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.
REVISIONS REQUIRED *All content in this portfolio area has been revised in response to feedback from CMALT assessors.
I have changed the text to better reflect upon my understanding of my target learners.
In this area I will be using four examples to show how I have identified and provided solutions to best support learners’ needs in the context of their studies.
1/ Addressing lack of engagment in the use of online virtual classrooms and a range of supportive digital technologies – Web Design course – Sept 2020 / January 2021.
When delivering the module ‘Web Site Design’ in September 2020 i adapted the sessions to online delivery due to social distancing restrictions, When first delivering the sessions I encountered challenges with student engagement which I overcame by introducing activities via collaborative technologies.
Target learners: Undergraduate students, Business Computing (Web Design) BSc (Hons) 2020 Sept – January. On-line sessions.
Learner Needs: Through discussions with the students I discovered that some students were having issues engaging with learning online due to technical problems, also the students found it difficult to understand what was being expected of them and lacked the confidence to express their thoughts in front of their peers (online) about a subject in which they were not knowledgeable.
Solution: We began all of our online sessions by testing the microphone of each student. Where there were technical issues I provided advice on how to resolve these, the most common issue was the quality of the students WiFi connection, we discussed how to improve this by disconnecting other devices and moving closer to the router. We also identified issues with student’s hardware, in one instance the students microphone did not work so I arranged for them the loan an external microphone from IT.
To resolve issues with engagement I made it clear that students were required to be active participants in the sessions and were not there to listen to a lecture. As a tutor and Learning Technologist I am an advocate of active blended learning, the pedagogic approach adopted by The University of Northampton, where students learn through collaboration, discussion and teamwork.
By providing my students with opportunities to learn collaboratively through online activities using a range of technologies I helped them to engage effectively and developed their confidence in communicating online
Method: Making use of Collaborate ‘break-out groups’ I was able to develop a regular pattern of student based research, discussion and live presentations. These activities included a range of technologies including: Padlet, Kahoot, Self & Peer assessment.
Initially activities were undertaken in larger groups where the students nominated a presenter, this allowed the more confident students to take the lead and model to others how to communicate effectively online, as the term progressed all of the students were given opportunities to work in pairs and individually to develop their confidence and skills communicating online.
Impact: The students in this group have became more confident in communicating online and within a few weeks all students were happy to share their microphones, screens and cameras.
This has helped to prepare them for video assessments where they record themselves discussing their work.
2/ Redesigning an assessed presentation method to better support students with disabilities. (Web Design course – 2014-6)
Target learners: Business Computing (Web Design) BSc (Hons) 2016-18. Level 5 Undergraduate students,
Learner Needs: Two students in this cohort identified that they were being disadvantaged by traditional face-to-face assessed presentations due to their mental health issues when performing in front of a live audience.
Solution: I proposed that we replace the assessed face-to-face presentations with a digital video presentation which the students could record at home, this could be submitted and graded online to reduce student’s anxiety.
Method: After checking with the module leader that the new method of presentation would suit the learning outcomes, I introduced online video presentations as the method of submitting presentations. To support this change I first introduced in the classroom the video recording tools and worked with the students to produce short test videos, I also added a draft submission point so the students were able to check they could submit their work correctly. The students were also directed to the learning outcomes and grading rubric which made it very clear what was expected of them from the assignment.
Impact: As a result of this change, ALL students in the cohort were able to engage successfully with their assessment and perform to the best of their abilities. The student feedback from the module was very positive and I believe this change had a very positive impact on their learning. This approach was unusual in 2014, but since then has become more widely used, I have often discussed my experiences with this assessment with tutors whilst working as a Learning Technologist and have encouraged others to consider using recorded video presentations where this fits in with the assessment Learning Outcomes.
3/ Co-leading a funded research project to better support students understanding of group work and video production techniques.
I collaborated with Learning Developer Helena Beeson on a funded research project to improve group work learning in 2020/21, this was is based on the design of an innovative workshop activity in which students address group work issues by producing interactive video projects.
Target Learners: 95 students across the Faculty of Business & Law who are all undertaking group work projects which involve video as an assessment output – Undergraduate Marketing, Human Resources and Leisure and Tourism students.
Learner Needs: Students in the faculty have identified issues with group work and video production, and required help understanding both how to work effectively in groups and how to improve their video production skills in order to complete their video assessments.
Solution: Working with Learning Developer Helena Beeson, we redesigned a Learning Development session as an interactive workshop in which the students worked in small groups and produced of videos to enact positive and negative solutions to common group work issues.
Method: The one and a half hour sessions provided students with an opportunity to think critically about the problems faced by all students working in groups and to work creatively as a team to produce a video. This activity formed the basis of a funded research project the blog for this is available here: https://mypad.northampton.ac.uk/groupworktools.
Impact: Student engagement and feedback was very positive from the workshop sessions and provided valuable comments which helped to improve the sessions incrementally. The research indicated that the students used the workshop as an opportunity to model working together as a team, and took from the experience some positive strategies to manage difficult group work issues, they also learnt useful skills in video production.
The work has been presented at conferences and has been published by the Journal of Learning Development in HE as a paper.
Beeson, H. and Byles, R. (2020) Creative solutions to common group work problems. ALDinHE Available from: JOURNAL OF LEARNING DEVELOPMENT IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Beeson, H., Byles, R. and Henderson, H. (2020) Designing online groupwork. In: Learning and Teaching Conference. Online. Available from: L & T conference 2020. Northampton: TuoN
Byles, R. and Beeson, H. (2020) Groupwork tools. Online. Blog. Available from: https://mypad.northampton.ac.uk/groupworktools/
4/ Students use of PebblePad workbooks
Health students use the e-portfolio platform of PebblePad to record their professional development whilst on placement in Hospitals, Dental Surgeries and Care Homes. These form the basis of their course assessments. By assisting staff through training to set up workbook and release these to students I have enabled student to complete their placements.
I also provide direct support for students who use PebblePad, this has developed from a mail-box to a ticket system, prior to March 2020 the students were able to come on campus for PebblePad support, however since lockdown PebblePad support has been exclusively online.
Target Learners: Undergraduate Nursing, and Occupational Health students. (All three years)
Learner Needs: Health and Occupational Therapy students are working off-campus and require a reliable e-portfolio platform with prompt and empathetic technical support and guidance. (These students are unable to come on campus.)
Solution: Since March 2020 in addition to responding to emails and providing guides via our ticketing system I have offered students an opportunity to meet me online using MS Teams to address their PebblePad problems.
Method: For students: Whilst in many cases sending guides resolves the problem, for a large number of cases the issue it is often better to resolve the problem by meeting with the students online. To facilitage this I now provide students an opportunity for an online meeting at the earliest opportunity.
Impact: Using MS Teams I am able to test and review the students workbooks in realtime, this allows me to deal with support issues quickly and to provide a more personalised and empathetic response. These meetings have given me a better insight into common problems and as a result I can now better support common issues. In many cases students prefer to meet online rather than exchange emails, I think this helps to build confidence in using the platform of PebblePad in their studies.
wThe examples above demonstrate how I have found out about the learning needs of students in the context of their studies, developed approaches to best support these, and how practices have changed as a result.
Below are some key things I have learned from these examples that I will take forward into future practice.
1. Students are not as technical savvy is sometimes assumed and need supporting in the use of new technologies.
When working with students I have learnt that all students require assistance in using technology to learn effectively. This is especially clear in example 1 when teaching moved to learning online as they required support both technically, and help to understand what was expected of them in the sessions. In example 2 the students needed assistance learning how to create video presentations, in 3 they were trained on how to work as a team to make videos with mobile devices, and in 4 where the students needed help and guidance in using a e-portfolio platform. The common theme here is that by scaffolding learning and providing clear guidance the students are able to best achieve these goals. My experiences have shown me that the range of student ability and confidence is very broad, when designing learning activities it can be difficult to meet the needs of all abilities, however I find this is important as if activities are too simple or difficult it can result in a lack of engagement, I have experimented with different ways of supporting students including introducing group exercises, reflective blogs, and building in drop in weeks for students who need additional support. One area that I would like to try is to introduce a buddy system in which less confident students are partnered with more confident ones and to see if both benefit as a result. (Examples 1-3)
2. Support the diverse needs of students through careful planning and feedback.
Example 2 illustrates that is important to be sensitive to the needs of all students when designing learning materials and assessments. By changing the assessment to recorded videos students suffering from anxiety were better able to engage with their learning, but the result was not to the detriment of the other students, the opposite is the case, all students benefitted.
When attending a training session on working with students with Asbergers syndrome (2012), I learnt that it is important to design both activities and assessments in which the outcomes are clear and measurable, this is also universally relevant for all students and I aim to make this clear in my teaching, this is an area I can improve upon as demonstrated by some comments from the end of term feedback from the module ‘Website design’
A. ‘Doing the activities helped me a lot as I was getting hands on experience and it was related to the lesson. Its better then being talked at as I don’t take in much of the information that way, I learn better from doing activities’
B. ‘interactive learning is much better than just being talked at’
C. ‘Activities were definitely enjoyable! although they were linked to what we would be doing, maybe link it directly to the assignment brief a bit more?’
These comments show that whilst the active learning approach was well received, there was a lack of understanding from at least one student on how the activities supported their first assessment, some of my activities were very literally linked to the assignment brief whereas others were designed to develop promote creativity and critical thinking. As a result of this feedback one area I wish to address in future sessions is how I can communicate more clearly that how each learning activitity helps them in their assessments.
Another example of peer review is available here: Peer assessment and self reflection of learning activity (PDF), in this document I reflect on a learning activity using both student feedback and a colleagues peer review, and consider how the activity could be improved in the future. In this example I introduced role-play, both the peer reviewer and students provided examples of possible improvements to the activity most notably in the group allocation of roles which I will address when running the session again.
These two examples of student feedback show that it is a very useful and effective way of understanding the target learners needs, and can help to identify how to make learning more universal and accessible. (Example 2)
3. Aim to foresee problems before they arise.
The need to move delivery of teaching to online in 2020/21 demonstrated that the context of learning and student’s needs is an evolving process which requires a creative and adaptable approach. The actions I take as both a tutor and learning technologist requires careful consideration, especially with regards to accessibility and developing digital literacies.
When considering learners needs I often reflect on when I began my working as a media demonstrator at the University, and how I would print out all the steps required to complete a task and give these to students to follow, the result was that most of the students could follow these, but some students would return to ask for the instructions again after the session.
Having spoken to the students to try and understand why they had not experimented to solve the problem I discovered that rather than requiring technical instructions, the students needed to be given opportunities to solve the problems for themselves and that this was an important parts of their learning. The following year I made the students research and demonstrate a skill as the purpose of the activity. As a result, the students both achieved the task but also developed their ability to research a problem and communicate this to others. I think this is a good example of how by giving more thought to the needs of the students I was better able to address their learning needs.
By engaging in practical research projects I have learned more about constructivist theories and approaches such as Kolb’s learning cycle, Gilly Salmon’s e-moderation and Bigg’s constructive alignment, these are useful frameworks which help me better understand students needs. By applying my lessons learnt from teaching, feedback and theory I am better able to anticipate potential problems before they arise and take proactive measures at the design stage to ensure that all learner’s needs are met.
4. Empathy and listening are important tools to understand learner needs.
The nature of a learning technologist is different to a tutor in that as we mostly support tutors through technical support and training, when engaging with academics to discuss how technology can enhance their learning I strive to understand both their needs as a tutor and the needs of the students in their studies and make recommendations which best support these. As I also have experience as a tutor I can provide practical examples of how I have used technology for teaching and learning and use my experience to discuss on how technology can be used in the classroom, sharing my own practices and discussing the problems I have faced can be good way of opening a discussion and finding out about the problems other staff and student groups may encountering.
When working directly with students as a Learning Technologist to provide technical support, I also endeavour to understand the student needs. Here I find that engaging in direct conversation to be a very effective approach. By being transparent and listening to the students needs it helps me to learn what has caused an issue, how they can help me to resolve the problem, and how we can work together to prevent the problem from happening again.
To support students with the e-portfolios platform PebblePad I meet weekly with our PebblePad team to discuss any student issues and jointly we find new solutions to these. This allows everyone who supports PebblePad to better understand our students needs and to allow us to take a joined up approach to supporting our learners needs. (Example 4)