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Students at Ashford College LRC
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No campus? No problem. How Ashford College has embraced new ways of working

From video calling puppies to pinching best practice ideas from peers on webinars, lockdown has been enlightening for learning resource centre coordinator Katie Butler.

She shares how the team at the Ashford College Learning Resources Centre (LRC) are engaging with staff and learners in new and improved ways.

Pop it in Teams

You can have the best content in the world, but it won’t have any impact unless learners can access and engage with it, says Katie. The key to e-resource engagement is connecting with users. Before COVID-19 we saw students and staff weekly, if not daily, and obviously, a lot has changed since then. One of the best things to come out of the move to online for us has been the move to Microsoft Teams.

Teams has not only proven invaluable for collaborating with colleagues (curriculum areas inviting LRC staff into group tutorial meetings for example) it’s seen far better student engagement than email. It might be that students see it as a more informal way of communication, more like WhatsApp than email, but often I’ll come in to find a message waiting for me, and I can pick it straight up, or we video call.

There’s something about messaging on Teams that makes things a little more relaxed, same with video calls. In fact, a student called the other day to introduce me to her new dog! It seems like a bit of silver lining, I’m sure it’s improved student/staff relationships. We’ll definitely be continuing with Teams campus-wide after lockdown, it’s been revolutionary in how we communicate with one other.

Creative Commons attribution information
Students at Ashford College LRC
©Ashford College LRC
All rights reserved

The importance of connection

We’re social creatures, we knew students would be missing interaction with their friends, and with staff, so we’ve increased activity on our Instagram and Twitter accounts. Vicky Mason and Jill McAdams who manage the channels have increased the amount of posts they share and have seen higher engagement, interactions and follows than they have before.

Along with sharing helpful resources and materials (such as promoting popular e-textbooks and subjects) another thing we’ve tried to do is share more content to help with wellbeing, whether that’s a link to a podcast or an interesting article…it’s important to keep that conversation going. It’s important that learners know there’s support and advice out there.

In fact, the most popular Instagram posts have been the ones promoting wellbeing podcasts. Due to the increased engagement tutors have started pointing students to the social media channels for updates and useful content. On top of that, tutors have been getting in touch with us so we can share their recommended wellbeing resources, sites etc. It’s really changed the look and feel of the channels and it’s wonderful to know they’re so helpful.

To engage learners, you need to engage the tutors, so we started sending group and individual emails to curriculum staff with specific links to e-resources. Ease of access to these resources is critical, so we made sure to embed them on VLE course pages and share in Teams sites too.

The feedback from staff has been overwhelmingly positive. Some staff created folders to save the recommended resources and one noted that sharing direct links to e-resources in Teams has been a total game-changer and helped his students’ complete assignments on topics that they’d previously struggled with. “The group now proactively engage with me and ask for any recommended or useful e-books links”.

E-books

The availability of e-books and the introduction of free online resource packages during COVID-19 was a lifesaver for staff and students; Jisc’s e-books for FE is invaluable.

All our worlds changed in March and the e-books were one of the few constants for students. It was great that they could carry on using them in the way they always have done. It even encouraged some of the more reluctant students to start engaging with online content.

Getting creative

When lockdown came in, we realised we’d have to get a little more creative with how we shared resources. From updating trusty Moodle pages and Prezis to editing XT Learns to incorporate more information on wellbeing, we’ve tried to take a more holistic approach.

Using Moodle I created e-book shelves with click buttons on the cover with direct links to titles, and in Prezi an overview of everything we do in the LRC. It’s a highly visual interface and (hopefully!) an engaging introduction to the LRC and our excellent team. XT Learns are curated resource hubs where students can access reliable resources on topics from mental health to British values. I developed a SharePoint page as a one-stop-shop for everything Ashford LRC; not only accessible to students but their caregivers too - ensuring that everyone is aware of, and has access to, the learning resources available.

I (and the whole team) try to attend as many webinars as possible, to make sure we’re in the know with best practice. A recent idea I heard, and loved, was creating a click and collect form using Google Docs – genius! Although, of course, lockdown has been incredibly challenging and stressful it’s also been a real time for reflection… it’s proven quite inspirational.