Partnering with current and recent students to create compelling blended learning programmes
In April 2020, the University of Exeter faced the same dilemma as most other universities: how to move most or all of its teaching online in just a few months?
Creating an engaging and compelling offer to students was as important as ever – but so was the need to fully support them through unfamiliar ways of learning. It was clear that listening to students and involving them in co-creating the redesign of programmes would be critical.
To that end, in the summer of 2020 the University recruited 69 recent graduates as full-time Digital Learning Developers (DLDs), along with 119 current students as part-time Digital Learning Assistants (DLAs).
Working in teams attached each college, DLDs support teaching staff in redeveloping their modules for online learning, while DLAs provide feedback on changes from a student perspective.
At Exeter the student voice has always been important, but the university’s investment in these roles has further embedded the practice of ‘students as partners’ during this extended period of change and uncertainty.
Between them, the DLDs and DLAs provide an important bridge between academic staff and the students they teach.
Working closely with academics and other support staff has massively boosted my confidence in communication, whilst developing a network of professional contacts – both in the wider university community and within the DLD team.
DLDs enhance modules for online delivery, operate a hotline for staff queries and support academics in using the new technology effectively. DLAs, meanwhile, provide valuable insight into the student experience. Both DLDs and DLAs are assigned to each college, allowing them to develop close relationships with academic staff.
The DLDs meet regularly with their counterparts in other colleges for support and to exchange ideas and experiences. They also benefit from a real-time chat service connecting them to the expertise of the central Technology Enhanced Learning team – essential for resolving any difficult issues!
As all the DLDs are working from home, none of them have actually met in person. But weekly catch-ups in Microsoft Teams, along with online chats, have helped build a real sense ofcommunity. Tom Langley-Berry is a Digital Learning Developer at the Business School. “There’s nothing like feeling you’re part of a team,” he said. “Being teammates doesn’t just mean working together. It means keeping an eye on each other, keeping up each other’s spirits. We’ve been able to do that.”
For many DLDs graduating in the uncertain labour market of a global pandemic, the role has not only allowed them to enhance their technical skills, but to add other valuable skills to their CVs – such as as design, communication, organisation, conflict management and team working.
“Working closely with academics and other support staff has massively boosted my confidence in communication, whilst developing a network of professional contacts – both in the wider university community and within the DLD team,” said Josh Oldridge, a Digital Learning Developer in the College of Engineering, Maths and the Physical Sciences. “These are people I’ll have no hesitation about contacting in coming years about work or anything else. I’ve also been exposed to lots of different learning technologies, and my managers have encouraged me to set objectives to keep me focused on personal development alongside work. I now feel better placed to apply for jobs after my tenure as a Digital Learning Developer.”
Continuous learning has been a key theme of the DLD and DLA experience, and as part of that the group has created a blog, Auditio (from the Latin ‘to listen’) to share their stories and those of the wider teaching community. Co-edited by three DLAs – Poppy Osborne, Maria Eduarda and Millie Britton, the blog features stories on what staff and students have found challenging about online and blended learning, what’s gone well, and how students are preparing for a very digital future in terms of work, life and learning.
Whatever the future brings, the DLDs and DLAs have played a critical role in transforming the University’s programmes this year for online and blended delivery.
You can visit Auditio here.
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