With over 30,000 students studying at Cardiff University, the topic of how we best support our students academically and holistically has become a prominent area for debate. The Personal Tutoring system, which plays a distinctive role in the student journey, provides an invaluable resource to students dealing with a whole variety of issues and problems; from understanding assessment and feedback to dealing with mental health and depression. Feedback captured from the 2017 National Student Survey (NSS) on this very topic helps to illustrate how students are feeling:
“Greater pastoral care should be taken when looking after student needs”
“More encouragement and guidance is needed from personal tutors”
“More effort needs to be made at improving the Personal Tutor system to support students effectively and let them know about their options”
As part of the Centre for Education Innovation, we are committed to developing the student experience for both staff and students and with that in mind, the creation of the new online Personal Tutor Training module has been established to address support in this area.
In this blog post, we will discuss the background behind the project, the objectives and overall aim; the tools behind its creation as well as the content framework.
The development of the Personal Tutors Online Training Module originally began back in January 2016, with the aim of having the first iteration of the platform to launch for the start of the 2017/18 academic year. The idea behind the development of the training module itself was born from the need of having a cross-University resource that could help staff in their role as a Personal Tutor, especially those new to the role. As well as this, there was a need to create a ‘one-stop-shop’ (for want of a better term) that would house all the relevant information a Personal Tutor may need.
This lead us on to the beginning of the project, where we sat down and brain-mapped our ideas and objectives for the training module itself. Thus, before deciding on which platform, or learning technology, to use for the online module, we wanted to determine what our objectives were, and what we wanted our learners (in this case, Personal Tutors) to get from completing the online module.
This is also where we decided what the content of the module should be. We mapped out all the sections, and sub-sections, of the module; covering all the aspects of the Personal Tutor role. This included the policies and procedures that the Personal Tutors need to know, the services and departments within the University that tutees may need to be directed to, and any possible case studies that could be useful to Personal Tutors.
However, not only did we want the resource to hold all the information relevant to a Personal Tutor, which included both text and video content, but we also wanted the capacity for discussion, so that Personal Tutors can discuss matters amongst each other that is included in the module. We wanted the module to be easily accessible (self-enrol), but requiring a Cardiff University account. This is for security purposes, but also to be able to monitor who has completed the module. The possibility of being able to link the online module to Cardiff University’s HR Core portal was also a factor for us at the beginning of the project. Aesthetics was also very important for us, and we wanted to ensure the online training could be as visually pleasing as it is functional. This means that we wanted freedom in regards to the look and feel of the module itself. We also wanted users to be able to switch from the Welsh to the English very easily.
There were three options we had in regards to the platform we could use to fit our needs for this online training module: Learning Central (Blackboard), Xerte and Dreamweaver. After reviewing our options, and doing a SWOT analysis of all three, we came to the conclusion that the best ‘platform’ for us to use was Dreamweaver and Learning Central. Similar to what the Learning Technology team at SOCSI/MEP have been doing in their School, we were going to build the module on Dreamweaver, and host it on Learning Central. This allowed creative freedom in regards to how we wanted the module to look, but also the accessibility and technical functionality Learning Central could provide.
We do want to take this opportunity to send our thanks to Chris John, and the rest of the team at SOCSI, for helping us with this project. Without their help, there wouldn’t be a Personal Tutors Online Training Module, and it certainly wouldn’t look and work as well as it does.
Collecting the content itself was no easy feat. We decided early on that most of the content (and therefore sub-headings) would be the responsibility of those
respective departments/services. Therefore, for example, the content for the sub-heading ‘Academic Maths Support’ was created by those individuals responsible for Academic Maths Support. By sending out content inclusion forms to various departments across the University, we would ensure that all information was relevant and up to date. One thing we insisted of having for each sub-section was a named contact, so that Personal Tutors can feel confident that they can easily get through to the right person if further information is required.
During this period, we learned that Trello (a collaboration tool that organises the steps in your project into manageable boards) was our best friend. We truly recommend anyone who is working on a project with others to use this free tool to manage and prioritise your tasks and workload.
Whilst we waited for the content from the various departments to get back to us, we also worked on creating our own content. This included content for the ‘Code of Practice’ section, and also all the video content; which included interviews with some Cardiff
University Personal Tutors (a step, we believe, is one of the highlights of the whole training module). After receiving the content, our next task was to populate the module (on Dreamweaver), and release it for testing.
In the next blog post, we will discuss what followed the first Phase of the project; how we tested the first iteration of the module, made further amendments, before releasing the current version as it is. We will also look to the future, and discuss how we want to develop the module even further.
Gethin M. Rowlands & Jahanara (Jay) Begum