Reviewing Programme Design – understanding the students’ perspective


The Challenge

The last few months have been hugely chaotic for me. Working remotely wasn’t a surprise, but I hadn’t considered that this space would need to be shared between me and my hubby. Coupled with the fact that I was suddenly faced with having to manage my children whilst working.

I found myself having to adapt to a new norm. A norm that stated that chunking work in 20 minutes was just about doable. I was having to conduct meetings using my phone at times and this meant meetings and training sessions had to be asynchronous and not always during the times that were stated. I found myself constantly asking if meetings had been recorded and notes had been transcribed so I could catch up after. I became quite despondent when I was provided with lengthy slides and never-ending notes. It felt like the university could be doing more. I remember feeling out of control with Team and Zoom meetings. Most of my workdays, I left feeling like I hadn’t achieved much at all. I can recall cringe-worthy moments when I had taken a meeting on my phone and my children appearing up on camera to see who’s face they can see online and unashamedly declaring their grumbles. Or that the camera was showing another part of my body which wasn’t my face! I laugh and I’m sure you’ll join me in saying that it’s not been an easy few months juggling children and work. I have found myself working at different hours sometimes at night when everyone is asleep.

This way of working led me to wonder how our students might be faring in this new climate. Given the number of challenges I faced whilst working, I could only ponder what our students might have experienced during this time.

In a recent survey conducted by Pearson around students’ experiences of learning during Covid-19 and their expectations for the next academic year, students have highlighted ‘high-quality online teaching’ as their MOST important thing in a recent study. This is highly provocative and unconventional as it was well above interventions like social interaction, wellbeing support, and even access to learning resources.

As someone who has been through and can relate to students’ struggles, I found myself asking how can we provide an experience for our students that is inclusive, agile and personable all at the same time?

Finding Direction

Dr. Jane Secker in her blog talks about how she managed the Masters’ technology module whilst being in lockdown. She advised on a shifting of mindsets when teaching online. She encouraged programme teams to anticipate students concerns and appreciate that there would be more interruptions and distractions whilst home working. Jane made allowances for these interruptions and really thought through her lesson plan for moving online. Geraldine Foley’s blog provides some further basic tips which I believe are also useful to take into account when redesigning a programme module/course. on ‘Developing Online learning and teaching

Colleagues from LEaD and across the University have been working together to develop online teaching in new engaging and innovative ways to ensure our students continue to have a positive learning experience. Further information and guidance on delivering studies online can be found on the Learning and Teaching Hub.

In another Linkedin Learning bite-sized session, Samantha Calamari provides some ideas for developing programmes with the students. The presentation concurs in some parts, with City’s very own Inclusive Curriculum Development Framework.

Design for a global reach from Inclusive Instructional Design by Samantha Calamari

This presentation by Samantha Calamari suggests the following steps in summary:

1) Consider the make-up of your programme team in each of your modules.
Think about each individual, the perspective they bring, and how they’re different from each other. Are they a part of the learning community you’re designing for? Do they reflect who the learner is? Can they design for those learners’ needs?

2) Next, ask each member of the design team to take an online course.
Whatever it is, it’s important that it’s online. They’ll want to explore the space that emulates the type of learning you’re creating. Then, reconnect and find out how people felt about their experiences. Did they feel represented in the learning space? Were there aspects they would like to change? How would they apply design practices to make these changes?

3) Conduct a learner’s needs assessment.
Ask your learners how they would like to learn. If they’ve taken other online learning courses, were there features they found helpful? Could you incorporate these features into your design?

If you don’t have access to your potential learners before you start designing, post some of these questions to your professional network. Once you’ve gathered this information and outfitted yourself with a diverse team, you’re ready to jump in. But as you move through the design process, continue to gather information about your learners and explore how to best meet their needs. You’ll want to be agile during each development stage. Leave room for revisions and redirection if necessary. Hopefully, you can apply these findings to improve your versions.

Samantha suggests using concept maps as you chart your course design in ways that you can integrate inclusive elements.

Concept maps, also known as mind maps, are visual tools that help you organize content. They’re essentially a blueprint of your design and help you figure out ways that you can fit the overall structure into your instructional program. The more thoughtful you are about the team and the preparation stages, the stronger foundation you’ll have to layout for your learners. By starting with a diverse team and really examining your potential participants’ needs, a wide community of learners will benefit from your course.

Samantha provided further ideas about how to try to incorporate student needs at the design phase. So a helpful aide-memoire and one that appealed to me as it was short, concise, had a script at the end for my notes and was easily shareable.

An opportunity for pedagogical innovation

Our worlds have been catapulted into a new norm, which is ever-changing. Looking at how we redesign programmes has to also change and bringing our students into the programme team conversations right from the get-go is even more vital as we begin to consider the reality for our students and the workplaces they will be recruited in. Our students’ employers will want to feel reassured that we have equipped our students for the future that we never predicted we could have.

So I hope that even though time is tight, and with the pressures of homeworking, caring responsibilities, precarious contracts, and so on, diversions abound. We can look at post-COVID-19, not as a ‘mass cut and paste of lectures and associated content to virtual realms’. But that we see it as ‘an opportunity for pedagogical innovation’. Just think about it, there could be so much good if we enable our students to be helping communities and external organisations through this crisis. Students co-producing content that can shape the university’s response to Covid-19.

Now that’s a future I might be inspired to invest in.

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3 thoughts on “Reviewing Programme Design – understanding the students’ perspective

  1. Very thoughtful (and honest) post, Rae. Timely for many others too, no doubt! I like that you’ve been able to put an optimistic spin on a challenging situation and turn it around.

    Great tip about getting members of a design team to take an online course themselves too. I always recommend those new to teaching online to experience it as a student first. Online typically requires (even more) empathy for learners than face-to-face does 🙂

  2. Thanks for your comments Dom – yes the online world of learning and teaching has to be appreciated with our own experiences.

    I’m still astonished that students are looking for high quality teaching above any thing else. Perhaps our students are much more savvy having experienced the online world of zoom tutorials and team teachings and are increasingly looking for universities that will offer a quality online experience. I’ve read how some courses have made their students co-create and design content and help the institution design solutions for the aftermath of the pandemic. I think we should fully support that model.
    However given the challenges of time flying so fast and a lack of students around the campus it’ll be even more difficult to partner with students. We can but try!

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