Core area 1: Operational issues
a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies
“Online can be the privileged mode. Distance is a positive principle, not a deficit.”Manifesto for teaching online – Digital Education, University of Edinburgh, 2016
The University of the Highlands and Islands comprises thirteen campuses stretching from Orkney and Shetland to Argyll and Bute. Since its inception, the University has been a pioneer of blended learning and remote learning.
As an Instructional Designer with the Educational Development Unit, one of the main parts of my job is helping lecturers turn Word docs, PDFs, or PowerPoints into interactive reusable learning objects. There are two main authoring tools that we use at UHI for creating online learning resources, these are Articulate 360 and Forge.
b) Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology
When considering the best way to help staff bring their teaching online, whether in the context of blended learning, flipped classrooms, or fully remote learning, there are many tools and resources at our disposal. It is important that I evaluate which ones will best suit both the academic and the learners.
Creating a new suite of online resources
The aim of the project was to create a new module within the well-established MSc in Infection Prevention and Control to be delivered over one semester fully online. As there is the possibility that lecturers may wish to update the resources themselves in the future, perhaps to include more up to date links or examples, it was decided the learning objects would be created using Forge.
The academic writing team provided me with the content in Word documents that outlined the basic structure and layout. There was also a request for a hotspot interaction where the students would view a hospital bathroom and think about what areas could be particularly high risk from an infection prevention point of view.
My role was to take the Word templates and create a set of interactive digital resources using my knowledge of Forge and the principles of Instructional Design to make them attractive and engaging for students
Updating an older suite of online resources
c) Supporting the deployment of learning technologies
For teaching staff who are delivering learning and teaching face to face, they have the choice on whether they use the Brightspace UHI VLE or printed handouts.
In the exceptional context of the pandemic, people and institutions faced a sudden need to adapt very quickly their means of communication and modes of delivery in learning and teaching. In education, the need to migrate from traditional classrooms to online systems was urgent, and the shift required digital tools and resources to support teaching (Careaga-Butter, Badilla-Quintana & Fuentes-Henríquez, 2020).
My role was assisting teachers and supporting their transition to teaching online.
While acknowledging many students, particularly those on under grad or FE courses who may be younger, prefer synchronous learning (Nguyen, Netto, et all, 2021) we felt it was important to consider the burden that the move to fully online learning and teaching placed on some students. Therefor it was important to encourage staff to use the virtual learning environment rather than relying solely on live-streamed lectures. For example, with everyone being locked down, students may not have access to a shared family device during the day or have enough bandwidth to join a live lecture. Brightspace provides learning resources for the students who might not have access to synchronous learning due to the aforementioned reasons and does not put them at disadvantage because they still have access to the asynchronous resources. It has a great deal more functionality than a PDF or Word doc does on its own. Brightspace provides various ways for the students to interact with the content, their peers, and the teacher. My role is to support staff by assisting them in populating their Brightspace areas (shells) and recommending tools that can improve the student experience.
When students and teaching staff access a module, the first thing they will see is a visual table of contents that clearly lays out the course components and shows what percentage of each is complete. I divide the learning resources section into submodules containing the learning materials and any assignments for each session. The clean and clear layout improves the student journey by preventing the frustration of not being able to find a document or realising that something has not been done because it was overlooked.
Brightspace tools such as quizzes and the ePortfolio encourage active learning which increases student satisfaction and motivation as has been shown by research on the value of active learning (Freeman et al., 2014). Unlike with H5P, Brightspace quizzes can be graded which helps the teacher to evaluate their students understanding of the material and identify areas that need revisited. The graded quiz I created for Animal Welfare and Environmental Ethics must be completed and the pass rate achieved before a student can move on to the next section of the course. The quiz can be taken as many times as the student wishes with the highest mark being recorded because the purpose is to ensure that they fully comprehend the subject before they embark on field work.
(The following paragraphs have been moved from section 2B and a concluding paragraph added, as suggested)
Forge is available to all staff at UHI and many have begun to use it to create their own resources in place of PDF or Word handouts. There are guides on topics like creating and exporting Forge files and using Brightspace that can be found via the EDU support portal. However, I find that for some people it helps to have a remote tutorial where I video call them on Teams. Although teaching staff are experts in their field I am aware they have varying degrees of digital literacy so a one on one is useful to assess their level of confidence and address their specific needs.
In one case, a tutor was looking to remake old resources through Forge. I shared my screen with him as I took him through the basics of Forge and showed him how he could add things like alerts and accordions. I also explained how he could change the font colour and that I would advise this if he has text in coloured panels to ensure there is enough contrast between the text and the background. I recorded the session so he could refer to it later and also created a cover template for the resources using PowerPoint instead of in Photoshop so that he could use it himself.
For more basic queries, like uploading a Forge resource to Brightspace, I took a similar approach where we set up a Teams meeting and I guided the tutor through the process using screen sharing. However, rather than recording it, I put together a quick guide Word doc with screenshots showing the different steps. The reason I used a slightly different approach here is that I know how busy the teaching staff are. Sending a Word doc that can be saved on the computer and lays out the same steps we had just gone over seemed the most straightforward way for him to access the information if he needs a reminder in the future.
By supporting teaching staff with the deployment of learning technologies such as Brightspace, Forge and H5P I helped to ensure that students did not miss out on vital learning opportunities as a result of the pandemic. Both I and the teaching staff had to learn to think creatively when coming up with ways of delivering learning outcomes that would usually be taught face to face, especially in the case of things like field trips. The innovations in creating new resources, like building virtual field trips using Forge, were born out of necessity and a desire for students learning in 2020/21 not miss out. However, I also see them as presenting long-term opportunities to open up new ways of learning and teaching that would not be possible without the use and continued development of learning technologies.
Screenshots of feedback from a staff member, Brightspace areas that I have populated and a graded multiple choice quiz. Click images for a larger view.