Better Lives: 1,400 London College of Fashion students participate in UAL’s first large scale blended unit

This blog post was written with contributions from London College of Fashion’s Digital Learning team and UAL’s Web Services team.


The Better Lives unit launched in February 2019 and was a blended in-class and online learning experience completed by approximately 1,400 first-year London College of Fashion students. The unit is an expansion of the Better Lives initiative and fostered student engagement through a series of lectures and cross-disciplinary projects that utilised a variety of digital tools and spaces.

UAL Head of Digital Learning David White wrote:

The success of the unit was built on a close collaboration between the LCF Digital Learning team, the Digital Learning team at the Teaching and Learning Exchange, the Web Services team in IT and many other members of LCF staff… An enormous amount of work was undertaken by the team[s] in providing support and guidance to help students navigate the various elements of the unit. It’s this capacity and expertise which allowed LCF to run [this] complex [and] blended unit at scale.

The origin of Better Lives

The Better Lives initiative was conceived by Professor Frances Corner, former Pro Vice-Chancellor Digital and Head of London College of Fashion (LCF). LCF published that it is a ‘term we use… to describe the work we do that uses fashion as a discipline to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.’ The core themes are social responsibility, sustainability, diversity and conscientious learning.

Previously, there was an online module separate from courses that students completed, but now Better Lives has been conducted as a full-fledged unit.

Designing the Unit 

Better Lives was designed as a pass/fail unit and a blended in-class and online learning experience. There were several resources to help guide the online learning process including: ‘How to Blog’, ‘Why to Blog’, ‘How to Peer Review’ and ‘Digital Etiquette’. In addition, each student used myblog (UAL’s blogging platform) as the core platform for chronicling their reflections and storing their work.

Sheldon Chow, Head of Digital Learning at LCF, designed Better Lives based on UAL’s Digital Creative Attributes Framework (DCAF) and the RASE Pedagogical Framework that was developed at Hong Kong University and University of Melbourne. The pedagogical framework ’emphasises that four elements need to be well designed to achieve the intended learning outcomes’ (UNSW Sydney, 2017) when applying in an online context. These elements are: Resources, Activities, Support and Evaluation. 

The unit was led by Nick Almond, Associate Dean, Learning Teaching and Enhancement at LCF. By designing it as a pass/fail unit, they were able to encourage students to reflect more on the content of their work and process of creation rather than promote more stress about assessments and hitting a certain mark.

White wrote:  

The meticulous pedagogical planning of Sheldon Chow and Nick Almond helped shape a digital environment which could respond to the needs of the unit. It’s a great example of pedagogically led Digital Learning and a model which could work well in other contexts across UAL.The unit highlights the strength of the Digital learning team at LCF who are in a position to go beyond supporting curriculum to designing and running curriculum. 

The Unit Structure

Better Lives began with two weeks of lectures. There were 13 lectures students could select from and they were required to attend at least three.  Each lecture was delivered face to face and they were also live streamed using Mevo, cameras that streamed directly through Vimeo Livestream. The cameras were fixed to a tripod and connected to iPads which allowed a controller to change the angle of the camera to follow the speaker if they moved around the room or zoomed in on the presentation. They were also lecture captured and posted on Replay, a UAL media portal, to allow students to review the material later.  

A hand navigating the Mevo app on an iPhone. There are two people sitting in chairs being livestreamed through the camera and app.
Image: CNET
Exploring the lectures 

There were 13 lectures across the core themes. These lectures were an opportunity to use existing research being conducted across LCF and integrate that research back into the Better Lives curriculum. The lecturers were typically already working at LCF in research areas relating to their lecture topic, though a few were recruited from other colleges and departments.

While the lecture topics varied, they each had the goal of expanding understanding about the core themes of social responsibility, sustainability and diversity. This could have been about practicing inclusive design to accommodate users with diverse needs, showcasing cultural diversity in or exploring sustainability outside environmental issues like addressing modern slavery in the fashion industry. 

The lectures were:

  • Better Lives Overview – Dr. Nick Almond
  • Emerging Technology – Dr. Nick Almond
  • Democracy and Activism – Lucy Orta, Chair of Art and the Environment  
  • Fashion as Flourishing – Professor Dilys Williams, Professor of Academic Leadership, LCF  
  • Identities– Reina Lewis, Artscom Centenary Professor of Cultural Studies  
  • Empathy – Lorraine Gamman, Professor of Design and Director of DAC (Design Against Crime), CSM  
  • Sustainability & Culture– Anna Fitzpatrick, Project Coordinator: Centre for Sustainable Fashion, LCF  
  • Fashion & Wellbeing–  Dr. Jekaterina Rogaten, Course Leader: MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion, LCF  
  • Cultural Sustainability – John Lau, Associate Dean: School of Design and Technology, LCF  
  • Power – Julia Crew, Lecturer: Fashion and Sustainability, LCF  
  • Representation – Teleica Kirkland, Associate Lecturer, LCF  
  • Collaboration – Jeff Horsley, Course Leader: MA Fashion Curation, & Claire Swift,  Director of Social Responsibility, both LCF 
  • Inclusive Design – Laura J Salisbury, Associate Lecturer 
Student Engagement

During the lectures, the online tool Slido was used. Slido allowed students to text or message in questions and observations during the lecture that were then compiled in one central feed. Unit Leader Nick Almond was then able to facilitate a discussion with the lecturer as he could see what topics were being discussed the most.

Incorporating digital tools also increases the inclusive nature of the unit as it allowed students to participate in an online dialogue who may not have felt comfortable speaking out loud in front of a large group of people for any number of reasons.

Keeping a unit blog 

Each student used myblog to record their reflections about the unit. myblog was chosen as the core unit platform as it allowed students to gain other skills on a platform that is already widely used in the industry. myblog is based on WordPress, a content management system that powers near a third of all websites on the Internet. Encouraging the use of myblog also provided students with valuable skills in creating, designing and writing content for an online platform 

There was a minimum of three blog posts for each student. The first recorded their thoughts about the lectures they attended. 

The second post was about ethical creative practice. For example, how might one, as a designer, be inspired by cultures different than your own but use that inspiration in a thoughtful and respectful way rather than an appropriative manner where you disregard history and context. 

The third post required students to do more introspective reflection on their own creative practice. 

Cross-disciplinary Projects & the Bespoke Bidding System

The following six weeks focused on face-to-face projects. Each of the three schools had approximately 20 projects students could choose from. Each school had different rules – for example, the School of Media and Communication did not allow students to choose a project relating to their home course so they could experience something new and separate from what they normally study.  

In October 2018, there had been two weeks of bidding where students could rank their choice of projects. They used a bespoke bidding system developed by the Web Services team. 

A student would log into the site where they were presented with three drop-down lists displaying the bid options relevant to their course. They would select their first, second and third choice preference in each drop-down list. Once they submitted their bid choice, they received an automatic confirmation email and the data was saved into a database. The course team was then able to log into a ‘back end’ at any time where they could monitor and export the collated student bid registrations. 

Web Services reported that during the previous run of the system, approximately 1,400 students registered using the bidding system. 

an example bid provided by Web Services
an example bid provided by Web Services

The final three weeks were conducted purely online. This was an opportunity for students to finalise and submit any assessments. During this period, each project had the opportunity to take advantage of an online drop-in session that was offered through Microsoft Teams. They were given a pre-determined 1 hour time slot which was communicated to them by their project leaders during the previous phase. While they were not required to attend, they could drop-in with any questions or concerns they had before submitting their assessment.

The future of Better Lives 

The Better Lives unit encouraged students to think about how they could make a difference in their industry. Fashion is not typically seen as a sustainable industry, with the popularity of fast and disposable fashion brands. But by implementing the conversations about sustainability into the curriculum, LCF is leading the next generation of designers into creating more socially responsible brands and production methods.

Though Better Lives is a unit for first-year students, they will not lose the conversations about the core themes when they advance to the second year. Those themes of diversity, sustainability and social responsibility will be integrated and explored in their second and third-year units.

Recognition

The unit was shortlisted in the Next Generation Learning and Skills category of the Green Gown Awards which ‘recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges.’ 

Sheldon said, ‘We are proud that this unit was recognised by such a prestigious organisation.’  

LCF has also been nominated for other projects and initiatives for the 2019 Green Gown Awards in Sustainability Champion: Student and twice in Enterprise.


If you have any questions about Better Lives or would like to discuss any of the digital tools or platforms further, please email us atteachingexchange@arts.ac.uk.

References:  

UNSW Sydney, 2017. The RASE pedagogical model for integrating technology. [Online]  Available at: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/educational-design/0/steps/26421

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