As you may be aware, Professor Ale Armellini is creating a Digital Success Plan for the University. Rather than create the Plan and seek comment after the fact (and after any substantive changes could be made), Professor Armellini formed a cross-University group to help shape his ideas as well as provide valuable input into the Plan.
Aron Truss from BAL and I were both asked to participate in the group and have been working on elements of the Plan together.
With the Plan progressing and nearing completion, the idea of shining a light on where we are up to felt appropriate as there may still be people unaware of the project, that would like to offer some suggestions or find out more about what the Plan hopes to achieve.
This piece is partly promotional and partly reflective of our experiences of working on a project to substantially impact how we approach our digital teaching and learning experiences.
How did you get involved?
I heard about the Digital Learning Plan while talking to colleagues in another meeting. I asked if I could put myself forward to represent the team and feedback on our ideas. I sent my request in and was asked to join. It was an honour to be asked along and felt really good to actually be aware of the ideas that were going forward. I think more that I was actually able to feed into the process and get the team’s voice heard within such an interesting part of the University’s future.
During summer 2020, I worked as part of a team, contributing to my Faculty’s (BaL) plans for the 2020-2021 academic year. I was subsequently asked to be part of one of the University workstrands which led to my inclusion on the Digital Success Plan working group. My current role involves supporting and promoting the digital agenda in the Faculty of Business and Law, so I was really pleased to be involved in this, as I’m keen to see how we can continue to enhance digital learning and teaching for both staff and students.
What have you found most interesting about the project?
I think one of the biggest revelations for me was how unified everyone seemed to be. Of course, there were differences, but generally, everyone had the same idea for where we would like to see this go. I think one key point was while we can offer something that will help guide everyone with the implementation of a more “digital” curriculum, it endeavours to allow the flexibility for people to be innovative and develop their materials to fit their needs.
The Digital Success Plan is going to work in partnership with the new Education Plan, and its purpose is to facilitate the implementation of the University vision/strategy, so the themes covered are directly applicable to learning and teaching practice. This is what I find really interesting, as I’m excited to see how we can support people, and facilitate the development of digital education in a meaningful and useful way for staff and students. I think the ambition around creating a risk-friendly culture that supports pedagogic innovation is really exciting and important to enable the development of new digital learning opportunities. The promotion of learning design and the use of a clear methodology to achieve this also has the capacity to significantly impact our practice.
What do you think 2020 (lockdowns) have done to shape the Plan?
For me it was the speed at which the change had to take place. It forced people to look into an uncomfortable situation that helped them realise “I can actually do this”. Obviously, people weren’t experts overnight and they still needed help, but I hope they say that it was not as bad as they had first thought. It did increase stress and workloads and that is something no one wanted, but again, I hope people can reflect on this and see that they can adapt what they have made this year and see that these new resources can be developed and implemented in the future.
There has been some brilliant practice demonstrated by colleagues this year, including a massive shift in the baseline delivery of things like video resources (Panopto), synchronous online sessions (Zoom) and effective use of the VLE (Moodle templates). The Plan looks to build on this, but it’s clear that the trajectory will be away from “emergency remote teaching” to a more considered and sustainable model that includes learning design planning and enhancements to tools and systems as well.
What does the Plan offer going forward?
For me the Plan offers those still unsure about digital learning the chance to find a “security” blanket in what they can do. It helps shape ideas and lay a foundation for whatever they want to try next.
The Plan has been built on a foundation of strong pedagogy and positive student experience, facilitated by a series of aims, which include supporting staff and students to develop their digital fluency, fostering multidisciplinarity, encouraging pedagogic innovation and flexibility (including around assessment), and further cementing the principles, and best practice, of blended and connected learning.
What is the next step?
Well, the next step is to consider the final suggestions that may have come in and see how they can be incorporated into the Plan as it stands. I don’t want that to sound like it’s already written and set in stone, it really isn’t, but it does have some element of the structure that we are now working within. There are a few meetings yet to happen where the ideas are polished and finalised, and that is the exciting part. We can see what the vision of this was and where it is now going.
The aim is to launch the Plan later this summer. Ale is still keen to hear feedback from staff if people have questions or comments. As practitioners, I think it might be worth us beginning a discussion about what the implementation of the Plan might look like.
The most important thing for me is that we maintain a good line of communication with the end-users. It is our chance to be real innovators in HE and find ways to engage and develop our digital provision. It is a chance to engage the students in the conversation about what they want but also what we expect from them too. It is exciting to be able to have taken part in this. I think this alongside the new Explore tool is a great starting point for where the University can go next with digital learning and teaching.
As a practitioner, the area of most interest to me is the embedding of a methodology for learning design, and the fostering of a culture that enables partnership in design between OCDs/learning designers and academics. I’m keen to see this aim realised, as I think it has the capacity to make the student and staff experience better all round. I’d be interested to hear what our colleagues feel about this too, and how they think this could be facilitated.