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Transforming Education

Bringing structure to student study

The use of students and recent graduates as essential parts of the Project Enhance Team to transition to online education delivery was never more prevalent than in the development of structured templates for our virtual learning environment. By reflecting on their own experiences and working with fellow students, a flexible and intuitive system was developed to bring benefits to staff and students alike.

One of the biggest challenges reported by many students during the pandemic was how to organise their time and workload in the new digital environment. In a normal year, scheduled lectures, seminars, club and sporting commitments provide a natural rhythm and structure to a student’s week. When the majority of these are removed, time management skills become more important.

This need for clear, structured resources became apparent in the early stages of planning for the pandemic-affected 2020-21 academic year. Here, the Exeter Learning Environment (ELE) would play a central role. While the University had long used this virtual environment for content, reading lists, assignments and lecture recordings, students had also told us that their ELE module pages were often presented differently and ordered in different ways. A more homogenous structure would help them to find content more easily.

To address this, Dr Steph Comley and Kat Tyler, Learning Advisors in the Technology Enhanced Learning Team, worked with the Academic Development Team to design a new ELE Module Template. This introduced a new clearer structure, ordered by week, with areas for tutors to help students track tasks and build communities where they could get to know their fellow students and tutors in the new online environment.

Once developed, our Digital Learning Developers (DLDs) took this new template and developed the approach further for the needs of their own college. After all, who better to help structure online content than recent students themselves?

Christopher Aldridge was a DLD in the Business School (Accounting and Finance). Along with his fellow DLDs, Christopher adapted the template to provide an easy-to-follow course outline into which academics could drop their content once they had created it.

“Before even starting on the creation of the template we analysed early feedback from current students on what they disliked/liked about the online learning experience and fed that into the initial plans for the template,” Christopher said. “Then we started the construction of the template. At each draft stage we consulted current students and academics to receive their feedback, and then made amendments until the template was complete and both parties were satisfied with it.

“The template divides each week up into three sections. An initial section includes space for the academic to put a friendly welcome video explaining what the student needs to do during the week. The middle section contains a numbered list of the videos and various activities the students need to study and complete for the week. Then finally the third section contains an area where they can ask any questions and give feedback. So overall, each week logically guides the students through the work they need to complete.”

This collaboration not only helped to present digital content in a structured, student-friendly way, it also helped save academic time by giving them a clear framework for the content they were developing.

“I used the template as the skeleton underpinning module pages for each week,” explained Professor Grzegorz Trojanowski, Professor of Finance at the Xfi Centre for Finance and Investment.

“It provided an almost off-the-shelf solution for arranging weekly activities in a logical manner and hence did not require me to re-invent the wheel.

“The template successfully reduced the amount of preparation time for the academics and gave them more time to spend preparing and recording the subject content for the students. This was key during a time that academics were working almost flat out in preparation for the University term starting.”