All about the ‘Ultra in Ultra’ online course26 September 2023
By Sonia Maurer, Learning Technologist, Cardiff Learning and Teaching Academy.
‘Ultra in Ultra’ is Cardiff University’s in-house online Ultra course. It covers all the key aspects of the platform whilst also enabling participants to experience Ultra from a student point of view.
History and inspiration
In autumn 2022, some of the Cardiff Learning and Teaching Academy Digital Education staff took an online course, ‘Designing for Digital Teaching and Learning’, offered by Anthology’s Blackboard Academy. This gave a comprehensive overview of the Ultra platform as it currently stood and was a very useful tool to upskill the team in Ultra.
We found it particularly interesting to experience Ultra from a student perspective. But, being Learning Technologists, we naturally picked it to bits as we worked though! My colleague, Nan Zhang, and I discussed it with particular interest – and when the question arose as to whether to offer this course to university staff as a whole, we felt challenged to create our own course instead. We felt that we could come up with something more concise, tailored to our specific Cardiff University configuration including integrated systems such as Panopto and Turnitin. We referred to Anthology’s own Exemplary Course Rubric, to ensure that our course reflected recommended best practice in terms of Course Design, Interaction and Collaboration, Assessment and Learner Support.
Anthology’s course, while comprehensive, filled some of our busy colleagues with foreboding! Its 36–40-hour time estimate, and lengthy video recording final assignment made it a serious undertaking. Our first thought was to pare things down to the most efficient overview possible for busy staff.
The nine units of Ultra in Ultra can be completed in around 10 hours. They are clearly structured and chunked in manageable segments, so participants can choose whether to work from start to finish or just to dip in and out as needed. Text, images, videos, and try it yourself sections support multiple learning preferences. As Nan and I were already overseeing the production of Ultra Essentials, the main Ultra reference for Cardiff University staff, it was natural for us to incorporate this as the basis of the core materials. Therefore, the dual goals of the course are both to teach participants the basics of Ultra, and how to access further help when necessary.
Interaction and collaboration
One of the strengths of a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) such as Ultra is the potential for strategically organised asynchronous interaction to support learning. We felt strongly that we could make good use of Ultra Discussions, and Ultra in Ultra contains six discussion boards integrated into the workflow. Those who choose to engage find that it instantly brings the course to life:
Quote: ‘Actually getting stuck in to using discussions for real in Ultra, have quickly realised that this is the one feature I care about above all others!’
The other interactive elements are more solitary but provide various alternative means of engaging with the content. Each unit of work includes a ‘Try it yourself’ section, where participants are encouraged to attempt hands-on tasks in their own modules or sandboxes, whilst the three MCQ (Multiple Choice Question) tests offer more formal consolidation of learning, covering all the core learning materials.
We felt it was important to include an assessment element in Ultra in Ultra, partly to model the Gradebook and different forms of assessment. However, we also needed to strike a balance, as the assessment is optional and designed to be used in a variety of ways.
We decided to weight the Gradebook with 80% for all the MCQ tests and 20% for contributions to 5 of the 6 Discussions. (It has been shown that even a nominal mark can drive Discussion participation.) Participants can choose how to use the MCQs to support their learning, as unlimited attempts are allowed and detailed feedback is given instantly, the most recent score counting towards the final grade. All participants who achieve a final grade of at least 60% receive accreditation on CORE.
Learner support and ongoing improvements
It was an interesting experience to actually deliver a course, rather than supporting someone else to! It highlighted to us the importance of ongoing development – and the difficulty of getting it right first time! We have made an effort to model good practice in terms of tutor contact and use of the institutional template, and we actively invite course feedback. Feedback particularly prompted us to add more video into the learning materials.
We originally designed the nine Learning Modules as an entirely self-paced sequence, however we soon noticed that participants lacked momentum after enrolment. So, we decided to suggest a 5-week timetable to help people integrate it into a busy schedule and started sending weekly motivational messages and emails to support this. Analytics show that these messages do in fact nudge a number of participants back into engagement every week.
Ultra in Ultra will continue to run this term and is available to all Cardiff University staff – enrol now.
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