Member story
Learners at an Activate Learning college
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Learners at an Activate Learning college
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Learners shaping their own digital experience

Imagine you’re a level one plumbing student re-taking GCSE English. Wouldn’t it improve your experience if you had English GSCE learning resources focused around plumbing? Even better if those resources were 360-degree films that immersed you in the world of a plumbing workshop all while preparing for your English GSCE assessment.

Sharmen Ibrahim

This joined-up experience is on the horizon for Activate Learning colleges. Digital education services manager Sharmen Ibrahim and her team have been creating and testing the effect of 360 films for teaching GCSE English and are now at the point of developing vocation-specific editions.

“The online modules assessed students before and after they completed an online programme of 360 films and the results were really impressive. We realised we’d hit on something that worked,”

says Sharmen.

The responses from the students were also really positive. When asked what they liked about the online modules, they said: “Everything”; “it was different than a normal lesson”; “fun and easy to learn”; “it’s easier to learn because it’s interactive”; “it’s a good and simple way to learn English”.

“Off the back of that, we were able to secure further funding from Let Teachers SHINE, who supported the initial project, to produce more 360 films for GCSE English. This time we’re going to use our own, purpose-shot footage captured in the workshops on campus or maybe other locations off-site where we can recreate the environment of the student’s vocation.

“But that’s only the next step of many, we’re also working with Hull College to potentially turn those 360 films into virtual reality experiences for students. We’ll continue to grow and evolve the films where we can see the positive impact it’s having on students’ results.”

The 360-degree films are available exclusively online so students can complete the programme anytime, anywhere, on any device, at their own pace. It’s a digital vignette of a much larger transformation Sharmen and the digital education services team are pioneering. At its heart is a bold new virtual learning environment. A one-stop shop.

“We do a lot of learner voice surveys and the feedback we kept getting about their digital experience was that there were too many systems to log into. Who wants to log into three systems to do their work?

We knew that if we wanted a VLE that was going to do everything, we would have to design it right. We gave teams across the college an opportunity to contribute including student support, the students’ union, marketing, and curriculum and teaching staff. We asked students directly what they wanted on their dashboard.”

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Learner at an Activate Learning college using a headset
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The design team built a prototype and took it back out to colleagues and students to ask them what they thought. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, so the prototype evolved into the VLE students are using today.

“It’s so dynamic that it can be tailored to an individual student’s needs. If they have assignments due, it reminds them of that through a text message on their phone. If they have feedback to read, it alerts them of that (and makes it quick and easy to read). If a study support colleague says a learner needs more content on writing tips, they can refer students to that content on their dashboard. If they’ve enabled notifications, they can get all these reminders on their phone via the app.”

The list of functionality goes on, including badges which students can achieve by completing certain wellness-related programmes and add to their LinkedIn profiles.

Kim Blanchard

Kim Blanchard, digital education development team leader at Activate Learning says:

“The Canvas platform has revolutionised the learner journey. Not only have we been able to develop main programme courses but we have developed a range of independent overarching courses that will enhance the learner journey exponentially.”

What impact has all this had on students’ digital experiences?

“It’s still early days but early usage figures and feedback from a survey of 400 are positive,”

says Sharmen.

“The first iteration launched in September 2019 and since then logins, clicks and views have increase by around 300% compared to the same period last year.”

The digital capabilities of staff are also high on the agenda. Activate Learning colleagues recently started using Jisc’s latest digital experience insights survey for staff, providing actionable insight on the gaps and opportunities in the digital capabilities of staff.

What’s next for Sharmen and her team?

“The VLE is going to keep evolving but we’re also in the process of creating our own chatbot to help support students whatever time they’re studying.”