2b) An understanding of your target learners
Statements should show how you have found out about learners’ needs and the context for their studies, and how you have developed approaches that reflect this. Evidence might include a description of how assistive technologies have been used to support disabled students, how learner feedback has influenced the design of an e-portfolio, how the needs of work-based learners or overseas students have shaped the curriculum, or records of conversations with product analysts, marketing departments or course teams and the resulting plans for your design. Evidence of changed practice, rather than simply the recognition that this is an important area, is required.
As a faculty aligned Learning Technologist at The University of Northampton I support academics who teach on undergraduate and postgraduate programs in the Faculty of Business and Law.
The nature of my support varies throughout the year depending upon the tutors’ needs. For example, at the beginning of the first term tutors may seek help populating up their module sites by copying last years teaching materials, setting up new assignments with rubrics or adding collaborative activities such as discussion boards or Padlets. Nearer the end of the second term the focus is likely to be on supporting the assessment process.
I aim to anticipate the tutors needs and offer group training sessions to subject groups before the beginning of each term. These are typically an hour long and tutors can request which technologies I provide training on.
I also work with colleagues to provide scheduled training sessions for all academic staff which explore the different Learning Technology tools supported by our team and advertise these to my faculty staff through their faculty blog site.
Much of my additional support is provided in either email exchanges or one to one meetings. For the latter I provide regularly drop in sessions in the academics open office and find that by being physically present in their work space I can best help tutors to resolve problems at the point of need.
When meeting with an academic to discuss the use of technology our conversation is often akin to that of a Doctor addressing a patient. I aim to get a good understanding of the problem and the academics’ and student’s previous experiences with technology before making suggestions on which tools and approaches may yield the best results.
Often these discussions are very enlightening, and simple tips taken from Gilly Salmon’s concept of E-moderation, such as as modelling technology in the classroom, or designing content and activities that are accessible for all students by structuring activities clearly using our E-tivitites template help academic staff to implement technology effectively.
When an academic chooses to explore a new technology my aim is to help them to quickly become self-reliant, I do this by either sitting with them to demonstrate a tool and then ask them to demonstrate it back to me, or for more confident staff will provide links to online guidance and allow them to work it out for themselves.
Often staff need help developing their confidence as much as technical guidance, a good example of this was when I recently worked with a marketing lecturer who wanted to create weekly videos using the platform Kaltura. I supported the tutor over a number of sessions but provided less and less support each time, in this manner I was able to develop both his skills and confidence until he was self-sufficient. The result of this was the creation of an interactive video quiz held before his students’ exam, this was both an innovative use of technology and very successful.
In addition to supporting on-campus academics, I also support partner academics who are based in other institutions and lead courses which originate from FBL. Our model is to train and support champions at each of the partner institutions. To achieve this, I have created three new online training courses on the use of our Learning Technology tools* and I offer additional online training, using our virtual classroom software Collaborate Ultra when requested.
When creating the online training courses I took into account that, for many of our partner tutors, English is not the first language and therefore adapted our existing guidance using plain English and bullet points. I developed these courses on a platform that is responsive and accessible on mobile devices. This was an important consideration in the context of training partner tutors as mobiles are often the primary device in countries (such as Myanmar) where some of our partners are based.
In the design of these online courses I used technology – ‘Divi Accessibility’ to help adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) guidelines. This helped me to:
- Provide text alternatives for images and time-based media.
- Add alt-text and image titles for all image content.
- Label all page elements with appropriate titles to allow page readers to move correctly between items.
- Use Head tags to give each document a correct structure for screen reader technologies.
- Ensure menus and text have sufficient contrast ratios.
- Ensure linked text is descriptive for page readers
- Add captions for all videos.
With regards to video captions I initially created these manually using a free captioning tool AEGIUB. However, in 2018 these were re-captioned using a paid for manual captioning service.
* The creation of these online training courses is used in my ‘specialist option’ so to avoid duplication the focus of this reflection is on my work with on-campus tutors.
Grant Timms (Senior Lecturer – Marketing UoN)
“I am a module leader for Foundations of Marketing (MKT 1001) this is a large level 4 module for 240 students. The new delivery method for the academic year consists of 7 x workshops with classes of approx. 35 students. These classes are delivered by 3 tutors, so consistency is important. As the module leader it is important to convey important information in a consistent and engaging way.
Because I only teach 3 of the 7 classes, I needed a method of communication that would work across all classes and all students. Richard worked with me to design and implement a series of video’s that could be uploaded to NILE and inform all students about upcoming content and also share important news about exams, grading and key milestones in the module. These video’s varied in style and enabled students to receive the same key messages. Richard also showed me how to insert quizzes and we tracked the analytics together in order to review and evaluate which ones were working and how we could improve engagement.
My confidence has improved to the extent that Richard now plays more of a supportive role rather than the lead and I hope to continue my progress and development into the next academic year.”
Hugh Davenport (Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour)
“Richard has been a great help in facilitating my confidence and development with the Collaborate technology and my subsequent sessions with the students. He has been patient and thoughtful……using astute and well-timed questions and observations to aid my knowledge development AND my own reflection on my Collaborate practices. He has suggested a number of alternative approaches and ways to deliver my Collaborate sessions. These suggestions have not been over-bearing and the great thing about his style…..is that he lets those suggestions “sit with you” rather than suggest (and enforce) that they are the only way forward. He doesn’t take up the mantle that he is the expert and distance himself – he approaches our sessions with the style that we are co-workers and learning together.
We have recorded a number of sessions together (based around my experiences) to aid colleagues and their Collaborate sessions. It has been in these sessions particularly that Richard has listened and let me do the talking………to then proffer subsequent questions which generate more learning and reflection for me (and colleagues who may be listening to the recorded session)”
Feelings – what were you thinking and feeling?
When I joined the Learning Technology team in 2016 academics in the faculty of business and law were being encouraged to move away from traditional lectures and to utilise technology to facilitate Active Blended Learning (ABL).
When discussing this with faculty academics I found that many staff were sceptical of these changes and felt that either their students did not want to engage in online activities or that the additional work required to monitor and feedback on activities was too much additional work.
There was also some confusion about what was meant by ABL and many of them viewed this as a flipped classroom.
I found this challenging, as I had hoped my positive experiences working with students and technology in the Faculty of Arts would be transferable in to my new faculty of Business and Law, however, as group sizes in FBL are much larger than those I had previously experienced I found that scale was a important consideration and that many staff were more experienced in traditional teaching methods.
To address this I set about looking for examples of practices of active learning and worked with faculty academics such as; Samantha Read on the blog post ‘Three steps to successful discussion boards‘, Diepiriye Kuku-Siemons on Facilitating mobile devices in teaching and learning and Honor Pacey on Building confidence is key to engagement with ABL. By publishing these I was able to share their stories and encourage others to think about how technology could be used in innovative and interesting ways.
Taking this approach I have been able to authentically explore both the benefits and considerations of using technology in a range of different teaching scenarios and demonstrate that moving to a different pedagogy opens up opportunities for staff to be more creative in their approaches to engaging students in their learning.
I also took on board staff workload concerns and have been investigating peer review tools as these could be very useful as a scalable solution to active learning. In my blog post ‘looking at the benefits of Peer Assessment for ABL‘ senior lecturer Mark Allenby, suggests that this is an engaging, and active way of learning which is in the spirit of ABL.
Evaluation – What was good and what was bad about the experience.
Since the move to a new campus, I have improved upon my relationships with faculty staff as I regularly make myself available within the academic open office.
One area I think warrants looking at further is how I follow up with staff who are redesigning their modules. When I began this role in 2016 Learning Technologists joined Learning Designers on the second of a two-day planning workshop. Our involvement in the planning sessions has since been removed, and I think we miss an opportunity to discuss how technology can be linked into the design of modules.
Analysis – What sense can you make of the situation
In hindsight, my early attempts to influence staff adoption of ABL was hampered by a lack of understanding of their needs. I have since been able to address this by working with academics on case studies.
I was also impressed with how my fellow Learning Technologist Belinda Green is embedded within her faculty of Education and as a result, I now spend much of my week working in my faculty office. This has made a big improvement to how I can support staff as I am now on hand to help with both the small technical queries and can hold more natural conversations about effective uses of technologies when bumping into academic staff daily.
The three online training courses I created for partners have now been extended to all users, and links are provided both in welcome emails to new starters and in the revised HELP tab within our VLE. Through these online training courses, new starters and partner tutors are now better able to access training and support.
Overall I have learnt that academics’ requirements of a Learning Technologist are varied, and it is important to be visible, supportive and empathetic to the needs of all.
Conclusion – What else could you have done?
When I first started this role I wrote regular staff weekly updates, these were a good opportunity to open a dialogue with staff and give them simple tips on how to use technology, I stopped writing these due to lack of time, I had hoped to start these again but I find I am short of the time needed to do this.
Action Plan – If it arose again what would I do?
I have often had thoughts about how I could be more pro-active in helping staff, for example, I could monitor which staff were redesigning their modules and and offer meetings to support on these. This is an area I am hoping to look at more in the near future.
Dr Marcella Daye (Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management)
“Richard’s support has been invaluable to my gaining proficiency in the application of a wide range of relevant and effective online tools to engage students in teaching and learning. With his guidance, I’ve not only improved my understanding of the functionality of the virtual learning environment, but also deepened my appreciation of their pedagogical impacts. I have benefited from his insightful critiques, timely interventions and above all from his suggestions that have challenged me to attempt new approaches and tools to add value to the learning experience. Always patient, calm and affable, Richard has been reliable and a ‘rock’ of support particularly in the frenetic and demanding periods of student delivery and meeting deadlines for returning assessment grades. He is generous with his knowledge and time. Based on my interactions with him, I consider Richard as a genuine, professional Learning Technologist who has made an indelible contribution in facilitating my reflection on technology integration in my teaching and learning practice.”