Supporting the pivot to online teaching and learning for summer 2020

An impressive 1,500 attendees have taken part in over 60 online digital skills workshops since late March, when UAL began working from home and preparing for an online summer term in 2020.  As the university moves to online teaching for summer 2020 we caught up with the Exchange’s Digital Learning team to find out how the past few weeks have been for them.

Darren Gash, Digital Learning Manager

I’ve been helping UAL teaching staff make an abrupt transition from face-to-face to online teaching by co-curating and presenting a weekly schedule of webinars. Key guidance aims to help staff move quickly from physical to virtual teaching environments, where Moodle is now the de facto university campus.

Encouraging inclusive online practices

Underpinning the webinars has been UAL’s distance teaching core practice guide (PDF 169KB). We recommend an inclusive approach to teaching online, which functions regardless of students’ location, time zone, type of device and quality of internet connection. Our emphasis has been very much on providing low bandwidth, self-paced activities to support students in achieving the learning outcomes of their courses.

Support across the Colleges has been key

The initiative has been made possible by a UAL-wide team, including all the digital learning teams, the Exchange and various College based digital champions, who have all made an invaluable contribution to organising and running the sessions, as well as providing follow-up support and guidance materials.

Find out more on www.arts.ac.uk/teachingonline. Download from our library of over 20 guides on key Moodle, Collaborate Ultra and inclusive teaching topics, plus access further College guidance and attend online training sessions.

An abrupt transition for everyone

The task was initially daunting, not only due to the unexpected and short timescale, but because as a Digital Learning team we are (like the rest of the university) more face-to-face oriented. Facilitating webinars with large numbers of very diverse participants was an unknown, but the sessions have been well received and attended. Our record was an impressive 170+ attendees for one session about Collaborate Ultra (UAL’s real-time online teaching space).

Good teaching does not mean a perfect online performance

Staff attending the sessions have appreciated the help on offer and the opportunity to communicate during these anxious and uncertain times. We’ve all learned that in such circumstances it’s fine to make mistakes and not provide the most polished performance, just to give it a go.

The webinars have developed the confidence of both presenters and participants in teaching online. I believe this will have a positive, and potentially transformative, impact on course teams’ use of online platforms once physical teaching space re-opens.

Ruth Powell, Digital Learning Services Manager

The main focus of work before Easter was supporting the massive effort to provide immediate training to staff to support them transitioning their teaching to the online environment.

Focus has now shifted more internally to our Digital Learning Support team’s mode of operation (staff with queries about Moodle, Collaborate or other platforms can contact dlsupport@arts.ac.uk).

Planning effective support to respond to emerging issues

Earlier in the Spring term we stress-tested a new approach to support, to ensure that we had maximum resources on hand to respond to any sudden rise in requests. This has now paid dividends. We work to identify issues before they have widespread impact, and have good communications between all the teams supporting UAL platforms: College Digital Learning teams, IT and Academic Registry.

Moving so swiftly to fully online has thrown up particular challenges in ensuring our online tools can cope with the huge increase in use. The first day of term was a little bumpy for Moodle, ­­­­and limitations with the performance of the MyBlog platform have also come to light. In my role I’m advocating for the use of these systems on behalf of course teams. I collaborate closely with IT Services to investigate and find solutions to both remedial issues and to ensure the longer-term viability of our platforms.

Summer 2020 upgrades to Moodle and Workflow

Alongside responding to changes due to the pandemic there are aspects of ‘business as usual’ to attend to. Planning dates for upgrading Moodle and Workflow is never an easy task as these platforms are in use 365 days a year.

Following changes in 2020 term and assessment submission dates I worked with the Academic Registrar, Heads of College Registry and the Web Services manager to agree new upgrade dates that fall within the narrow window of the end of exam boards and the start of the new academic term. These revised dates will be communicated to all staff shortly.

Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) elective unit

Finally, I lead the TEL elective unit within the PgCert and MA Academic Practice. I too have had to rethink my teaching to enable students to continue their studies when they also are facing immense personal and professional challenges.

I’ve restructured the final weeks of the unit, modelling the Core Practice guidelines and reworking a brief that will enable our participants to draw on their experiences of having to adapt their teaching and support of UAL students.

Whilst our participants are undoubtedly struggling to keep abreast of their studies at this time, they’re also excited by how their learning on the unit is directly informing decisions in their teaching practice.

Overall through this experience I have been impressed with just how resilient and adaptable we as a teaching and learning community are.

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