Comment: Tom Ward, DVC

The Deputy Vice Chancellor (Student Education), Tom Ward, reflects on the academic year to date. 

The academic year 2019-20 has thrown up quite extraordinary challenges for everyone dedicated to Student EducationAs ever, want to start by thanking everyone involved for the effort and thought that goes into enabling our students to learn effectively in such difficult times.  

The impact of, and calibration of response to, the Covid-19 pandemic is so fast moving that anything I say will be of little relevance when this goes to press. Nonetheless, we should all be hugely appreciative of the work that has been done by the Digital Education Service and others to help prepare for more online working. I am particularly grateful to Prof. Neil Morris for leading this work so effectively. It is clear how important it is for our students that we have widespread confidence in using modern digital education capabilities. I hope that some of the rapid increase in use of the technology we have invested in contributes to a permanent improvement in our ability to think about education in new ways long after the Covid-19 event is behind us. 

Other developments in online education include: 

  • A pilot this year of LinkedIn Learning, which gives students and staff access to a wide range of short CPD courses through the LinkedIn platform; 
  • Institutional use of the “Top Hat” mobile voting system, a device-independent mobile voting system that allows for quick responses to questions live in the classroom; 
  • A pilot of the ‘Gradescope’ online assessment system, particularly valuable for numerical and image-based assessments;
  • Coursera and Futurelearn have made a large array of their courses available free of charge to support institutions responding to the virus.

Before recent events, I was delighted to see the enthusiastic engagement in February with our consultation on the emerging strategic plan for Student Education. More than 80 colleagues in leadership roles participated in workshop sessions to feed into an early draft of the plan; and Abiha Khan, LUU Education Officer, hosted a session with school reps at the Education Assemblyensuring that the student voice has been embedded in our thinking right from the start. We will pick this topic up again in the coming weeks.  

We have been piloting a Student Education Initiatives Handbook, which aims to capture the many different initiatives underway. Responding to Covid-19 means some of these will be slowed or delayed but it is nonetheless a daunting list of initiatives. A new Enhancement Network is about to be launched, with a first objective being to look at how we might phase or prioritise the items in this list, which range from further development of inclusive educational practices, to new approaches to induction and transition, decolonising the curriculum, to using technology to support better decision-making as in the culmination of the Evidencing and Sustaining the Leeds Educational Offer project so ably led by James Pickering. The Pro-Deans for Student Education are thinking carefully about how best to embed these initiatives at Faculty and School level and keep them joined up with the five framing themes. The pace of change can be challenging, and we will be doing our very best to support colleagues to respond through Annual School Reviews, action planning, and by creating networks and forums for people in particular leadership roles.  

In news from LITE, Tina Overton has had an enormous impact in her relatively short period here as Director of LITE. We wish her well for retirement, as well as looking forward to the arrival of a new Director. Among many innovations it has been good to see more student-led activity and the way in which LITE is contributing directly to education across the campus. 

A striking example is the Leeds and Law Transformation Project (LLTP) involving Leeds University Business School (LUBS) and the School of Law, who have joined forces to radically transform the way they teach a wide range of modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.  Planning for these flagship modules is well underway, and the module leads have been appointed LITE Transformation Fellows.  As part of this role, the Transformation Fellows will contribute fully to the LITE community and act as ambassadors at internal and external events. This team of over 30 academics and digital enhancement and innovation experts will have a lasting impact on education beyond those two faculties. Cathy Myles, Pro Dean for Student Education at LUBS said: ‘We have a really driven team involved with these flagship modules and I am very excited to see how this develops over the coming year and how we can share what we learn, not only within our own University but also with our wider academic community.’ This project is part of a much wider expansion of the Western Campus at Leeds, which will see new facilities that will truly enhance the staff and student experience in learning and teaching at Leeds. 

Thanks again to everyone who is working so hard to protect students at Leeds from the many external events that have made life so difficult this year.