Online and Digital Learning

Durbbu 2016 – Transition to HE and student partnerships

Using VLE sites to support student transition to higher education presented by Regent’s University London and Durham University at #durbbu 2016. Ideas around student partnership in site development and possible opportunities for adaptive inductions.

At York we have a number of well-established pre-arrival sites across most departments on our institutional VLE. Recently, with the updating of central student-facing pages and the You@York applicant portal, departments have been able to move generic content out of their VLE spaces using these instead for customised content that focuses on the discipline. The sites therefore change role from being ‘welcome’ sites to ‘transition’ sites supporting students as they enter a form of education they may not be familiar with.

Whilst the institutional website is very effective at conveying information, the VLE toolset enables interaction, not just with different forms of content but interaction between students, staff and each other. Regent’s University London have just begun on this path and immediately spotted the potential for using the VLE space for discipline-specific resources and interactive content through a quiz-like tool, Tweaks. One advantage Regent’s has at current is that students needed little guidance to get into their pre-arrival site, simply log into the VLE and click the link. At York our VLE is used for a wide range of cases, providing skills tutorials, departmental committee minutes, employability records, in addition to the module sites for the academic programme. This means that finding the link can be a bit confusing on first glance. However, our deep link tool can be used to get students from the Student Home direct into their departmental pre-arrival site.

Durham University showcased their student partnership approach to developing pre-arrival sites (video explaining project), with student developers building sites and students in an advisory capacity shaping the direction of the content. The inclusion of students early on in the project allowed the team to ensure their time and effort was prioritised to what would be useful to supporting the students, rather than what they (the University/Department) wanted to tell them. This prompted my thoughts about the involvement we have with students within our learning and teaching projects, perhaps we should bring in students at the grant writing stage, rather than just at point of implementation. Current students also played a role in generating and sustaining the online community by monitoring blog spaces and responding to new students’ queries (see my blog post for approaches).

Video was heavily used in the sites and students responded in different ways depending on the style of the video. Of note, particularly for anyone else putting videos together, was to use videos as an opportunity to show the people in the department, their interests, research and passions, rather than use video as a way to present what a model students should be doing on their degree. The sites themselves had four key areas: preparation for academic study, independent learning, digital literacy, preparation for arrival. VLE site usage statistics formed part of the evaluation of Durham’s approach, showing where students spent most of their time on the pre-arrival sites. At first glance, there were discipline differences in the way students used the sites, supporting the rationale that having discipline-specific information was a meaningful approach to take. This also raises a point about generic videos, in that a video with a perspective on what it means to be a learner (for example) from both a humanities subject and a science subject could confuse students, rather than providing clear discipline-specific introductions to their studies.

Combined with the learning approach skills audit survey students were encouraged to complete as part of the transition site, the site statistics could be used potentially to inform departmental inductions too. Whilst I’ve used such surveys to inform technical support, this was an adjunct to the degree programme and took place when students were already on campus. Is there potential to use such pre-arrival sites to create adaptive curricula, based on students pre-course knowledge or expectations? In this way, the pre-arrival site really would act as a transition, the idea of going from somewhere to another place or level, in a connected and embedded way.


Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2016

Paper: Designing a Pre-Induction Course: Mistakes, Issues and Success – Steve Dawes (Regent’s University London) – @malkatraz

Paper: Working with Students as Partners to Help You Identify and Learn from Your Mistakes: Developing a Pre-Arrival Study Skills Course for all Undergraduates – Sam Nolan, Eleanor Loughlin, Malcom Murray, Elaine Tan and Jacquie Scollen (Durham University)

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