Communications with our students has been, and will continue to be, paramount. We initially focused on information relating to the continuation of learning and teaching. Next, we emphasised the impact and implications on assessment. A key next step will be reflection, evaluation and feedback to inform future planning.
Like other institutions, we have established a series of “lessons learned” groups and activities linked to the Covid-19 emergency response, and specifically around learning and teaching. We are working with staff and students to identify what colleagues believe has worked, what has not, and where they see there may be some impact and carry over into whatever the ‘new normal’ becomes. As part of our lessons learned approach, we plan to survey students more widely about their experiences. Explorance’s Blue potentially gives us a very useful platform for that, particularly where we are able to analyse the text comments we receive as well.
Specifically in relation to module evaluation, we were actually in the midst of the phased introduction of Blue with three of our four faculties when the pandemic struck. What we decided to do in terms of the adoption of Blue was to temporarily stop the evaluation completion prompts to students to ensure communications around continuation of teaching and activity were being prioritised. The evaluation window period was also extended to maximise response rate after communications restarted.
An area that I think has impacted positively on the student experience is that we have been very mindful of the importance of supporting staff. One of the things that we are planning to do is increase the provision for staff development around online, blended and flexible learning approaches. We have already offered a number of “demystification” sessions which have proved very popular and provided a level of support and reassurance that I know colleagues have appreciated.
At Strathclyde we have a fairly distributed approach within our faculties. In relation to oversight for learning and teaching each Faculty has a Vice-Dean (Academic). As a group and individually the Vice Deans have been terrific in judging what is best for students and staff in their faculties, and how best to follow up on some of the institution-wide communications.
A successful action we have taken is that when there has been a central message from the Vice-Chancellor we have worked with faculties and programme teams to co-ordinate a more local follow-up, for example via Zoom with an invitation goes out to students inviting them to discuss and clarify any points raised. We are in new territory, but I think we are finding new and innovative ways that allow us to respond, and which are increasingly important to allow us to plan for the future.
Moving forward it will be important to establish the effectiveness and lessons learned from the modifications to assessments. We have an institution-wide assessment and feedback working group which is reflecting on any changes that may impact positively on the future of learning design. I am hoping this creates a framework and environment for innovation in assessment and feedback that we will be able to build on.
In terms of best practice in existing online learning provision is our Graduate Apprenticeship activity in Scotland (this is similar to Degree Apprenticeships in England). We have established an online-based approach, with pedagogy and assessment designed to reflect online requirements. An important element is the recognition of the importance of building a student community and having resources and support in place to do that. We now need to ensure all courses can benefit from this expertise and experience.
We have a dedicated central team that supports online learning across the institution. These colleagues work in partnership with each faculty’s digital champion. This works well and I think one development from our current activity will be to establish and equivalent at departmental or school level. To support and facilitate this we have a Strathclyde Online Learning committee which works directly with our Learning Enhancement and Education Strategy Committees. This allows us to highlight and share best practice.
We are very much hoping that the expertise we have developed will help accelerate activity without compromising academic quality. There is a huge amount to do over the next few months as we move towards the start of the next academic year. It has been a very challenging, very dynamic time, but as a sector and certainly as an institution we have responded tremendously well. The next period will introduce a further series of challenges, but I have full confidence that we will be able to respond to these.
Brian Green is Deputy Associate Principal (Learning & Teaching) at the University of Strathclyde, and was a panellist on Explorance’s ‘How can we capture the student voice in a time of Coronavirus?’ webinar on 13th May.
Blue•Course evaluations•COVID-19•Higher education•Student Experience Management•