Blog post by Dr Anthea Fudge, Jennifer Stokes and Tanya Weiler
UniSA College, University of South Australia
This has been the sentiment of course coordinators at UniSA College, as we move to implement the UniSA Digital Learning Strategy into enabling education. As part of the broader shift towards digital wisdom (Prensky 2011), UniSA College has embedded key digital strategies to improve student engagement and interaction. These developments focused on the redesign of the Learning Management System (LMS), course videos and the introduction of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technology into both lectures and tutorials (this is where the phones come in!). Below is a summary of what and how the use of technology has enhanced our teaching, and more importantly, student learning.
“The course site looks great on a mobile device.”
Despite our pleas for students to engage with the LMS, all too often this is a case of ‘death by scroll’, or reams of information that are overwhelming or poorly timed. The introduction of key icons into the LMS, in this case Moodle, has allowed for students to access the online environment, find information quickly, and stay up to date with weekly tasks. We created images in Photoshop, which we then coded as responsive HTML elements and hyperlinked to resources available elsewhere on the site. The use of these icons enables students to focus on each stage of the course, easily identify upcoming deadlines, and link back to previous materials. This staged release of information helps build student time management skills and reduces the stress often felt when seeing volumes of course content. The use of similar icons with different colour palettes for varying courses, created a familiar structure, and feedback on this system was positive when compared to the defaults available in the LMS.
Default layout on the left compared to icon-based site redesigns on the right.
“If they have a phone anyway, we might as well put something on it for them to watch.”
Course and program support videos were produced to help students with aspects of their studies. Created by the academic team at UniSA College, these videos provide a familiar face to guide students through course content and an opportunity to explore complex or detailed concepts. These short lecturettes and vodcasts were implemented using a flexible learning model to engage and excite students through familiar technology. For example, a suite of science laboratory videos were filmed for students to use in conjunction with their practical procedures and notes to allow for multimodal learning and revision. Students were able to see the spaces, equipment and chemicals that they would be working with before attending the labs. These videos were designed to enhance understanding, deliver better practical outcomes and ease the anxiety that foreign lab spaces can provoke. As one student noted: ‘I enjoyed the videos . . . because they gave me a sense of familiarity to the process and I wasn’t overwhelmed’. For external students, this enabled a connection to the physical spaces, despite their inability to attend in person.
Course videos familiarise students with the lab space and course concepts.
“Let’s take it to the next level and use phones as learning tools.”
Interactivity in lectures and tutorials has been extended through the implementation of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). In the past, systems such as Clickers and Turning Point provided opportunities for students to interact with course content and respond to questions during lectures. 2014 data collection through these systems identified that 97 per cent of students had a smartphone or tablet, suggesting that it was timely to implement BYOD as it would create minimal access issues. This constructivist approach lowers the threshold for accessing materials as students use familiar tools to connect with unfamiliar course concepts. Embedding interactive elements encourages greater engagement and tests student knowledge, while also providing the instructor with real-time feedback about student understanding. Shared responses are de-identified which allows for full class participation, and enhances team based learning. The College also has a bank of tablets which students can loan for course sessions if required. Feedback from students has been positive, indicating they enjoy the freedom to use their own devices and the extended interactive opportunities created through this approach.
BYOD helps students engage and test their retention of material during course sessions.
The implementation of these strategies provides great benefit to students, as shown through increased engagement, course satisfaction surveys and verbal feedback. These benefits have far outweighed the challenges and 2016 teaching at UniSA College has these (and other exciting developments!) embedded.
It is clear that digital innovations are powerful tools connecting university with students’ lived experience through familiar technology, while also providing multiple access points for students to engage with the exciting possibilities of 21st century learning.
Prenksy, M. (2011). From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom. MarcPrensky.com, http://marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky-Intro_to_From_DN_to_DW.pdf.