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Wrexham Glyndŵr University: values-driven approach to learning

Wrexham Glyndŵr University has four underpinning values: to be accessible, supportive, innovative and ambitious. 

With a high proportion of students demonstrating one or more widening participation characteristic, they’re currently the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020's top institution in England and Wales for social inclusion1.

“We focus on being supportive, accessible, and in the current situation we know we have to offer maximum flexibility so students can organise their learning to suit their circumstances”,

says Professor Claire Taylor, deputy vice-chancellor.  

With no centralised academic development function, they’ve taken a distributed approach to developing learning and teaching. Alongside a core team of six, they’ve provided opportunities for colleagues from both academic and professional services to join a network of ‘academic development team associates’.  

“Having a volunteer system in place has enabled us to gain buy-in from staff. Colleagues want to be part of something and play a role in driving and influencing change. We’re trying to take an agile and responsive approach”,

says Professor Taylor.  

An academic development team associate for the past two years, Cerys Alonso, programme leader and senior lecturer in applied arts says,

“I have found the experience invaluable. Having the opportunity to work with colleagues across the university, sharing good practice and learning from each other has improved learning and teaching experiences for all students.” 

Following a review last autumn of the strategy for supporting student learning and achievement, the university were in the process of adopting a universal design approach to learning2 before the pandemic hit. Driven by the values they uphold they’ve worked collaboratively to accelerate this programme of work and develop an Active Learning Framework (ALF). 

“We are designing into our curriculum optimal engagement, flexibility and accessibility, ensuring the very best opportunities for our students to succeed”,

says Professor Taylor. 

Guiding them on this journey and providing vital feedback on the approach, are a student advisory group. 

“The Students’ Union are excited to be working with the university on this strategic initiative. As chair of the student advisory group I have been able to gather student feedback around ALF and it’s clear that flexible and accessible learning opportunities are now more important than ever”,

says Ebony Banks, students’ union president 2020/21. 

Building on the existing network of academic development associates, the university has introduced ‘ALF champions’.

“Having the culture and distributed approach already in place made it easier to introduce a big initiative like this. We knew there was a lot of accessible learning and teaching going on in the university, we’re now bringing it all together in a systematic way”,

says Professor Taylor.  

Alicia Owen, digital learning manager has been active in rolling out this initiative with a wide range of colleagues from across the university. 

“They include staff members who've been working with digital tools to enhance learning, teaching and assessment for years, as well as those who've adapted their practice at speed as a result of the pandemic.

 Our champions are offering advice and guidance about the ways they have made their teaching and learning engaging online, are sharing their practice - through a series of stories, tips, blogs, vlogs and Learning Lunches - and are able to provide individual support to colleagues as part of a 'buddy' system.” 

Welcoming the opportunity for further development, Cerys says, 

“the recorded content group in particular has built my confidence in producing asynchronous content and so having the opportunity to become an ALF champion seemed an obvious step.”  

Accelerating the introduction of the framework hasn’t been without its challenges. 

“Normally you’d phase in a project like this over a couple of years, but we’ve compressed a significant change process into a matter of months”,

says Professor Taylor. 

“Keeping staff energy levels up and supporting them to prioritise will be a key challenge going forwards.” 

As a relatively small institution adopting the framework and taking this approach has so far worked well for them. It could be a model that may apply in other higher education settings, but Professor Taylor cautions that 

“it has to fit culturally with your organisation. We’ve developed this approach in response to our socially inclusive focus, our values as an institution and the complex mix of student characteristics of our student population.

The Glyndŵr community feel is very important, and as we move towards digitally enabled learning, we’ve thought carefully about how we retain that sense of belonging making sure students stay connected and encouraging staff to build that into the way they’re delivering teaching.” 

Footnotes

  • 1 These are the UK's most socially inclusive universities for 2020, GradTouch article - https://www.gradtouch.com/advice/article/content-sunday-times-good-unive...
  • 2 Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. This approach offers flexibility in the way students access material, engage with it and show what they know.