This was such a lovely event. For some of us ‘backroom’ design staff, as a fully online university, this was the first time we’ve had real-time (virtual) face-to-face contact with our students. Karen (Ullman) and I had met up with some of our alumni at our June Graduation at Reading Town Hall and had invited them to our workshop and we also invited some current student reps too. In the event we had two alumni join us from Kent and Leicester (UK) and two undergraduates from Trinidad & Tobago and Doha. From UCEM we had Fiona (Harvey), Andy (Dodson) and Damien T and Ian. We decided to use the conferencing programme Zoom and it worked a treat though our Doha student had some connection issues and in the end he used the chat facility. Gregory in T&T showed us the beautiful sunshine and blue skies outside his room from his laptop camera and we weren’t envious at all and reciprocated by showing him the grey skies over Reading. Because we could see everyone in the workshop very easily (we were 9 in total) it worked really well and we got a real sense of everyone’s personalities and interacted well and there was a lot of laughter. We particularly liked the ‘Celebrity Squares’ onscreen layout.
We watched a great video called ‘A vision of students today’ (Wesch M 2007 YouTube video, accessed 26 September 2018) – it’s over 10 years old but a lot of the issues raised in it are still current, and we then talked about what in the video had resonated with our online students in 2018. The biggest take-away from the workshop was how much our students really value contact with each other and with their tutors, whether face to face or online, but feel that currently it’s not always easy to make that contact. We all felt that using a tool like Zoom could really facilitate this. Our students wanted to be able to work together easily and, e.g., in discussion forums they wanted more supported open ended conversations with engaging lines of enquiry to develop the subjects in the posts, group work, face-to-face work, collaborative activities. We talked about enabling our students to post anonymously as they felt sometimes they are asking ‘stupid questions’, even though we tell them there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Is there more we can do to build in a ‘safe space to fail’ into our learning design? Our students also talked about wanting to develop soft skills, including determination, resilience, communication and digital literacies. We talked about whether we could use pedagogy and technology to make ‘dry’ subjects (e.g. procurement that is ‘complex’ and ‘full of public practice’) easier to follow – e.g. using Zoom to host a discussion around a case study. Our students were really interested in real-life up-to-date case studies and ‘what happened next’ scenarios/videos for subjects such s health & safety.
There was much more we covered too so please add to comments below all you who were present :). Straight after the workshop I got emails from three students (the ones who had been able to contribute fully to Zoom), saying how much they enjoyed it and with more feedback. We are working with our student in Doha to see if we can resolve his audio issues!
Development editors and quality manager at UCEM