Hands typing on a tablet that is on a stand

Many staff are producing innovative learning materials that are enhancing students’ experiences and receiving positive feedback.

  • 01 March 2021
  • 9 min read

Over the past year, we’ve had to respond and adjust to the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which closed our campus forcing rapid improvisation, innovation and adoption of online teaching.

To overcome these challenges, our academics are blending real-time online engagement with online learning experiences, such as such as pre-recorded lectures and presentations to support self-guided learning.

Many have embraced this opportunity and are producing innovative learning materials that are enhancing students’ experiences and receiving positive feedback. Many of the new initiatives have brought unexpected benefits to teaching and learning that staff are now adamant they’ll continue to use them in their teaching post-pandemic.

The Camera Obscura Project

Like many others around the world, the pandemic forced BA (Hons) Photography students to photograph and create in their immediate environments, including their own homes. This project began in response to these new ways of seeing, this shared experience. Photography students from different countries around the world are invited to convert their rooms into a camera obscura and document the projected view of the outside world.

This project is in collaboration with Bezalel Academy of Art and Design (Jerusalem), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Tsukuba (Japan) and Yaba College of Technology (Lagos).

Lecturer Dr Dana Ariel said: “We plan to share students' work through a dedicated Instagram account, which will begin in March 2021. We have also considered future options of organising meetings between students and potentially organising a departmental exhibition in the different institutions.”

We approached the challenging COVID-19 situation with a positive mind-set. Despite the many struggles, student learning was in many ways enhanced by having more effective ways of sharing information and students could be more easily connected to clients.

Peter Wainwright, BCP Module Coordinator and Senior Teaching Fellow

The Bruhaus

The Bruhaus is an informal out-of-hours online Zoom event for BA (Hons) and MA Graphic Design students, course alumni and staff. The format is similar to a chat show/podcast where Senior Lecturer Dan McCabe invites three guests from the world of design and interviews them for 15-20 minutes each. Students are invited to submit questions ahead of the event and these are woven into each interview. The interviews are interspersed with links to the guest's work, design-related quiz questions, and the event finishes with 30 minutes of music (previously by staff member Brendon Bostock aka DJ Gentle Bren) and conversation / networking in the chat feature. The aim is to give students a place to get together online and feel a greater sense of connectedness - with each other, with tutors, with alumni, with industry, and with the discipline itself.

Dan, who conceived the idea of the Bruhaus, said: “As challenging as the pandemic has been, it has provided opportunities to reach out to people in industry and get them to engage with us in ways that they may not have been able to under normal circumstances. So far, we have been very lucky to have the likes of Nikky Lyle, Mitch Goldstein, Kingsley Nebechi, Tony Brook, Sarah Boris and Chris Arran give entertaining, inspiring, aspirational interviews.”

Dan also feels that it has helped students (especially third years) to feel more motivated about their own work, to get a better sense of what's going on in industry at the moment and feel more positive about graduating.

Feedback has been highly positive. Course reps reported during a Student Voice Committee how much they enjoyed the first event in November 2020 and alumni have sent messages to express their thanks and say how inspiring the event has been for them.

The sessions have proved such a success that they will certainly be among our new activities that will continue next year and beyond.

Professor Andrew Wood, Head of Accounting and Financial Management

Business Consultancy Project

For some of the 41 teams on this year’s Business Consultancy Project (BCP) module, which involves small teams of students from the Faculty of Business and Law working with local organisations, they had the additional challenge of working with team members based around the world.

In response, they developed their virtual team working skills to ensure they worked effectively and could meet their clients’ needs and come up with sustainable business solutions.

Four teams were based in China and one of them worked with Whiteley-based recruitment firm Sert, to help them develop their markets in the Middle East. Another team had people in different time zones from Mexico to Romania, helping Hampshire-based firm Planet Aware market their services to help festival goers and organisers to reduce waste, once lockdown restrictions start to lift later in the year.

BCP Module Coordinator and Senior Teaching Fellow Peter Wainwright said: “We approached the challenging COVID-19 situation with a positive mind-set. Despite the many struggles, student learning was in many ways enhanced by having more effective ways of sharing information and students could be more easily connected to clients.”

Illustrating innovation

Dr Jac Batey, course leader MA Illustration, has created some innovative video materials, which have been positively received by her students. Examples include:

What is Sketchnoting?

Using a Research Blog for your Project

About the Zineopolis Collection (a research project used for teaching)

Dr Batey said: “After the initial shock of moving online, I have actually enjoyed the experience. A massive credit should go to the TEL Blended Learning Festival, which was really critical in helping staff to quickly think creatively.”

Comments from students:

“Studying online has been great. These platforms have been good for collating our progress on our MA so far and it is easy to find previous work. Working online has also been better in some ways, for example, our illustrator inspiration presentations worked really well when sharing screen - less anxiety.”

“I feel like online learning has gone really smoothly! Everything feels really organised and I’ve especially enjoyed using Padlet to share work.”

“I really enjoying studying online, my tutors are there if I need them and I do the whole thing from home which makes the whole experience easier for me. The platforms we use at the moment (Zoom, Padlet, Moodle) are really easy to use, too.”

Weekly online round-ups

Weekly online round-ups have proved very popular with students on the BA (Hons) Accounting and Financial Management programme. Every Monday morning there is a one-hour online session for each cohort previewing the week's sessions, providing a platform for external speakers and advertising extra- and co-curricular activities.

These sessions are led by the Course Leader in tandem with the respective Year Tutor, with relevant Module Coordinators taking part, as well as guest speakers, usually from the profession. Guests have included representatives from ACCA, ICAEW, CIMA and students who have done placements, including at the big four accounting firms. The sessions are dynamic and fast moving and they have a nice mix of fun and serious discussion - they can even include film tips, through the accounting and finance ‘secret cinema’.

Professor Andrew Wood, Head of Accounting and Financial Management, said: “Students like these sessions for many reasons. They act as a fixed point in their calendar when they can take stock of where they are and where their studies are going; they join the dots between the modules, emphasising links and complementarities; and they enable the course team to contextualise their studies within the profession, discussing potential careers within accounting.

“The sessions have proved such a success that they will certainly be among our new activities that will continue next year and beyond.”

Discord brings harmony for students

The BSc (Hons) Software Engineering course has been experimenting with alternative methods for engaging with students for a number of years. When the pandemic hit last year, teaching initially moved to Slack. However, there was not the level of engagement that course leaders were hoping for.

They asked students what communication platform they would prefer to use and they suggested Discord, a platform popular amongst streamers and gamers, as it allows communication in direct messaging, text channels, voice channels and screen sharing.

Overall, this has been a success and we have expanded membership to all courses in the School of Computing. We have been able to maintain our rapport with existing students, as well as welcoming the first years into a visible and active community of peers, establishing better cross-year and cross-course communication than at any time pre-Covid.

Dr Rich Boakes, Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing

Discord has been in use extensively since term began and feedback has been very positive. Students appreciate they can ask lecturers questions and get answers without needing to go through the formality of email communication. They also enjoy more informal engagement with lecturers and having the ability to talk about topics other than just their studies. They also appreciate notifications when classes are about to start and being able to get help when they need it.

Dr Matt Dennis said: “We were keen to use the service as a place where we could help students with their practical work, inform them of important developments and provide them with a line of communication with us and their peers if they ever felt isolated. Our course also involves substantial group work, so we wanted to help students who did not know their cohort particularly well to be able to form cohesive and effective teams. We were also keen to help the formation of friendships within modules, years, and between all students on the course as a whole. We therefore provide multiple off-topic 'channels' where students can talk with each other, and us, about whatever subject is pressing.”

Dr Rich Boakes said: “Overall, this has been a success and we have expanded membership to all courses in the School of Computing. We have been able to maintain our rapport with existing students, as well as welcoming the first years into a visible and active community of peers, establishing better cross-year and cross-course communication than at any time pre-Covid.”

Comments from students:

“I think it’s been the best idea the University has had since I’ve been here. I find myself advancing more where I’m in a Discord chat with people from the same module."

"Discord has been incredible so far. It’s helped me interact with fellow course mates, find coursework groups, ask questions and receive instant help. It has made me feel like there are other people out there going through the same thing as me during this lockdown."

"Overall I consider the effect to be very positive (for me at least), it has helped me stay in contact with fellow students. It has also provided an easy way to ask for help from a lecturer/teacher whether that be course specific, seeking assistance with external projects, or help with wider university or module questions."

Feedback shows that students have appreciated this move to ensure that their exposure to real political working life isn't affected by the move to online learning. There is also evidence of great appreciation towards MPs and public sector leaders for giving up their time to talk to students.

Sue Roberts, Senior Lecturer on the Masters in Public Administration course

Virtual visits from political figures

Politics and International Relations students have benefitted from several "virtual visits" from political figures and public sector leaders, including a serving Labour MP who is part of the Shadow Cabinet, the first ever female Fire and Rescue Chief and a regional police commander.

Over the last year of online learning, about 100 students have participated in the virtual visits, which are conducted as informal interviews via Webex.

Sue Roberts, Senior Lecturer on the Masters in Public Administration course, said: “The purpose of linking them with real practice in the field is to demonstrate what careers could be available to them. It doesn't replace any aspect of their course work. This is part of an Academic Enrichment Programme, which is there to augment their degree level studies.

“During lockdown, I moved the visits online to help with student engagement in their virtual learning environment. Feedback shows that students have appreciated this move to ensure that their exposure to real political working life isn't affected by the move to online learning. There is also evidence of great appreciation towards MPs and public sector leaders for giving up their time to talk to students.”

Training teachers how to teach in lockdown

The pandemic has meant a huge shift in the teaching methods and assessments that can be used in a remote and on-campus environment.

The Further Education Initial Teacher Training PGCE course has embraced a wide variety techniques and interactive platforms to train teachers how to teach during the pandemic:

• Google Jamboard allows students to collaborate and share thoughts in the way that a piece of flip chart paper would in the classroom;
• Peardeck allows all students to produce an answer on a ‘slide’, which can be seen by the teacher allowing whole class engagement and individual assessment;
• Whiteboard.fi has been particularly useful for maths teachers and provides students with a mini whiteboard for solving problems and individual assessment;
• WordWall produces matching tasks, word searches, sorting tasks and other templates. This is used as an individual assessment of prior knowledge or formative assessment during the session and excellent for checking terminology and definitions among other things.

Jo Park, Senior Lecturer in Education and Course Leader for Further Education Initial Teacher Education, said: “As a teacher, we want students to engage with taught content and communicate with each other. We also want to be able to formatively assess this and to ensure it is happening.

“Trainees have felt that they have a range of methods in their teaching toolbox to ensure that their sessions, whether remote or in the classroom, can provide assessment and collaboration. Our trainees are seen as experts in their departments and are well equipped to deliver remote learning with apps and tools for online delivery embedded into the programme.”

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