Engaging our students in active learning and dialogue

Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education, gives an update from across the University of Leeds.

Emerging technologies

A recent ‘horizon’ report from Jisc, outlined the challenges facing the sector, and described some of the opportunities offered by the adoption of educational technology.

The report highlighted the growth of 5G, artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, analytics and immersive technologies in many sectors, and issued a call to the higher education sector to embrace the potential of these technologies to enhance student learning, well-being and outcomes.

The report was launched at Jisc’s DigiFest, where there was also a discussion and showcase of ‘Education 4.0’, including launch of a video on the subject, which included examples of how new technologies are being used to prepare learners for an increasingly digital workplace and society.

At Leeds, there are exemplars of effective use of emerging technologies to enhance students’ learning, including the award winning Virtual Landscapes project in the School of Earth and Environment, and the use of immersive technologies in Dentistry.

The University hosts one of the largest haptic dental training facility in the UK, which helps students of all levels to develop core surgical skills in a safe environment that complements traditional labs and teaching methods.

‘No room for complacency’

Our focus is on providing our students with a blended learning experience.

This means making use of an appropriate mix of face-to-face and online learning activities, using traditional instruction, guided support and independent learning.

This is underpinned by the use of digital technologies and designed using strong pedagogical principles, to support learner engagement, flexibility and success.

We have a strong tradition of blended learning, but as the landscape evolves around us, and our students expectations grow, we have no room for complacency.

Therefore, we are currently consulting on a new framework for blended learning and digital literacy, to ensure that our students can benefit from a consistent experience and are given opportunities to develop their digital skills, competencies and behaviours.

This framework will be closely aligned with our existing baseline standards for inclusive teaching and learning practice, and our expectations for assessment and feedback.

Active learning

During this year, we are piloting a new system for in-class voting using students’ mobile devices.

If successful, this pilot will be extended to institutional use from September 2019, and we will be encouraging staff to use the system to provide in-class opportunities for students to engage in learning activities, receive feedback on their learning and give feedback to teachers.

There is strong evidence in the literature about the value of such tools for encouraging active learning, and the adoption of a single institutional system offers many advantages, including security, data integration and opportunities to analyse the data as part of our efforts to better monitor and support our students’ engagement and well-being.

We will also be advocating the use of this system for a new initiative – initiated and co-led by the LUU Education Officer – to gather feedback from our students whilst modules are being delivered.

More on this will follow soon, but we will asking teaching staff to provide students with opportunities to give informal feedback during modules, and to demonstrate how this has been considered, prior to formal module evaluation processes.

Digital partnership 

Finally, we were excited to receive confirmation earlier this year of a successful application to the Institute of Coding to develop a portfolio of online courses to support 18-25 year olds to develop their digital skills.

This project, led by the Digital Education Service, in collaboration with FutureLearn, will provide a portfolio of 15 online micro-courses in the area of digital skills and tools, digital ways of working and professional behaviours.

For more information about this project, and to get involved, contact Carol Elston, Head of Digital Education Service.