Designing a module at a distance

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Commercial property management module designed during a global pandemic and across an international time gap.

I joined the team in March of this year with a view to be working on modules alongside academics and a brilliant team of learning designers on the Transform project. The Transform project is a UCEM wide transformation to the delivery and approach of learning, which puts students at the centre.

I was given the opportunity to work on the Commercial Property Management module with Natasha Collins who is the module leader. I was thrilled to be able to work on a module of my own and to be able to use it as a learning opportunity to develop my design skills.

I had worked with Natasha as part of my previous role in the Core Services team completing administrative tasks and other changes during module delivery. I knew that we would be able to work well together as Natasha is extremely enthusiastic about her subject matter.

Natasha and I began working on the module during March of this year at the time of the coronavirus lockdown. We had the additional challenge of working on a module whilst on different continents. Natasha lives in New York whilst I am in the UK.

We knew that we needed to come up with an effective and efficient method of designing a module at a distance. Firstly, Natasha and I worked out when we would be able to work together to fit in with our different time zones. We identified a weekly meeting time that suited us both to remain in contact and on track for our development deadline. During our meetings we always had our camera switched on to maintain a face to face connection.

Natasha worked extremely hard to author material for the module in between our weekly meetings. This meant that once I had the information, I could develop the module on the VLE in preparation for when we would meet again. We ensured that we were working at an appropriate pace in order to complete the module before our deadline. This meant keeping to a schedule of authoring and developing a certain number of weeks of the module before each meeting.

During our weekly meetings Natasha and I would review the activities that I had built on the VLE. I highlighted notes on the VLE relating to resources that I wanted to check, and Natasha would be able to instantly provide me with the answers that I was looking for. To ensure we were as efficient as possible I would share my screen and type the information directly into the VLE.

As Natasha and I were working on the Commercial property management module at a distance we required an effective system for sharing the authored material in order for it to be reviewed and developed. Microsoft Teams provided us with the tools to build folders for module weeks to be able to keep each week of material in a suitable structure.

Teams allowed us to work in collaboration on word documents of authored material. It also provided us with the opportunity to post messages in real time when we needed quick answers from eachother relating to the resources.

One of the challenges of designing this module was the volume of material that students are required to learn. However, we designed the module in a way that breaks down this material into manageable activities. This approach takes into account that students are often employed and studying on a flexible basis. Designing activities within a module is part of the baseline standard requirement for all modules within the Transform project. Activities provide the student with steps and clear instructions which state what is required of them as part of the activity.

Activities that demonstrate a transformational approach to the Commercial property management module are detailed below.

Students are provided with the opportunity to collaborate with eachother as part of a glossary activity which is early in the module. Students are given a list of essential terms to be defined and are required to work together to produce the definitions. The module team will be able to observe the definitions for the terms that the students are putting forward and provide guidance as required. Students will also feel a sense of community with others on the module by collaborating on an activity together.  

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Students are asked to consider the tenant mix of a shopping centre or industrial estate. We felt it was important that the content of the module was brought to life for the students. Therefore, the students are asked to visit a shopping centre or industrial estate local to them and observe the tenant mix. They can take photographs of the tenant mix and post these to be shared with other students. It was important to take into account that due to Covid-19 some students may not be able to visit somewhere locally. We provided an alternative option for these students by suggesting they use Google Earth to find a shopping centre or industrial estate.

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There are many other exciting and engaging activities within the developed Commercial property management module. However, I would just like to finish with a couple of top tips for learning design at a distance.

  1. Have regular catch ups
  2. Stick to a schedule for authoring and development
  3. Prepare a structured file system
  4. Find a method that works for you as a team!

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