Reflections on an online semester through a Foundation Year Case Study

Case study authors: Dr Adam Wootton

Foundation Year Centre

CDF Framework: Technology Enhanced Learning

Project Summary

This project looks at how a module can be rapidly transformed from 100% in-situ teaching to 100% online. It looks at the different technologies that can be used in order to achieve this, meeting the Technology Enhanced Learning element of the CDF, but also considers how the traditional teaching triumvirate of lecture, problem class and lab can be modified to better suit the needs of learners in a predominantly online world. Technologies considered include both the widely-used, such as Microsoft Teams, and the less widely-used, such as Open Broadcaster Software. The project also considers other modules, and how technology helped to transform poorly attended project workshops into student-centred one-to-one consultation sessions.

While this work was originally envisaged as a means of making sure that students felt that they were getting ‘value for money’ from a module that looked and felt like it was purpose-built to be online-only, the methods and techniques employed are just as applicable for a world of blended learning. Similarly, although this work focuses on Foundation Year Computer Science, the general lessons can be applied across a range of levels and disciplines.

This work addressed the need for Foundation Year Computer Science modules to rapidly transform into online-only modules during the Covid-19 lockdown. More specifically, it sought to avoid Foundation Year students having their first experience of university be a poorly and hastily implemented online module that gave the appearance of being a ‘make do’ contingency. Many Foundation Year students arrive at the university unsure of whether they belong in Higher Education and sceptical of the value of their student fees. Others may have underachieved in Further Education due to problems with motivation or engagement. It was, therefore, vital that the students’ first perception of the teaching that they received was not a negative one. A module that appeared to be ‘cobbled together’ could have the effect of failing to engage students in their studies or even damaging the reputation of Keele University. This project looked at producing an online-only Foundation Year Computer Science module that was student-focused and gave the appearance of being purposely designed to be taught online.

The project benefitted the student experience by providing the students with a student-focused online-only module that reconsidered from the ground up how the few hours of contact time could be best utilised to facilitate student learning. For example, individual programming lab work was replaced with a TBL-based approach that helped to build an online student community in spite of the Covid lockdown. Student engagement and learning was monitored throughout, assisted by the new technologies available. Since the project concerns the main 30-credit introductory Computer Science module, it meant that the first university experience for Foundation Year Computer Scientists was of an innovative, technology-driven, student-focused module, helping to establish those students as learners in HE.

As the work is very recent, the internal and external impact has been limited thus far. However, the ideas have been widely shared within the Foundation Year and were presented at the KIITE Education Conference 2021. It is also the intention that this work will be presented at the 2021 Foundation Year Network, a national conference concerning Foundation Year teaching.

The work relating to the use of technology can be transferred to any discipline, particularly the thoughts about using the KLE in such a way that a module appears to be designed for structured online learning. Although some parts of the case study are specific to Computer Science delivery, the general reflections on transforming traditional taught sessions into student-centred online learning opportunities can be applied across a wide variety of subject areas.