How have City staff and students experienced ISLA?

As of the summer 2022, City installed 25 rooms with hybrid technology during the pandemic to facilitate teaching students face-to-face and online simultaneously. The City system is ISLA – Inclusive Synchronous Learning Activities and aims to encourage active and inclusive hybrid learning. During the summer of 2022, research was undertaken to evaluate ISLA and make recommendations for the future direction of hybrid learning at City.

The research team, comprised of Professor Rachael-Anne Knight, Dr Rebecca Wells, Dr Jane Secker, Dr Miranda Melcher, and James Rutherford, launched surveys to assess how City staff and students experienced ISLA in Academic Year 2021-2022.

The surveys received ethical approval and included an option to sign-up for focus groups following survey completion. One survey was designed for staff and one for students, each of which was advertised via appropriate channels in spring 2022. Surveys closed in July 2022 and five focus groups with staff were held over that period. This document details the main findings and recommendations drawn from analysing staff and student responses from the surveys and focus groups.

Empty hybrid teaching room

Main findings

  1. Students appreciated the flexibility offered by hybrid learning and most would choose to use it again in future: “Hybrid learning has been a great progression forward in the world of teaching at higher levels of study. Hybrid allows for accessibility and inclusivity and gives flexibility to students with health reasons, childcare, carer responsibilities, financial reasons, and personal home life balance.”
  2. Students may have appreciated having the option, but staff reported low take-up of online attendance and low engagement by online students.
  3. The technological capabilities of the room significantly impacted the teaching & learning experience.
    • Technology was hard to learn to use, especially as it varied from room to room and changed throughout the term.
    • Cameras and screens were often in the wrong positions for online students to feel included and for staff to effectively engage them.
  4. The surveys and focus groups surfaced several ideas from staff about teaching adaptations that worked for them, which can be used for future training and guidance.
  5. Co-pilots were generally seen as helpful, but too few staff were aware of this option.
  6. Training for ISLA provided by City was seen as helpful for understanding the technical steps to use ISLA successfully. Optional comments from staff indicated room for improvement in providing training on how to prepare and adapt pedagogy and teaching for ISLA.
  7. There was a mixed response to future hybrid teaching from staff. The majority of responses from staff were sceptical about mass usage of hybrid, strongly preferring instead to have sessions either fully in-person, fully online, or having a mix of both throughout a module.
    1. One staff member reported: “The University cannot support it effectively. Moreover, across the sector, the hybrid experience for both students and staff has revealed the severe limitations of the mode. Either fully online or fully face-to-face. No hybrid.”
    2. Hybrid was preferred only in specific contexts, generally when a module leader was enthusiastic and skilful in adapting their practice and working with complicated technology. For instance, one staff member responded that: “If the room/venue were suitably equipped, I’d be happy to teach in a hybrid way. Being expected to teach in a room that is inadequately resourced is not fair to teacher or student.”

Main recommendations

  1. Improved, not increased number of ISLA rooms The existing number of ISLA rooms (including those planned for 2022/23) appears sufficient; focus should be on the quality of audio, placement of cameras and screens, and streamlining and standardising the interface.
  2. Enhanced support: Hybrid teaching would benefit from enhanced, responsive, in-room technical support for those teaching with ISLA.
  3. Continue successful technical training offer and expand and improve pedagogical training offer: include more on the design of sessions and activities to be successful in a hybrid mode.
  4. Continue co-pilot programme and raise awareness amongst academics.
  5. Choose ISLA wisely: Recognising the benefits for students of a hybrid approach, encourage programme teams to consider whether and how to use ISLA, or whether a combination of in-person and online synchronous sessions (blended) may be better suited.
  6. Agree University or School level strategy for the use of hybrid teaching – taking into account these findings and the new City Strategy which notes students should have “Improved flexibility in the way they choose to study”.


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