In a world full of new technology, gadgets and devices, institutions like Leeds Trinity University are harnessing the digital era to improve learning and teaching for staff and students. Mark Joyce, Director of Information Services at Leeds Trinity, explains more
When I was at University in the early 1990s, it was very common to have big lecture theatres, classrooms of 30 students or more and a full timetable of hour-long lectures. Students are lucky that learning and teaching styles have evolved and experiences now are more student-centred, more dynamic and I hope, more interesting!
Using expertise from 50 years as a teacher training college, and research within our Institute of Childhood and Education and International Centre for Higher Education Educational Research, Leeds Trinity University has developed a pedagogical approach to learning and teaching. We actively encourage student-led enquiry and small supervised group activity in preference to the formal lectures many are perhaps used to. Last year, we launched a strategy which sets out some very clear aims to engage students in learning through enquiry and collaboration, rather than death by PowerPoint!
And technology and new learning spaces are playing an essential role in this; enabling students to exercise choice in where, when and how they manage their learning. With the majority of our teaching rooms already on flat-floor spaces with flexible furniture rather than the more traditional tiered lecture theatres with rows of seats, we can to use technology and furniture to transform the way learning and teaching is carried out. Teaching rooms can be quickly rearranged to facilitate short presentations, whole group discussions, group activity and student-led enquiry.
This summer, we were really proud to launch the first Collaboration Room on campus; an IT-enabled, 24-seat room for students to work in groups of six around a screen connected to a PC or their own device. The room offers exciting opportunities for learning and teaching developments, allowing the lecturer to control and share all screens or comment on each group’s activity. It was developed in consultation with academics and students – and we’re really proud of the end result.
In fact, the room has been so successful, we’ll be implementing another two Collaboration Rooms in our Andrew Kean Learning Centre, currently being extended to combine newer teaching rooms with more group study and social learning space. It’s something we’re really pleased to be investing in, and have even been using social media to gain input from staff and students. A Pinterest account was established for academics and support staff to upload any interior and space design ideas they had; this was then used for discussion with students and shared with our architects, Jefferson Sheard – a really innovative idea and something my team are really proud of!
As well as expansion on campus, we also make sure we’re up to date with the latest software. Office 365 is used by all staff and students, from campus PCs and their own devices. OneDrive is excellent for group work where students can edit the same document at the same time, without losing any changes – and it’s accessible; meaning staff and students can save to the drive in just one click wherever they are in the world.
All of this is part of our aim to encourage multi-media blended learning; our classrooms have lecture capture cameras and academics regularly use Panopto to engage students before, during and after sessions. The system is used to pose questions prior to a lesson and lectures are often filmed in bite-size chunks to capture key messages. Of course, if we are filming the full lecture, this isn’t an excuse not to attend – but rather to allow students to study at their own pace, and go back to something they might not have fully understood. Based on pedagogic research, we believe that flipping the classroom and encouraging students to lead a session results in a better understanding of and engagement in the topic.
Being a smaller university with 3,500 students and 500 staff has benefits in implementing significant changes in technology
We modernised communications in 2015 by switching to Skype for Business. All phone calls, video calls and instant messaging now use Skype, and we’re even seeing academics inviting guest speakers to talk to students via Skype – reducing the need to travel, and increasing engagement with some really inspirational speakers. Skype for Business also allows us to extend our international reach, allowing students to collaborate with other schools and universities around the world within their timetabled activities.
Implementation across the campus hasn’t been without its challenges of course. We have many academics who are happy to be at the forefront of technology; they are willing to engage with new solutions and eager to try new things, but of course there are some staff and students who are not as confident and comfortable when using new technology. We want to embed the use of technology in learning and teaching and are keen to build an understanding and appreciation of what can be achieved using such technology.
Other challenges include the need for bigger spaces. In addition to the extension of the Learning Centre and Collaboration Room, we have invested in our Students’ Union corridor with substantial social learning spaces and a much more creative environment for our students. However, to implement our ambitious Learning and Teaching Strategy, perhaps like every institution, we would always benefit from more group-study space!
Of course, being a smaller university with 3,500 students and 500 staff has benefits in implementing significant changes in technology. Our size not only allows us to keep up to date and implement emerging technology that might be impossible for larger universities; it also enables us to provide a personalised learning experience – where students are a name, and not a number.
Pedagogic research plays a vital role in informing learning and teaching at Leeds Trinity, but the whole direction of travel is facilitated by technology. From ubiquitous Wi-Fi and expert advice from our IT and Media Services teams, to significant investment on campus, we believe it is essential that our students receive the best educational experience and are well equipped for the world of work – within a digital era.