Parallel 2

Future structures of education

This presentation will examine how embedding ‘digital storytelling’ (Lambert & Hessler 2018) into teaching and learning can generate positive outcomes for students by enabling them to reflect on their experiences and express them in powerful and self-transformative ways. The presentation will draw on my recent experience of delivering a Documentary Filmmaking module on the BA Media, Communications and Creative Practice programme at Keele. The module which ordinarily requires group-based production of documentary films communicating stories drawn from the local community was adapted in view of Covid-19 restrictions to a ‘digital storytelling’ approach focussed on the telling of students’ personal stories relating to their experiences of the pandemic. The presentation will examine how this pragmatic adaptation to pandemic limitations actually enabled a deeply empowering and transformative learning experience for the students. The ‘digital storytelling’ approach privileges ‘self-expression and self-awareness over concerns of publication and audience’ (Lambert & Hessler 2018: 7). In line with this, students were encouraged to produce film which were personal reflections on their ongoing pandemic experiences and communicate their insights and revelations. The presentation will draw on examples from the films produced and student testimony to reveal how such storytelling enabled the transformation of experiences of isolation, marginalisation and precarity into powerful acts of voice, agency, learning and resilience.

Keele University was one of the first university’s in the UK to declare a climate emergency, committing the university to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Action towards this goal is framed by the University’s Climate Action Framework principles. These principles don’t just apply to the University’s estate and energy usage, but to its academic activities as well. Our educational programmes and informal learning opportunities don’t just have the potential to contribute to the climate emergency through considering ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, but through the long-term impact of our educational programmes on our learners, empowering them as future leaders to contribute to achieving a net zero society both now and in the future.

There is increasing evidence that students, irrespective of background or discipline want to learn more about the climate crisis, and an increasing frustration from young people that their formal education is not delivering this. Universities across the country are beginning to respond to this.

This session explores different approaches to embedding climate-related education from within Keele and beyond, and aims to establish a dialogue around the opportunities that this might provide for all disciplines, and for social and interdisciplinary learning.

Project Based Learning (PBL) is often seen as an "addition" to normal lectures or teaching practices - and, thus, an additional cost. In many circumstances it is seen as a "top up" tool rather than an effective learning tool. However, in recent years MIT and other international institutions have developed PBL in order to replace formal lectures - in some cases completely. These models are now being used at Aston and other UK universities. This presentation intends to demonstrate how PBL may be used to replace normal synchronous activities. It will cover the author's experience of PBL within an engineering discipline.

Reflector: Karen Gunnell

Reflections of Parallel 2

The theme of parallel session two was future structures of education and all three talks provided a different aspect of this topic.

First up was Dr Pawas Bisht and an enlightening talk called ‘‘Pandemic Stories’: Digital Storytelling as pathway for student voice, learning, and well-being in times of COVID and beyond’. Dr Bisht is a Lecturer in Media, Culture & Creative Practice at the School of Humanities, Keele University. He spoke about the changes in his level 5 documentary film module made necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Group assessments were changed to individual assignments and the focus was on the students speaking about their own experiences of COVID-19.

Digital Storytelling, as demonstrated by Dr Bisht’s assessment, is a powerful tool for boosting self-reflection and self-expression. It has been used in media and creative studies for many years but is moving into other courses (McLellan, 2007). In fact, discussion amongst conference attendees reflected on different ways storytelling is being used across campuses, from Careers and Employability, to Sustainability. As one attendee commented, “narrative is how we humans make sense of everything”, therefore storytelling is an important tool in the educators tool kit, especially in times of crisis such as in the current global pandemic.

Dr Bisht’s talk also raised interesting thoughts on the way students are assessed. Dr Bisht’s assessment focused less on the technical skills and greater value was placed on the quality of the story, thematic complexity/connection-making, and its crafting in terms of structure. These changes in emphasis allow for a move away from exam based assessment and a move to a more authentic way for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. This emphasis paves the way for portfolio-based and continuous assessment. These assessments can help to develop skills important to employers (Anand & Gunnell, 2021).

Presenting second, was Keele University’s Director of Education for Sustainability, Professor Zoe Robinson, with a talk entitled ‘Tackling the climate emergency through the curriculum: starting a dialogue. Keele University is wide-known to be a leader in sustainability education (Keele University, 2020), being one of the first UK universities to declare a climate emergency in 2019 and working towards an aim of being carbon neutral by 2030 (Keele University, 2021). This highly interactive presentation highlighted the need for climate emergency teaching across all subjects. Professor Robinson outlined the relevance of sustainability education for all subjects and students’ increasing appetite to learn about this (Tatum, 2020) (Zurich Insurance PLC, 2020). Responding to this Keele have embedded sustainability as a key area in its Curriculum Design Framework; formally launched in another session at this conference (Keele University, 2021) (Keele University, 2020). QAA and Advance HE also recognise the urgency of this subject and plan to launch revised guidance for sustainable development within higher education in spring 2021 (QAA, 2020). This inspiring session encouraged us to action and take part in the Global Goals Teach-In (Students organising for sustainability United Kingdom, 2021), something I am keen to do.

The final talk by Professor Peter Ogrodnik, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Keele University, looked at the value of project / problem based learning in a UK based Masters Programme (Project Based Learning is not additional to normal lecturing, it is a useful and effective replacement - especially in the digital age). Like Dr Bisht’s assessment, project / problem based learning and assessment has the benefit of being authentic and developing essential skills (Bilbao, et al., 2018). Professor Ogrodnik spoke favourably of this method and how he has found that if not treated as an add-on, it can save ‘teaching’ and encourage student engagement. One of the key aspects that he highlighted was that a wider range of assessment topics and output was needed. He also stressed the need to be clear in intended learning outcomes. He also felt that some students need extra support as they are used to a much more directive style of learning. This should be addressed early to avoid issues.

Universities provide a valuable preparation for the global workforce, developing in our students the essential skills needed to survive in a competitive and rapidly changing world. All three presentations highlighted methods to enhance not only the development of knowledge but the skills needed to make a real difference to society.


Recording: Future structures of education