activity. The learning technologists will also create the activities on the VLE.

The full design templates document consists of five steps:

  1. Learning outcomes and questions to think about
  2. Summative assessment(s)
  3. Themes: plan topics and put them in a logical order
  4. Learning points and activities: what will the students learn each week? What activities can be created for the students to learn that and how can they check their learning?
  5. Full activities: write out the content and gather resources and media, to be provided to a Learning technologist using a templated sheet.

During week 7 of the development stage, the Learning technology team hosts an informal “Show & Tell session”, where the module leads get to show off what they’ve done so far and share ideas with other academics going through the process.

Show and tell

In the final week of development, the Quality review team for the module comes together again to discuss the final result.

This process has been repeated twice to develop all modules on the post-graduate Catalyst programmes within an academic year. These programmes have now successfully run for their first year and the programme team has received great feedback from the students.

 

Adapting the process to development of new Undergraduate Catalyst programmes

The third stage of the Catalyst project consists of developing two Undergraduate programmes: BSc Rural Entrepreneurship and Enterprise and BSc Environment, Food and Society. These programmes are more campus-based and focus on innovative teaching methods as well as a proportion of online learning.

For this stage, we used the previous processes and adapted them based on lessons learned, as well as redesigning the templates to work for campus-based teaching. Additionally, we combined our previous processes with UCL’s ABC Learning design methods.

To adapt to the Covid-19 situation, we’ve had to scrap our Start-up days and are now using an online version of UCEM’s Design jam model on a module-by-module basis. For each module, we schedule in an initial three-hour Design jam with two Learning technologists, the module lead and one or two academics with an interest in the subject. As we are all currently working from home, we are using MS Teams and Sharepoint to facilitate the Design Jams: we use a Teams call to be able to discuss and share ideas as a group, while we all have a synchronously updated Word template opened up on Sharepoint to write out the ideas we have for the module design.

The Design Jam consists of a few stages:

  1. Introduction to the process by a Learning technologist
  2. Module basics: Learning outcomes and questions to think about before designing your module
    Module basics
  3. Writing the summative assessment task(s)
  4. Learning overview: weekly topics, learning points (what will the students learn this week) and opportunities to check student learning. Academics are asked to highlight the relevant learning outcomes for each week.
  5. Learning design: the activities, media and resources to be used or created for each week. Activities are designed within four to five weekly stages: Online introduction, Online lecture, Online activities, Face-to-face seminar and Online knowledge check (optional). UCL’s ABC learning design method is used at this stage to provide an even balance of activity types: Acquisition, Collaboration, Discussion, Investigation, Practice and Production.
    ABC
  6. Action planning: an action register is created for the development of the module.

After the Design jam, the academics have some time to discuss their ideas with colleagues, library etc. The module lead, collaborators and Learning technologists work according to the action plan to develop their content. The programme team regularly comes together to check progress and quality of each module.

These programmes will run starting from September ’20.

 

The future

Over the last two years, academics and Learning technologists have learned a lot about online teaching & learning and learning design. A lot of the lessons we have learned during the project have been heavily used during the pivot to online for all RAU programmes when the Covid lockdown started.

Academics who have taken part in the Catalyst project are already using what they’ve learned and the design processes for the modules they run on other programmes. We plan on further expanding the use of the processes to all new and old RAU programmes.

Facilitating an online seminar

As part of online teaching our academics are facilitating more and more online seminar sessions. These are mainly using Teams, but some sessions use Zoom. We have been sharing what works well and what doesn’t and here are some of the tips so far.

Before the session 

  • Prepare – have a plan in your head, even if you don’t share it with students. Decide when exactly things are going to happen e.g. when will you run a poll.
  • Create teaching notes or add notes to PowerPoint slides. 
  • Have a clear goal for the session e.g. “we are going to come up with 3 recommendations for Defra on xxxx”.

 

At the start of the session 

  • Arrive reasonably early to give yourself time to deal with any issues.
  • Warm up activity e.g. getting people to write in the chat where they are located, or scribble on a Whiteboard their favourite snack.
  • Informal chat – start with an informal catch up but then announce the official start of the session.
  • Technology – Run through the buttons with students at the first session, suggest they mute mic and turn off video if lots of them.
  • Video recording – be clear on if the session is being recorded, explain who it will be available to and how people will get hold of the recording.
  • Assign roles – ask one student to take notes, one to check the chat, one to keep an eye on timings etc.
  • Questions – decide how you are going to deal with these. Should people raise their hand, should they ask in the chat, should they wait till the end of a talk? Should questions be prefixed with a Q so you can easily pick them up?
  • Provide clear expectations for students e.g. you should set yourself a target to write 2 chat comments and make 1 audio comment.

intro-slideDuring the session 

  • Share something – could be slides or notes, gives students something to look at and comment on.
  • Break time – Get everyone to stand up and touch their toes half-way through!!
  • Chat – Encourage people to use it.
  • Group activities – people go off, start their own Team meeting and then come back and share feedback.
  • Timer – time different activities e.g. we are going to talk about A for 10 minutes, then talk about B for 10 minutes, we then will decide on C
  • Polls (use Whiteboard, use forms, use Polly, use Polleverywhere or another free tool).
  • Questions in chat – add in questions to the chat and get students to comment on them.
  • Try group work e.g. breakout rooms in Zoom.
  • Online quizzes.

At the end of the session 

  • Closing comments e.g. Write one word for how you feel today’s session went.
  • Follow up activity e.g. Write a paragraph reflecting on the areas or agreement and areas of disagreement.

General 

  • Practice with your colleagues. Test out your ideas.
  • Start simple, don’t be too ambitious till you have got your head around the technology.
  • Build your confidence.
  • Be understanding about other people’s fears about technology and sharing in an online space.
  • Enjoy!!

Resources