2.b An understanding of your target learners

Usually this part of a portfolio is a real mixed bag. It isn’t prescriptive with what it is looking for. Here you can sometimes find long debunked learning development talk such as learning styles or Prensky talking about Digital Natives. I want to approach this in a more personal manner.

When I did this portfolio last time I spoke about the different constraints on professional / work based learning students as opposed to more traditional students. I do still agree that we need to cater for work based learners better and this follows through in the modes we teach in. I really believe we should be doing more audio only content. However, I attended two events in the summer of 2019 which have caused me many moments of reflection since.  In summary:

I don’t know our students anymore but I am sure they aren’t who people think they are.

The events were as follows:

TELFEST 2019 University of Sheffield Professor Huxley-Binns. Depicts Gen Z as no more than information processors with multiple devices feeding streams in constantly. The University as one of many actors in this ecology operating in an attention economy. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of such a passive student but also such a small evidence base. The children of academics are not good bellweathers.

ALT-C 2019 University of Edinburgh post session discussions . I was surprised by the sheer amount of content and users who were sharing VLE content on social media through an intermediary. I had guessed this happened but the scale surprised me. I always lamented the lack of push notifications on our systems but to have sub virtual learning environments with a none expert intermediary shook me a little. Although I did recognise this behaviour in my own circles. Social reading through WhatsApp etc. I didn’t countenance this hidden personal learning environment would supersede our mandated one.

Now this is not a mid-life crisis about whether I am down with the kids or not. I had relied on not being that old and lets face it mature for a while. My concern was just how in the weeds of institutional politics and systems I was and that I had actually lost connection with anything about target learners. I had no evidence based counter narrative to fall back on. I only had my own reckons and assumptions.

Why is this important? Well I am heavily involved in projects relating to accessibility, I develop learning materials and create support structures. Bristol has a big problem with student mental wealth / health and it is beholden on everyone to engage better with a modern student experience. If I am divorced from understanding  the student then I am not effective.

What am I doing about this?

How am I going to take my reflections forward?

Building an evidence base At some point in the next 12 months I will have to remodel our managed devices. We currently use the Class Connect Learn Pad system by Avantis. We have quite a lot of conversations about how we cater for in class activities. Whether it is through managed devices or BYOD or a hybrid. These conversations are evidence light. I used our recent Induction endeavors to conduct some Service Improvement surveying. This was a last minute addition and produced the following outputs:

Why generate our own stats? Well working in a wide Faculty you get used to a weird exceptionalism for each programme. Having contextual statistics on top of sector statistics is actually really handy.

Get more inputs I need to read more widely and more importantly look at research with the primary source being the student voice. Hopefully this will include doing more of my own research. I have managed to get involved with a few student centred projects. I was part of a podcast series hosted by the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship, where we talk to Apprentices at different points in their studies to see what they have learnt. This will be released as podcast for future cohorts.

Involved with student creator voice We desperately need a more methodological approach to learning object creation. Our conversion rate between conversation to creation is not great and we have a big array of programmes about to be re-validated who will all have big chunks of content to create. I am a big fan of the University of Nottingham’s HELM team and often send new members of the team onto their open course ‘Designing e-Learning for Healthcare’ as part of their induction. They do alot with co-design where multi stakeholders are involved. I will be looking to do more of this in the future.

Being collaborative ain’t easy

Now I am no longer in an HEI stakeholder engagement in design is tortuous to do. I work within Medical Education. Doctors care passionately about what they do and are an inspiration. However they are also incredibly in demand. You have tiny windows into their time that quickly close. To fill this gap I took two steps in my more recent projects.

  1. More specificity in surveys design. Be super targeted in survey questions so the answers are more helpful. This means ditching some of the more longitudinal questions. However, this still suffers from poor response rates. Our induction takes one and a half days. So there is an attention deficit for additional bureaucracy.
  2. Learner Profiles. Without the potential for further engagement with stakeholders I embarked on drafting some pretty comprehensive learner profiles to inform the design process. This was pretty much our lode star in lieu of co-creators. We asked ourselves at the end of each design event whether we catered for profile 1 etc.