My Learning Essentials Online
Authors: Jade Kelsall, Jody McGurk. Jennie Blake, Sam Aston, Neil Sprunt, Dave Hirst, John Hynes
Institution: University of Manchester Library
Interviewees: Jade Kelsall & Jennie Blake
Interviewer: Paul Bond
My Learning Essentials is the University of Manchester Library’s blended skills programme, covering topics from core information and digital literacy skills through to broader academic and employability skills. Delivery of the programme is flexible, and deliberately designed to allow students access at the point of need, with support available via online learning resources and in face-to-face workshops and skills clinics. The programme includes an innovative suite of interactive e-learning resources covering a variety of information literacy and academic skills topics. They are highly interactive, using strategically placed opportunities throughout each resource for users to practise relevant skills and techniques.
Q: What inspired you to develop My Learning Essentials?
A: The project grew out of a piece of scoping work done by the Library’s Teaching and Learning team after a restructuring of the Library’s Teaching, Learning and Research department, and from research studies conducted by the Library’s Learning Development Officer on student needs and use of resources. Both areas of work identified key points of student need for support and the companion issue of addressing those needs with limited resources. The University of Manchester has around 40,000 students, so meeting their demand for support is always a challenge! With these results in mind, it was decided that a blended approach would allow the Library to develop a programme that delivered high quality support to the most students, with online support acting as the core resource and face-to-face workshops acting as signposts and supplemental learning environments.
Q: Who is the intended audience?
A: Our intended audience is people who are fairly new to digital technology. We are aiming at students in basic level courses and those who have not studied in a long time. Even though “Being Digital” is an introduction to digital life, it has been used by PhD students who are wanting to learn something new or refresh their skills.
Q: Tell us about the development process. Who was involved? How did you determine the objectives?
A: Development of the whole programme is student-driven. We identify new online resources from the most popular sessions on the face-to-face workshop programme. The development of individual learning resources is led by our learning technologists, who work with members of the team who deliver the workshops to transform their topics into pedagogically sound online resources. The development process for each individual resource is based on an ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) model for instructional design. We start by establishing the learning objectives for each learning resource, based on student demand as identified in the workshops. We then go through an explicit development process, starting with a discussion about potential ways of approaching the design of the learning experience based on our previously defined learning objectives. We then produce skeleton outlines of the content and structure, and finally write detailed storyboards. The subject matter experts provide the raw material for the resources; the learning technologists work closely with them to translate their content and ideas into effective, engaging online resources that meet the learning objectives. We use a variety of instructional techniques such as scenarios, student stories and analogies to help users relate to the content and highlight the transferable nature of the skills. All of the resources created are highly interactive, using strategically placed knowledge checks and experiential learning activities throughout that are carefully aligned to the learning objectives to provide numerous and diverse opportunities for users to explore the content and practise the skills and techniques.
Q: Is popularity and student demand determined by workshop attendance and the suggestion form on the home page, or are other metrics used to measure popularity and demand?
A: Primarily the former. It also includes suggestions received via the online resources’ feedback survey. Additionally, we use the Library’s Academic Engagement Team to gather information from academics about what their students’ requirements are. All of these elements funnel into our overall development plans; we review all requests and recommendations received via all of these channels biannually to inform the development schedule for new online resources.
Q: How many people worked on it? What were their roles?
A: The initial suite of online resources was created by a team of six people: four librarians, a learning developer and an e-learning technologist. The e-learning technologist managed the initial development, as well as acted as instructional designer and builder of the resources. The librarians and the learning developer were the subject matter experts for the resources. As we move forward with the programme, the team of subject matter experts is ever-expanding as we’re now working with colleagues from other services across campus, such as careers and counselling.
Q: What technologies did you use? Why did you choose them in particular?
A: The online resources were built using Articulate Storyline. This was chosen as the development tool as the e-learning technologist had particular expertise in its use and because it’s a flexible enough tool to be extremely powerful in the right hands, with a user-interface that is easy enough to use for a non-expert. This has proved useful, as we’ve had other members of the team help with the development of some resources, particularly in creating screen-capture demonstrations. Unlike some other flash-based development tools, Articulate Storyline also has HTML5 and iPad publish options to ensure cross-compatibility with multiple devices. This was an essential requirement for My Learning Essentials as there are many courses at the University of Manchester that provide their students with iPads, so they expect all of their learning resources to be accessible on these types of devices.
Q: How much time went into building My Learning Essentials?
A: The initial development took six months from inception to launch. This included the development of a suite of 12 resources. Ongoing development of individual new resources varies in timescale, depending upon the size and complexity of the resource and topic. Some have been created within a month from start to finish; others take much longer. For example, one resource that is due to be launched in October has been in development for over 9 months. During this period it has gone through numerous iterations; the finished resource will bear little resemblance to what we had originally envisioned, and it will be better for it. Development of our new resources is quality-driven rather than time-driven; in the vast majority of cases we are happy to delay launch dates in order to ensure that they are the best that they can possible be.
Q: How is My Learning Essentials marketed and promoted to the university community?
A: We work closely with our marketing department to promote the programme, using appropriate communication channels to both our students and staff making sure that what we provide is connected to the student lifecycle and helps to support them where and when they need it. We have also put together a variety of informational materials including flyers and business cards that make it simple for other Library staff to aid in promoting the service to students. The programme is promoted directly to academics across campus via the Library’s Academic Engagement Team. All of the promotional materials mirror the designs used throughout the webpages and the online resources to maintain consistency; this helps to establish My Learning Essentials as a recognisable brand to students as a key source of academic support. The online resources are available to be embedded into VLE (virtual learning environment) course spaces, framed by supplementary face-to-face sessions to set the resources within the context of their own particular disciplines.
Q: How has the university community responded to My Learning Essentials?
A: The response has been universally positive. Because we work carefully to have a programme that works in concert with other support at the University, My Learning Essentials has seen significant support from other services and cross-promotion has been one of our strongest assets in reaching students. We have also had members of our group of facilitators recognized with internal teaching awards, demonstrating a level of appreciation from the University as a whole. Reception of the resources beyond the University of Manchester has been fantastic. We’ve been asked to speak at a number of conferences about My Learning Essentials, and are running some workshops for other institutions on blended learning programme design. We also recently won a Blackboard Catalyst Award for Innovative Blended Learning.
Q: What have you learned from building My Learning Essentials, and from the response?
A: Working as a partner with others across the University has proven to be a very powerful model for student engagement. While there is always more to do, the response of the students to the support we are providing has been the greatest impetus for our continuing expansion. Because our model focuses on responding to student demand, and because our review process allows us to continually test and refine what we are delivering, we are able to really understand what support students need. And, of course, we are continually hearing brilliant new ideas for support from our students!
Q: How is the review process managed? How are you engaging with students to get feedback and new ideas?
A: The feedback survey at the end of the tutorials is the primary method of gathering feedback, as well as comments from workshop attendees. All of the feedback is reviewed biannually (along with new requests as outlined above) to inform changes to be made. We’re going through our first major review at the moment and both making changes across the board and enhancements to individual resources in response to our users’ feedback. We’re also going to be piloting using social media integration within the resources to provide students with additional opportunities to contribute their comments, suggestions and reflections.
Q: How is it maintained and kept up-to-date? Do you plan to expand it?
A: Yes! We’re always working on new materials as students are always letting us know what support they need. Since the initial launch, we’ve already added over a dozen new resources, and over the summer we’ve been creating a further five new ones which are due for launch in October. Since the initial development, we have also doubled the size of our e-learning team from one to two, so we’re now able to produce more resources. We have also recently refreshed our webpages, adding a tagging feature to make it easier for our users to find the resources they need. The online resources are subject to an annual review; we consider all of the feedback received over the year and establish areas for improvement of the individual resources, as well as using this feedback to inform future topics for development.
Q: My Learning Essentials is licensed under Creative Commons and available in the Jorum database. Has anyone downloaded and reused it, to your knowledge?
A: Unfortunately our data on this is mainly anecdotal. We are aware of a number of FE (Further Education, similar to continuing education in the US) colleges that are in the process of adapting our resources for use with their own students, and a number of other colleagues from other institutions have been in touch about reusing them, but we’re yet to see any adapted versions. As well as being available for download and repurposing the My Learning Essentials resources hosted on our own site are free to be linked to as they are, and our user stats show that our resources are being linked to from all over the world!
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: By offering a flexible, coherent and comprehensive programme of skills development opportunities built around a core suite of high-quality online resources, My Learning Essentials seeks to raise the profile of academic skills development throughout the University of Manchester and beyond. This innovative new work encourages our students to see their academic skills as an essential part of their studies, enabling them to realise that they can develop their skills in a supportive environment, regardless of their starting level. The impact of the programme is increased by students’ ability to get the help they need when they need it, be it one-on-one help with using EndNote in a drop-in, or a late night session with academic writing online resources. The My Learning Essentials model is powerful not only because it answers a clearly defined student need, but also because it brings students and staff together as partners and co-creators in the learning experience to improve the support opportunities available for everyone across the University.
September 2014 PRIMO Site of the Month