This year, with such a high standard of entries to the awards, we are showcasing all of our award finalists. This year’s Awards Ceremony will take place as part of the Online Winter Conference 2021, 15-16 December.
Hi, I’m Elizabeth McGlone, a Learning technologist at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. As part of my role I endeavoured to design a programme of learning for academics which would lead staff to explore and adopt existing and newly emerging educational technologies to enhance learning and teaching. On approaching the design, I had three main considerations: the main demographic of the academic staff, low confidence levels in using technology and the fact that technology was a direct challenge to traditional and successful teaching methods. Delivering this programme of learning was driven by two main determining factors. Firstly, the growing competition within the Higher Education Sector for online delivery of modules and programmes be it for international students, institutional partnerships or Graduate Apprentice programmes. Secondly, the demand to enhance the student experience by being flexible in the delivery of learning and teaching in line with my institution’s Strategy for learning. To facilitate this, I established a Community of Practice (CoP) centred around a monthly event called “Brown Bag Breakfast Sessions”. I thought this collaborative approach to learning would be the ideal non-intimidating environment for staff to be exposed to technologies challenging to them but where they could feel relaxed in their own learning.
As a result of the growing pandemic and the fact that engaging with online delivery or technology enhanced learning was no longer a choice but was mandatory, there was clear apprehension among academic staff about the rapid adaptation to both their digital skill set and awareness of technologies for online delivery. I swiftly moved Brown Bag Breakfast sessions online and with the cooperation of academic colleagues who championed certain technologies, I continued to support academic staff with technology enhanced learning in that familiar, secure environment, albeit a virtual one.
Latterly, I designed a complementary (asynchronous) addition to these sessions with a new initiative “Tech Tip of the Week” which I started as a direct result of issues I saw arising since lockdown which I knew impacted many staff, including increasing workloads and isolation. I wanted to provide a bitesize, accessible piece of advice to alert people to something, jog their memory or actually give them some practical knowledge in using a technology. Tips are encapsulated within a succinct, simple infographic that is Tweeted for maximum reach.
It’s encouraging to realise that these initiatives can continue to develop and thrive as we navigate through hybrid and blended models of learning whether online or face-to-face delivery.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, I established, managed and grew a webinar series with an associated online community to share practice in technology enhanced learning (TEL). With a global audience of over 3,200 people and a raft of prestigious contributors the Digitally Enhanced Education (DEE) webinar series has provided a platform for the sector to share practice, exchange ideas and forge professional relationships.
In the shift to online delivery in early 2020, I began to see differing levels of engagement and ability from academic staff in their use of technologies when teaching online. While some display high levels of digital literacy and confidence, for others, levels are lower.
Through my own work with academic staff, it was clear that a lack of knowledge and understanding about the use of the key technologies that underpinned the move to online teaching was preventing some staff from fully engaging with the process of successfully transitioning their teaching online. At the same time, there was a paucity of ideas and examples from academics about how to deliver successful teaching online; this became the driving force of the DEE webinar series.
I recognised the need create an immersive environment in which to share practice. I wanted to create a safe space to engage academic colleagues from around the University in discussions about effective online teaching. I opted to open the webinar series to external users across the HE sector and remove the barrier of cost, making the webinars and community free and open to anyone who has an interest in teaching online.
The DEE webinar formula is very simple yet highly effective; it is a collection of webinars where staff give short presentations showing examples of what has worked well for them since teaching online. The short presentations offer self-contained learning objects with key takeaway messages. Attendees can engage with as much or as little as they like.
Being a global event, many people are not able to attend the live webinars due to teaching commitments and time zones, therefore I made all recordings from previous webinars available via the Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars YouTube channel, so that people are able to access the material at their convenience.
Dr Monica Chavez
My name is Dr Monica Chavez, I am a trained applied linguist with a PhD in English Linguistics, and great enthusiasm for educational technology. I am all about building the future and creating change to empower people via technology and day to day teaching practices.
In another life, I taught in Mexico and Hong Kong, and lived in the USA and Germany while teaching TESOL and Educational Technology programmes online and raising a child. After travelling this much, I could say that I tend to take risks because life has taught me that fortune favours the bold.
Although Champions Programmes have been around for a while in HE, my creative design of the Champions Programme is the culmination of the change I wanted to see in the world when I returned to the UK: I wanted to establish a real community and to elevate those who innovate and inspire students and colleagues. This community of practice I led institutionally for over 2 years, the Champions Community, supported over 300 members of staff in developing their digital capabilities, sharing best practice and testing innovations in online teaching.
To deliver this initiative, I created and embedded a “Champions’ model” that includes three underlying principles: community of practice, champions’ roles, and peer coaching. A particularly powerful strategy has been that of communities of practice (see Lave and Wenger, 1991), the other two elements are connected to, and even dependent on, the community.
Wenger-Trayner’s work (2020, 2009, 2002, 1998, 1991) on communities of practice embedded in social theories of learning has been influential and key in both the development and leadership of the Champions Programme with concepts such as ‘value creation’ and ‘periphery participation’ shaping the overall organisational change strategy. The work of the ‘champions’ in this initiative has been crucial for implementing and sustaining this community because of the culture of collegiality, experimentation, and peer to peer learning and networking they enable for and via the community.
I have created an online resource to enable colleagues to make use of communities of practice to embed ‘community’ into a special cause, initiative or programme/module.
It is my biggest wish that by going through the asynchronous content shared in this resource, colleagues will feel confident in deploying their own Champions Programme. In particular, I want to empower groups who perhaps do not have the resources or status, or that are at a disadvantage because of their race, gender or neurodiversity to lead change initiatives in their organisation. https://liverpool.instructure.com/courses/40191
The Digital Education Team
Being a fully online learner brings many opportunities, but also challenges. Since moving to online delivery in 2014 the University College of Estate Management (UCEM) has learned a great deal about what supports our students to achieve their goals, the majority of whom study part-time, are in employment and have a range of other life commitments. Our students are, or seek to be, professionals in the Built Environment. With sustainability a priority for the industry (around 38% of energy-related carbon emissions are from the Built Environment) it is vital that their time with us helps to prepare them for a fast-moving sector. Over the past year UCEM’s digital education team has embarked on a collaborative mission to take this knowledge and use it to design and realise a new educational framework centred around authenticity, inclusivity, flexibility and who our students are. This has resulted all 100+ of UCEM’s 20 and 40 credit modules being redesigned.
Our framework is the scaffolding for designing study opportunities that enable students to learn as they work, actively engaging them in the Built Environment. The team designed new quality standards to ensure consistency of provision, created a suite of resources to support the authoring of learning activities, and implemented active learning pedagogies for student success. All exams were removed to enable more authentic assessment and reduce pressure on students. Scaffolding assessment into UCEM modules is now an important part of the team’s work. Asynchronous learning designs now provide resilience in our module design – everything a student needs to be successful in their assessment is within the module on the VLE, with optional synchronous events providing opportunities to connect and consolidate learning. This approach was endorsed when 91.4% of UCEM students responding to the 2021 NSS Survey stated that they were ‘content with the delivery of learning and teaching’ of their course over the pandemic. The team have shared their approaches and design resources with the sector in webinars and under creative commons via a blog.
At the heart of all this is the development and facilitation of enhanced working practices at UCEM to bring together the cross-team expertise required for designing quality online education. Digital education professionals, academic staff and subject matter experts work together as one collaborative team. This has created a culture where we are all of equal standing, with an equal responsibility towards student outcomes and creating a better Built Environment.
Digital Education Team
Throughout the academic year 2021, The University of Lincoln led an inclusive digital learning transformation across our institutional VLE (Blackboard), doubling the accessibility scores of our learning resources, through a combination of mandated all-staff training, updated consistent, clear and coherent module templates with proactive
promotion, innovative productivity tools and strategic leadership. Acknowledging that inclusive learning content benefits everyone–it is easier to understand, more organised, and allows you to reach a wider audience with more flexible and adaptive content–it was a moral, legal and pedagogical driver for us to enhance the accessibility of all our online learning resources.
At the core of our approach were the strategic drivers of inclusive practice (enabled through dedicated tools and partnerships) and targeted enhancement support.
Through an innovative approach to VLE module templating, we embedded reusable and accessible components for guidance and signposting. Envisaged as an inspiration tool with the opportunity for rapid content creation opportunity, the reusable components could be easily applied by copying the content item and modifying the placeholder text. Module Evaluations reveal where used there was a correlation between ‘overall’ evaluation score of 95.4% (2.5% above the University average), and an evaluation score of 79.8% when asked ‘How easy has it been to engage with digital content and resources on the module?’ (1.3% increase above the University average).
Furthermore, mandated all-staff training (Sept 2020) promoted awareness and empathy with easy to implement practical solutions: An Introduction to Accessibility for the Web (external link). Student engagement was enhanced through student-generated peer-to-peer Blackboard Productivity Hacks to normalise the use of assistive technology by students and promote an inclusive culture: Unlock PDF Features | Malene Simonsen | University of Lincoln (YouTube). We also generated a suite of practical Creative Commons licenced accessibility support toolkits, hosted here: Digital Education’s Resource Hub (website), which have been viewed over 5500 times, by a global audience.
The results have seen a step-change in the adoption and implementation of accessible practice across our digital learning ecosystem, especially within our VLE (reaching >93% average across all modules in less than one year). There is now a far greater awareness and strategic understanding of the value of accessibility and inclusive teaching.
Programme Design and Learning Technology (PDLT), University of York
The Team has led institutional efforts to develop ‘inclusive learning, teaching and assessment practices which recognise and celebrate the diversity of the student community, benefiting all our students’ (PVC Teaching, Learning and Students, 2020). We have worked strategically to influence teaching and learning departments and service teams to conduct their own research, take responsibility and contribute their expertise to the cause. We have worked in partnership with students to understand how technology can contribute to their learning and have worked in synergy with other professional service teams to improve the digital skills of staff and students. This ‘whole organisation’ shift has meant that everyone has been able to work in an environment that supports accessible practices, making it a path of least resistance and one that supports a sustainable change in the way that our staff use digital tools.
Some key achievements include working with the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning to introduce a new policy on video captioning and completing an assistive technology audit highlighting barriers and enablers and then implementing improvements. We worked with students to research accessible practice, resulting in our accessible equations resource, our Blackboard Ally evaluation site, our student site for learning technologies (made available directly in the VLE at the point of need), templates for online learning in two VLEs and several user research outputs. Our vibrant digital accessibility champions community and diverse e-interns community have collaborated with staff on funded digital accessibility projects and helped to improve digital skills. We created the university’s web page on digital accessibility and the mandatory digital accessibility tutorial, collating thousands of action statements on completion.
We have also played our part in developing a shared understanding of digital accessibility within the wider learning technology community. We have researched accessible equations, making the case for key suppliers to create more accessible platforms and promoting embedded inclusive practice to shift digital accessibility. Some examples include our accessible equations website, and accessibility guidance on Padlet, produced through user research and consulted by many instittutions. We are involved in the co-leadership of the EMEA user group on Blackboard Mobile and Collaborate (MoCo), championing accessibility, more accessible webinars and features to support a better user experience. We have also encouraged team members to contribute to the Future Teacher series of webinars, and have presented at JISC, NADP, ALISS, Xerte conference and Virtual Campus: The Future of Education conference, among other events.