Core Supported Tools
By Andy Beggan
Potential of Digital Education
For the University, the use of digital tools to support teaching and learning can not only enhance the student learning experience (when used purposefully), but also offers enhanced efficiencies in administration or communication and support for student employability through exposure to a range of tools and approaches that offer transferable skills beyond the taught programme. Effective pedagogically informed use, however, should always remain central to the adoption of any digital strategy. To that end, the internally and externally supported digital tools detailed in the paper have been structured within a pedagogic framework in order to inform academic adoption. The list is by no means exhaustive and will be edited overtime. However, the aim of the table is to provide a mechanism for academic staff to more easily identify suitable digital tools to meet their teaching needs.
Programme teams may choose to explore the differing digital tools listed in order to either: take advantage of new approaches to enhance the student learning experience; address identified challenges within the curriculum with alternative digital strategies; or expand the learning opportunities provided for their students to help improve the student experience. Guidance centrally is available through the Digital Education Team to help assist these discussions.
Balancing Internal and External Options
A key challenge is the growing tension between internally provided digital tools (such as Blackboard) and the desire (at times) to incorporate more dynamic commonly available external tools. The University has a legal and/or ethical requirement to maintain and protect digital assets and personal data in order to maintain an accurate record of the learning experience and associated outcomes. Whilst this can mean the use of University systems integrated with central administrative and back-up procedures; exclusive utilisation of these tools across all learning activities can sometimes feel too restrictive or ineffective for the wider learning outcomes required, inadvertently inhibiting innovation. Academic choice to deliver an enhanced learning experience for our students therefore needs to be balanced with the institutional requirement to protect and preserve critical digital assets and data.
Therefore, a pragmatic approach is recommended that draws inspiration from a perennials and annuals horticultural analogy. Within this analogy, perennials are all learning activities or outcomes that are retained year-on-year. The learning activities may bloom briefly every year or be available all year round. As such, perennials must be delivered and retained within internal University systems and digital tools. Examples include: module learning outcomes; summative assessments; formal feedback; key learning resources. Alternatively, annuals only last for one academic year. They can ‘bloom’ for up to weeks at-a-time but MUST be recreated every year for the next cohort to use. Under these circumstances annual learning activities may be delivered within a broader, more flexible combination of digital options. Examples include: group work within a seminar; online peer support or collaboration; in-class activities.
To support academic adoption, consideration should be given to effectively balancing internally provided tools that support ‘perennial’ activities (which are supporting centrally through documentation, training and advice) and ‘annual’ activities, which are by their very nature less permanent and therefore enables choice from a wider range of digital options. It is clearly not feasible for the University to provide institutional support for externally available digital tools however. In such cases, awareness raising through case studies and academic showcases–underpinned by appropriate advice and policies on third-party tool integration–will be provided to facilitate appropriate utilisation.