In December 2022, I chaired a webinar for the UCISA Digital Education Group to present and discuss the findings from the 2022 UCISA Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) pulse survey. In the webinar, we heard from three heads of digital learning – Amy Sampson from Falmouth University, Andy Jaffrey from Ulster University and Vicky Brown from the University of Sheffield. In this blog post I reflect on the discussion from the webinar alongside the City perspective.
UCISA have been reviewing the use of TEL in UK higher education (HE) since 2001. The 2022 survey was a cut-down version of the previous survey to review the landscape in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, whilst still maintaining the longitudinal analysis from previous TEL surveys. The survey was circulated to Heads of e-Learning, or equivalent, in June/July 2022 and 76 UK HE institutions responded to the survey (a response rate of 50%). Key findings from the survey are presented below.
An increase in TEL tools
The 2022 data shows a rise in the number of TEL tools being centrally-supported by institutions compared to 2020 and this certainly reflects the situation at City. During the pandemic we ended up taking on support for Teams and Zoom to support teaching and learning. However, as noted by Vicky (Sheffield), the return to campus has resulted in a reduction in the use of the webinar platform. We have however seen greater take-up of other tools across City, in particular an increase in the use of polling tools since the start of 2022/23 in order to provide more interactivity for on-campus sessions.
The TEL toolkit – defined as the top tools used in 50% or more of an institution’s courses – has also increased, with Lecture capture, Content management systems (CMS) and Webinar platforms all increasing in use within an institution. The survey found that use of digital exams and proctoring tools was still quite niche, with less than 10% of responding institutions using these tools in 50% or more of their courses.
An increase in TEL staffing
54% of institutions reported an increase in the number of permanent TEL staff over the last two years and 23% reported an increase in fixed term staffing. All three panellists from the webinar reported an increase in staffing, often with a project focus or to expand the remit of the team, e.g. digital exams or learning design. Comments from the audience indicated that this wasn’t true across the sector, with some institutions seeing a decrease in staffing or a recruitment freeze. The challenges of recruiting staff were also highlighted, especially with in-demand roles such as learning design, and also where hybrid working meant that some institutions were being more flexible about time on campus. Amy (Falmouth) reported that one quarter of her team are remote workers; this flexibility gives the University access to a wider pool of applicants as they no longer have the challenge of asking people to move to Cornwall. However, this flexibility could be impacting on other TEL teams who are not able to be as flexible. Amy also mentioned the use of digital interns, typically recent graduates, as a good way to develop a ‘recruitment funnel’ into the team.
At City, the Covid-19 pandemic increased demand for support from LEaD for the move to online learning alongside key strategic initiatives such as learning analytics and digital accessibility. The team were successful in extending the FTE of some existing staff as well as receiving funding to support fixed term staff for specific projects. It has also enabled us to expand the areas that we support, for example, the creation of a Student Digital Skills team, which employs Student Digital Assistants, who focus on reviewing and supporting students with their digital literacies. The challenge of using fixed-term roles has been ensuring we have the funding to move these key projects into business as usual in line with City’s new strategy.
A continuous cycle of TEL reviews
71% of institutions have reviewed one or more TEL tools in the last two years and 70% are planning a review in the coming two years showing that there is a continuous cycle of TEL reviews across the sector. A key reflection from the webinar panellists was that reviews typically occur as a result of procurement timelines (e.g. every 3-5 years) but have also occurred due to changes in terms and conditions from suppliers, and changes in strategy or curriculum. Panellists also noted the importance of longer term investment (licences of more than 5 years) for key digital education services, and balancing that with shorter-term investment (e.g. 1-2 years) to pilot new tools, with a subsequent review as to how they fit with the current infrastructure.
During the pandemic City reviewed webinar platforms, accessibility tools and polling tools, as well as conducting a more general review of tools with staff as part of an Ed Tech review. As noted by the panellists, City has also seen a greater focus on the role of data protection (in the form of data protection impact assessments) and information security in the procurement process. We would also like to see a greater emphasis on the role of accessibility in procurement of IT systems and have started conversations about this with the Digital Accessibility Working Group. Looking forward, we are currently working with the Change Support Unit to gather requirements for a learning analytics and engagement solution, and anticipate reviews of other tools as their contracts come to an end.
Increase in blended learning, but limited impact of hybrid and online learning
The survey reported that blended learning with supplementary resources remains the most prevalent delivery mode across the sector (81% of respondents are supporting this across their institution). Since 2020, there has been an increase in the use of active blended learning with 36% of institutions reporting that this is supported extensively across the institution, compared with 20% in 2020.
Hybrid/HyFlex delivery does not yet seem to be well established across the sector with only 9% of institutions supporting this extensively across the institution. The majority of use is at an individual teacher level (34%). During the pandemic City’s ISLA project equipped over 30 learning spaces with hybrid facilities to meet the demand to support hybrid teaching whilst many students were still unable to come to campus. For 2022/23, we have seen a reduction in demand for hybrid learning as it becomes used primarily for approved hybrid programmes, for example Food Policy and Law, and individual modules.
The survey reported that the number of institutions supporting fully online delivery across the institution has doubled since 2020, but still remains low at 9%. There remains high use (up to 61%) across schools/departments. At City, use of fully online delivery continues to support specific programmes, primarily in Bayes and Law. LEaD have recently supported moving the MSc Temporary Works online as well as the development of a new MSc Computing in the School of Science and Technology as part of the STEM Digital Academy.
Webinar panellists noted a reduction in online delivery as students returned to campus and this has been reflected at City as well, in line with our Learning, Teaching and Assessment principles which state a mixed-mode format with the majority of teaching taking place on campus. Andy commented that at Ulster blended learning has always been an expectation due to the distance between their four campuses. Amy noted that Falmouth are continuing to offer learning design support for colleagues to produce blended learning and the team are now part of the approvals process for new programmes to ensure blended learning design is embedded at the start. At City, LEaD have supported Schools with learning design workshops and the Digital Education team are currently developing a ‘digital learning design offer’ to support staff with developing blended and online programmes/modules.
A focus on accessibility
The survey found that digital accessibility was one of the top three areas making demands on support (24% of respondents), in terms of raising awareness of accessibility requirements, providing support for captioning and creating accessible documents. All panellists reported a focus on an inclusive approach and the use of the Anthology Ally tool to support staff with reviewing the accessibility of their VLE content.
City launched the Anthology Ally tool in September 2022 as part of our ongoing digital accessibility work to improve accessibility of web-based learning materials and content. The Ally tool also provides students with access to alternative formats to enable students to download files from Moodle in a format that suits them (e.g. PDF, HTML, MP3).
Find out more about digital education at City
If you’d like to know more about digital education at City, get in touch with LEaD Digital Education:
- Access our Educational Technology guides for staff and students
- Attend an Educational technology workshop
- Find useful toolkits and support via the City Learning and Teaching Hub
- Contact Julie Voce, Head of Digital Education and Deputy Director, LEaD