Breaking down barriers to active learning: Part 3 – Roll out and impact of an institutional Apps for Teaching and Learning toolkit
Welcome to the final part of our three-part contribution in which we share our experiences of developing a centrally licensed institutional “toolkit” of interactive Apps for Teaching and Learning. In Part 1 we explained the background to the need for a toolkit and how we approached the tricky problem of selecting a relatively small set of tools from the many that are available. In Part 2, in an interactive webinar we shared our approach to rolling out the toolkit to teaching colleagues and our evaluation of the impact this is having in our institution on the delivery of active learning. Here in Part 3, a follow-up blog post, we summarise the main content of and follow-up on any issues raised during the webinar. Before reading this follow-up post we recommend that you read Part 1 of the post and/or watch the recording of the webinar.
Roll out of our Apps for Teaching and Learning Toolkit
With the help of our institution’s vendor management team, we negotiated an initial 6-month trial period (Jan-June 2021) for the Apps for Teaching and Learning Toolkit presented in Part 1 of our post (Table 2) at a total cost of approx. 30k.
Following evaluation of the trial period, we used our learning spaces framework to develop a fully costed business case to the university which was subsequently approved with a budget of circa 200k over a three-year period (starting Sept 2021). The role of our vendor management team cannot be understated here as they were able to arrange the most cost effective licensing arrangements based on “estimated” demand as well as ensuring GDPR issues were addressed. Furthermore, they opened up ongoing dialogue between the vendors and our institutional App experts relating to accessibility enhancements.
We worked closely with our IT service and IT Helpline to set up the toolkit and create processes in line with the 4 mains aims of the trial:
- Make it easy to request a licence for one of more Apps
- Rapidly create accounts remotely and set up Apps on staff devices using their Man Met credentials
- Provide effective technical and pedagogic support for using the Apps
- Reduce perceived risk and increase confidence in using Apps.
Requests are made via our main IT Helpline Customer Management System. These are passed via the CRM to our IT Services Teams who create Single Sign-on accounts, remotely install Apps (where required) on staff allocated devices. On completion staff are emailed account details and TEL Team support guidance.
Normally this takes less than 24 hours. Processes were revisited after the trial to speed up access further, for instance Vevox polling tool being installed to all teaching and staff machines as standard.
Furthermore, we have created a high-level oversight group, the Digital Experience and Software Group (DESG) made up of senior leaders and, importantly, active members of our Educational Technologies CoP. This group receives feedback on the toolkit, all new requests for Apps and reviews the processes and budget for continuous improvement of Apps for Teaching and Learning toolkit.
A Community of Practice
Sign up for the trial period was high with 444 individuals requesting licences. This comprised 420 teaching staff (approx. 30% of a teaching staff in the university), and 44 professional services colleagues (TEL Team, University Teaching Academy, Library and Students Support Services). 72% of those who requested one or more licences became active users (332 individuals) of their licenced apps during the trial period with 1234 active learning sessions (instances where the Apps were used in class with students) taking place, leading to approximately 20 thousand interactions with students (student user data provided by the App providers).
Extensive supporting resources were provided including written and video guides, FAQ pages, a programme of interactive workshops, and bookable one-to-one App specific drop-in sessions with Faculty TELAs. In addition, all those who requested one or more licences were automatically added to our Technology for Teaching and Learning MS Teams space, within which a Channel was created for each App in the toolkit.
The evaluation survey (180 respondents) of the trial period found that:
- 9 out of 10 staff surveyed considered sign-up, installation and set-up to be very easy and straightforward.
- 7/10 participants reported that the wide range of support met or exceeded their expectations and needs.
- 9/10 colleagues strongly agreed that they were both more likely to adopt and continue to use institutionally provided Apps in their practice.
- There was a strong feeling (from free text questions and follow-up focus groups) that providing a fully licenced Apps for teaching and Learning toolkit was something the university should be doing.
Perhaps the most important and exciting aspect of the trial was the emergence of a highly active Community of Practice through the Technology for Teaching and Learning MS Teams space to which all participants in the Trial were automatically enrolled. By the end of our trial period over 350 colleagues had been added to the Teams space, with just over 85% of these actively engaging with the space by replying to and/or liking posts. We noticed that when colleagues were posting questions about how to use the Apps their peers (rather than the TEL Team) would frequently provide solutions and ideas. Furthermore, some colleagues were sharing successful experiences that were motivating others.
Our approach to accessibility
From the start our trial, and commissioning of the toolkit, we were fully aware that that there are accessibility issues in that we could not find any Apps, out of all of those available, that fully met the requirements set out in the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Apps) Accessibility Regulations 2018. After much soul searching, we took the decision that rather than simply not using an App we would, as part of contract/licence negotiations, insist upon establishing a collaborative working relationship with the vendors that would focus on the ongoing improvement of accessibility of the App.
To this end, we have a nominated expert from our TEL team, for each App, who meets monthly with Vendor reps to provide feedback on our users experience and make suggestions for improvements. This is a complex relationship, which is not always easy, however, we believe that we are making progress in this way. For example, we provided feedback to colleagues at VEVOX that the method of embedding some elements/objects of session joining instructions and poll results as images without alt text were inaccessible and worked with them to improve the way that this is achieved.
In the 18 months since the end of the trial period uptake of licences has increased steadily and 2332 licences have now been assigned across the Teaching and Learning apps to 1240 teaching colleagues. For each app the number of licensed users has increased by at least 2.5 times (Table 3).
Table 3 – Licences requested during trial period and since
Table 4 – Apps for Teaching and Learning Sessions – End of Trial and Up to Present
|Sessions (Trial Period)||647||97||160||167||163||1234|
|Student hits (Trial Period)||10923||2263||1444||2245||3972||20847|
|Students per session (Trial Period)||17||23||9||13||24||17|
|Sessions (Since End of Trial)||5050||780||4234||1424||340||11828|
|Student hits (Since End of Trial)||71977||18297||50747||23875||9674||174570|
|Avg Students per session (Since End of Trial)||14||23||12||17||28||15|
We are currently in the process of analysing the data we have collected on uptake of licences (Table 3), patterns of use by both staff and students (Table 4) and setting up a follow-up evaluation of learning activity design relating to the use of specific apps. We will share our findings in a full paper in the near future. It is already clear that the use of some apps is increasing more quickly than others, for example, we have noticed a threefold rise in the requests for Mentimeter licences leading over 3773 sessions involving just over 51k student interactions (Table 4). We suspect that this may be as a result of some colleagues “progressing” in their practices in relation to quizzing and polling. For example, seeking to use the wider range of question types offered by Mentimeter compared to the simpler Vevox app that we also provide. We need to explore this in more detail as it is also clear that Vevox works very effectively as a simple and effective tool that embeds neatly in MS PowerPoint and has a strong user base. Padlet has been our most popular app in terms of uptake and is also the most used in terms of sessions with students. In part, this because this is the only app we provide that is aimed at collaborative activity types, but also because it is a very simple and versatile app that can be put to use with the minimum of set-up for both staff and students. Although it has the lowest take up in terms of licences, Nearpod has also been effectively deployed by a core group of colleagues to facilitate interactive tutor-lead in class teaching.
Overall, we have recognised that each app has established its own specific user base and our initial perception is that this a reflection of staff matching the functionality, intuitiveness or simply the look and feel of the apps to the types of activity that they favour deploying in their teaching. In this respect, popularity (in terms of number of licences taken up) is much less important than the character of the activities that are being delivered with them.
Our Technology for Teaching and Learning MS Teams space now has approaching 850 members, over 80% of which have been active within the Team channels in the last 3 months. This space is a thriving community supporting each other in using these Apps and provides a fantastic pool of resources for ongoing development of case studies and good practice examples.
Overall, our evaluations have shown that our approach to providing a relatively small institutionally licenced and supported toolkit of Apps for Teaching and Learning, selected using our institutionally developed learning activities framework has:
- reduced technical barriers to uptake.
- encouraged investment of time to develop technical skills and activities.
- and increased staff confidence to try new approaches in their teaching.
We have established a thriving MS Teams community of practice, and this has led to a significant increase in the use of Apps for Teaching and Learning to support flexible active learning across the university.
ALT SIG Blog Post Cullen, Williams & Lord (2023)