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Digital Educationfuturelearn

My FutureLearn Partner Forum experience

9 August 2021

Written by Dewi Parry, Learning Technology Manager

The 29 July saw the annual Partner Forum hosted by Futurelearn. For those of you unfamiliar with Futurelearn, they are a digital education company and platform, who have been working in partnership with the University since 2013. This event was very much focussed on the impact, disruption and change of the past 12-18 months, and offering insight into the next phase(s) of HE provisions. I thought some of the views expressed through the presentations chimed with the conversations, experiences and strategic direction here at Cardiff.

During the first session, EdTech company leaders and academics discussed the issues that had arisen since the start of the pandemic, how education has changed, and how they are now looking to the future. Angela Burrows, MD at Online Education Services (OES) said that integrating online elements into campus programmes (blended learning) offers a compelling value proposition for universities doing it well. She went on to say that student support and engagement is key, insuring access to technical and pastoral support. The next challenge is to achieve consistency across the campus, the online space and across programmes, applying lessons we’ve learnt to give an academic led and student centric experience. Angela’s advice for HEIs looking to the future – think big, start small, act quickly! Anders Krohn, CEO of Aula gave a similar view; that HEIs should look to retain the best practices and student experiences from the recent online experience and make them easier for other academics to adopt going forward.

During the second session, Dr Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl from Dublin City University discussed the initial continuity of provision, and then establishing a unit to create a supportive environment for academics. Their objective was then to understand that they wouldn’t get everything right, but they had to try, and had to learn. They focused on supporting key stakeholders (academic staff and students) through the transition to online education, and the focus on teaching was welcomed within the institution (which was echoed by several speakers). This very much echoed our approach here at Cardiff. Mairéad mentioned the OU Online Teaching Micro credential which teaching staff were invited to undertake, which will also be available for staff at Cardiff in the Autumn of 2021 (more details to follow). Interestingly, she mentioned that the pandemic has put a spotlight on developing humanised processes for students, considering flexibility, access to online, personal factors such as caring in the home, and that students did appreciate certain practices (what we see as basics) that should now be clearly designed directly into courses (rather than add ons). The long-term response at Dublin City is developing contexts for academics to allow for continual change, giving academics first-hand experience of teaching online, working directly with learning designers, learning technologists and industry partners. This response links in with the introduction for the next session where Prof Wyn Morgan referenced recent research by our ex-Cardiff colleague Prof Richard Watermeyer. Reading the paper, it gives a direct insight into the problems and experiences felt by academic staff following the initial pivot to online education, that would have to be reflected upon moving forward:

…academics (are) bruised by their experience of emergency online transition and distrustful of a more prolonged and substantial embrace of digital pedagogies by their institutions… Their accounts are a story of trauma in the face of pandemic and of profound professional and personal disruption. Watermeyer et all (2021)

During the third session, Prof Wyn Morgan from Sheffield University delivered a keynote presentation covering the impact of the pandemic on teaching. He summarised the story of general success through the pandemic – the speed in which the pivot to online happened, the huge amount of work and effort from the point of view of academic and professional services staff to shift online, and the innovation in teaching and assessment especially.  Wyn mentioned several topics that we have been discussing here, e.g., what do we offer students? We need to not think of face to face and online as binary. We need to offer blends across face to face and online (as we are with our Blended Learning Framework here). He mentioned how local institutional context is important, we need to build on our expertise but also consider what the learner needs. He also advised against forcing online teaching, instead focusing on pedagogy and designing directly into the curriculum, directly referencing Rapanta’s recent research into “Online University Teaching During and After the Covid-19 Crisis”:  

Online teaching is an essential part of such professional preparedness but not the only one. Universities, now more than ever, should invest in teacher professional development of their faculty, for them to be updated on effective pedagogical methods with or without the use of online technologies. Rapanta et all (2020)

Even though a huge shift and significant learning has taken place, we need to recognise that not everything has worked, and that reflection is required of both the staff and student experience, and we can ‘not go back’.

As I mentioned earlier, much of the opinions shared during the event chimed with conversations and the direction here at Cardiff, considering the current context of opening up and welcoming students back to campus: considering the student experience and their needs; focussing on integrating online elements into campus programmes through blended learning; achieving consistency across the campus, the online space and across programmes; retaining the best practices and student experiences from the recent online experience, to give an academic led and student centric experience; not considering online and face to face as binary; clearly desiging programmes working directly with learning designers and learning technologists; offering development opportunities for academic staff to be updated on effective pedagogical methods.


Blended Learning Framework

The Blended Learning Framework (CU Intranet) provides programme and module teams with guidance about design and delivery of modules in 2021/22. Recognising that staff will require flexibility to deliver modules according to requirements of their discipline and, in some cases, professional bodies, the Framework provides a wide range of options for learning and assessment design.

Do you need help with blended learning? Do want to discuss the issues raised in the post? Please feel free to contact the Centre for Education Support and Innovation though the Digital Education Support Hub DigEdSupport@cardiff.ac.uk.


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