Reflection on MLE during COVID
Since September I have been using the modular MLE content in Blackboard to build asynchronous chunks of content for learners in the Human Conflict and Response Institute (HCRI) in SALC.
Get with the programme
Since September I have been working with Jessica Hawkins, the programme director for the taught programme in HCRI. This partnership has resulted in a wider body of work for taught students in all years however in this post I am going to specifically focus upon the first year unit Introduction to Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response (IDMHR) or HCRI11071.
If you know me then you know that I am interested in how skills are developed with first years and through the transition to higher education. We know that the first semester of a course can be a challenging time for learners who are adapting to new surroundings and a new way of learning.
IDMHR aims to support first year learners to ‘transform students from A-level learners into independent scholars’. The skills support that we designed with Jess integrate into the unit to provide support in identifying appropriate sources, reading critically, developing critical analysis within both writing and referencing.
When I first saw the unit outline I was struck by the amount of content that we could support with and how much of the content mapped over to the modular content that we had already prepared.
I felt positive that we could work together to provide something that would be useful to the students on the course. This was underpinned by a couple of things: I have worked with a number of first year units/programmes to develop similar skills and I used some of the examples of content plans that I had delivered as examples to show Jess what was possible, specifically I shared the Earth Sciences content from the past two years. Despite the subject being very different I wanted to show Jess the following:
- What skills we could cover
- How we covered the content (albeit in a face to face context)
- How we incorporate discipline relevant content
- How the content could be embedded into the practices of the unit, for example in the Earth Sciences unit the students use Pebble pad to reflect upon their skills development.
Jess and I talked about how the content would be made available in Blackboard in advance of the seminars she led, the students would have a chance to check in with her about the content and connect it with the subject and the overall outcomes of the unit.
One thing that we both agreed on was to encourage students to return to the content as they needed it.
How did that work out?
Despite being a very different discipline, the Earth Sciences content was a good exemplar to share: the type of content was the right pitch for first years with interactions and it conveyed well how the content can be remoulded to integrate into specific course content.
What does that mean?
Throughout the build Jess and I talked about the amount of work that we were giving students as we both agreed that we definitely did not want to overwhelm them. This was quite a challenge! We tried to keep the content focussed and each part a coherent whole so that the students could work through it and complete it. This worked in that some of the feedback that we received from some of the learners on the unit said they found it helpful because:
It’s simple layout and use of bold on the key words.
It was very helpful and clearly laid out how one should go about writing critically, the section about questioning information sources was particularly helpful. simple but effective way of conveying key information
I worked on the content as singular elements — part of this was because of demands upon my time during the busiest time of year. So I would develop one weeks content and work on another request and then return to designing the next weeks content. As a developer this meant that it was often difficult to get back into the right frame for the unit to use the same tone and to join up the content. I found that I was treating each piece of content as a one shot even though the content was async.
We have built a solid foundation for working with the HCRI moving forwards and I anticipate that Jess will continue to work with the Library on this unit.
Feedback from the students has been positive:
Easy to read and understand and the games and quizzes helped me to feel confident the information was sinking in
Graphical references can make me understand the content more quickly.
Feedback from Jess has been positive too:
It has been incredibly easy to work with you Sam and you understood my requirements for the different levels of students. The content was prepared well in advance and you gave me the chance to review said content in advance and make changes where necessary. The first year content really provided in-depth knowledge and skills for the students which I would not have been able to provide for their Key Skills module (HCRI11071)
What happens next?
Priorities for next time are to work with Jess on refining the content for Year 1 and consider how we might get the blend of async and sync right for the unit in September. My questions for Jess would be:
- How could we improve the async content?
- Where would face to face be most useful to the students?
Assess how the content for year 2 might build on what the students learnt in year 1. Would Jess as programme director be willing to look at the whole programme years 1–3 to see where and how MLE content can be embedded to support the learners.
I have been musing on if an approach to documenting whole programme content would be helpful. Use a calendar view of all the delivered/planned content for an individual programme where possible across all units and possible paths that students might take.
For some consistency would a set of modular content for year 1s exist in Blackboard for teachers to use without collaborating as part of the Bb template? This could then guide lecturers to work with us to provide a blend of async and sync content.