“The pandemic has changed the nature of learning in universities to be more future-focused, fit for purpose, and to really reflect the society that we live in” says Fiona Shelton, University of Derby.
In September, students will return to experience university in a very different way. Over the past few months, staff at the University of Derby have been working hard to create a new institutional-wide framework for teaching and learning. Essential to delivering an excellent student experience, they’ve worked collaboratively to ensure the framework meets the needs of staff, students and potential employers.
Fiona Shelton, head of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and John Hill, head of library and digital learning, share their experiences.
“As one of the few institutions at the time to have a stand-alone strategy in place since 2017 we were well placed to provide an emergency response when the pandemic first hit, it’s been driving the digital change agenda at our organisation, for a number of years”,
“Working with Jisc, we were early adopters of the Jisc digital capability discovery tool and the digital experience insights survey, which has been key to hearing the student voice and enhancing our digital practice and services in recent years.”
With a well-established University of Derby Online Learning (UDOL) department, which has a decade of expertise in distance learning, and an award-winning technology-enhanced learning team, the university had both the existing capability and experience to move forward at pace to get everyone working in the digital space at the start of lockdown.
“Having a digital strategy, initiatives and experience in place, we’ve been able to fast-track increased adoption at scale as we’ve needed to during this period.”
“As we’ve been moving through the pandemic, we’ve been very aware of the difference between an online learning experience, where a student chooses to study online and where all of their experience is in an online space, with that of a student who was ultimately choosing an on-campus experience.
"Due to prevailing restrictions, how we now supplement that experience with digital content, student support and the range of services we offer, into a blended learning approach is crucial to ensure an engaging and high-quality learning experience.”
With limited campus space, they will offer a blend of off-campus digital learning and on-campus experiences, including some face-to-face teaching. A robust staff development programme has been put in place for all academic colleagues to further enhance their knowledge in digital learning principles and approaches and to get a greater sense of what it will be like for students when studying in the digital space, a critical step in the process.
“it is ambitious to take over 1,000 academic staff through a newly developed bespoke facilitated course, but it’s important that staff are well prepared, and ultimately that students get the best experience.”
Academic staff feedback has been very positive:
“It is an amazing opportunity to stop and think about your teaching and how to improve it in a virtual environment.”
“Comprehensive challenging and designed to mirror student's experiences.”
“It has opened my eyes to more possibilities and requirements around blended learning.”
"Relevant, engaging and interactive. Challenging! High expectations."
"This course has really helped me understand what it's like to be a student and seeing how things look 'from the other side'."
Looking ahead to the forthcoming academic year, what can staff, and students expect from the new organisational-wide framework for teaching and learning?
Comprising six core areas, the model has been developed in collaboration with representatives from the student body, leadership teams and academic and professional services staff. Initially piloted with a group of academics, it has been, and continues to be, an iterative process.
“This framework will bring consistency to the way we deliver learning and teaching across the university over the next year”,
says Fiona. Designed at a discipline level, it will look different for each student, depending on the subject matter. Collaboration has been key to their success so far.
“The quality of experience that the students will get is down to the whole of the university community working together, it’s really pleasing to be operating in this way,”
Through a series of live events, staff from across the organisation have been given the opportunity to find out more about the new model, to ask questions and provide feedback.
With a limited amount of time and resource, working at pace to deliver this model has been a challenge for the staff involved
“It’s the collective attitude that’s keeping us going, staff have helped shape the design of the online programme and provided feedback which has, and will, inform new developments”
says John. For Fiona, striking the right balance between agreeing a framework and not restricting the flavour and diversity of subject disciplines is important, subject pedagogies will drive the approach forward.
As a key partner, the student voice has been crucial to developing the model. For students, one of the biggest challenges will be the change in the learning environment.
“Engaging in a range of activities, debates, discussion and playing an active role in the online community will be a different experience for many students”,
It’s unclear what the future, or indeed the next few weeks and months will hold, but the team are taking steps to ensure that they’re evaluating this approach with staff and students throughout the year at regular intervals. Staff have worked tirelessly to get to this point, the focus now will be on planning for the next six months to achieve this.
“The last six months have shown the creativity, innovation and ingenuity of our staff, and particularly their level of commitment to our students – it’s really impressive”,
For more examples of how innovation during lockdown is inspiring long-term change in higher education, see the learning and teaching reimagined initiative.