Update on Toolbox for Flexible Learners Project

The following brief update and presentation slides giving a progress report on the Toolbox for Flexible Learners Project were prepared for the 2014 Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund Review Day hosted by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. Project lead Dr. James Brunton, with support from Nuala Lonergan, presented on behalf of the project team.

Project Title                     

Student Success Toolbox for Flexible Learners: Supporting Transitions from Thinking About Study to the First Weeks

Project Website

This project’s website can be found at www.studentsuccess.ie. This website is being used to disseminate project information and publications and facilitate national and international discussions on the project, specifically through the use of the linked Flexible Learner Success twitter hashtag #FLSuccess.

Project Overview

Introduction

The project seeks to address the problem of effective transitions and the foundations for student success during the initial stages of the study lifecycle with a specific focus on flexible learners. In the context of this project a broad definition is adopted of flexible learners, which includes adult learners engaged in part-time and online/distance learning. Enhancing retention and completion rates of this group of flexible learners is a significant problem both globally and within the Irish context. Although the number of flexible learners in Ireland is relatively low in comparison to many other countries, around 17% of all undergraduates (HEA 2012)[1], there are increasing concerns about their ability to progress towards successful completion.

The particular focus of this project is on supporting flexible learners through key transitions in the early stages of the study lifecycle: from thinking about study, making choices, the registration process and through to the first few weeks. A basic premise of the project is that the foundations for student success start early in the study lifecycle, and that insufficient attention has been given in the literature and within institutions to the importance of the period before flexible learners formally commence their study. A related underlying assumption is that this crucial transition period may be enhanced by the availability of appropriately designed digital readiness and preparation tools, which help to scaffold both prospective students and those about to embark on part time or online/distance study for the first time.

Project Plan

There are five phases to this project.

  • Phase One involves the project establishment, including formalising the project team, partner agreements and scope of the work packages.
  • Phase Two involves an analysis of relevant literature and current digital readiness tools available internationally to support successful transitions during initial stages of the study lifecycle for flexible learners. The main deliverable of this phase is an analysis of the digital tools adopted internationally to enhance transitions to study for this unique sub population of learners.
  • Phase Three involves building on the above synthesis to develop a strategically targeted suite of research-informed digital readiness tools. While they will have wider application across the sector, the tools will focus on facilitating adult learners who are transitioning to part-time undergraduate study. The major deliverable from this phase will be the development of a toolbox of eight digital tools that can be used and/or adapted by other institutions in the Higher Education sector to support student success at this crucial period of the study lifecycle. The final selection, design and appropriateness of the digital readiness tools is being informed by the analysis of the literature and institutional analysis completed in Phase Two.
  • Phase Four involves a series of pilot evaluations of the digital tools across the partner institutions. Based on feedback gather during this evaluation phase, the digital tools will be adapted/augmented to ensure that they are fit for purpose.
  • Phase Five will produce a Digital Guide for Supporting Flexible Learners, which will provide guidance for institutions and discipline teams on how to effectively deploy the suite of digital readiness tools. Another key deliverable of this phase is a series of workshops delivered in different higher education institutions on how to support transitions for flexible learners.

At the start of June 2015 the project is in phase 3, with the development of the eight tools being progressed by a number of sub-groups. The eight tools are listed in the table below with working titles:

1. Readiness for study self-assessment quiz 2. Student workload calculator 3. Student self-assessment support network mapping tool 4. Digital study/learning skills tutorials
5. Guide to Information literacy, digital literacy, and academic literacy 6. Guide to proactively preparing for study 7. A crowd-sourced guide to flexible learning 8. Online induction for flexible learners

Impact Evaluation Strategy

To assess the impact of the project, the project is using the Impact Evaluation Framework (IEF) for teaching and learning projects employed by both the Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) in Australia and the New Zealand National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence (Ako Aotearoa). The framework examines:

  • Reach (generation and dissemination of project outputs)
  • Impact on teaching practice
  • Impact on learners
  • Impact on the project teams themselves

Also, as part of the project’s impact evaluation strategy, Professor Terry Anderson of Athabasca University will act as an international advisor on to the project.

Project Partners:

Project Partner Partner Contact
National Institute for Digital Learning, Dublin City University Dr. James Brunton, (Project Lead) james.brunton@dcu.ie
Maynooth University Lisa O’Regan, lisa.oregan@nuim.ie
Dundalk Institute of Technology Ann Cleary, ann.cleary@dkit.ie
Institute of Technology Sligo Jennifer Gilligan, gilligan.jennifer@itsligo.ie

Key Outcomes of the Project (June 2015):

  • Phase 1 – This phase involves the project establishment such as formalising the project team and agreement on the format of the digital toolkit to be produced in Phase Three.

– Output: Project plan. Status – Complete

  • Phase 2 – This phase involves an analysis of relevant literature and current digital readiness tools available internationally to support successful transitions during initial stages of the study lifecycle for flexible learners. The main deliverable of this phase is an analysis of the digital tools adopted internationally to enhance transitions to study.

– Output: Analysis of literature and current digital readiness tools. Status – Complete

  • Phase 3 & 4 – A toolbox of eight digital tools that can be used and/or adapted by other institutions in the Higher Education sector to support student success at the early (crucial) stages of the study lifecycle.

–   Output: Toolbox of digital tools. Status – Ongoing

  • Phase 5 – A digital guide for supporting Flexible Learners which will provide guidance for higher education institutions and discipline teams on how to effectively deploy the suite of digital readiness tools. Another key deliverable of this phase is a series of three workshops delivered in different HE institutions on how to support transitions for flexible learners.

–   Output: Digital Guide and Project Dissemination (workshops, a publication(s) and a project webspace). Status – Phase yet to begin.

Benefits to the Higher Education sector nationally

This project will produce both a guide for the sector on how to improve flexible learner readiness, and a suite of digital readiness tools for the initial stages of the study lifecycle that will aid programme teams/institutions in facilitating part-time, flexible undergraduate learners to transition into Higher Education. The project will leverage digital technologies to establish new approaches to assist advisors in helping new applicants to assess their own readiness for part-time, flexible learning and in providing learners with relevant, timely feedback to enhance their chances of success. The digital tools developed through this project will impact on the ability of part-time, flexible learners to make a successful transition into Higher Education. The utilisation of these digital tools to increase student readiness, both by the learners who engage with certain tools and the discipline teams who will access the guidance tools and also choose, adapt and deploy tools for use with students as required on their programme, will aid in the fostering of a culture that fully embraces digital learning and digital innovation.

Benefits to students

While the principle target for this project are programme teams/institutions that wish to support their flexible learners’ transition into higher education, there are clear benefits to students where the tools are used effectively. In such a context, before students start a course of study the student success toolbox will enable them to:

  • Assess their readiness for study as a flexible learner
  • Assess their computer skills and study skills (e.g. digital literacy, information literacy) and receive advice about how to prepare in these areas.
  • Assess their capacity to take on a study workload, and evaluate their personal support network(s)
  • Understand how to proactively prepare themselves for study, as well as what will be expected of them as learners in Higher Education.
  •    Access study tips given by staff and other existing students.
  • Experience a digital orientation of a Higher Education institute.
  • Understand the grammar and expectations of Higher Education institutions.

The result is a student who is well informed about their choice of study and who has access to a suite of supports that facilitates their transition into Higher Education.

Other national/international development work that complements this project:

The National Forum’s first enhancement theme is “Teaching for Transitions”, and as such there are currently a number of other funded projects that are also focused on aiding different learner types such as school leavers and international students transition into Irish Higher Education, for example the project led by IT Sligo that focuses on how a MOOC can improve the transition from 2nd to 3rd level (see http://www.teachingandlearning.ie/priority-themes/building-digital-capacity-projects-2014/). There are also a number of seminars taking place in 2014-2015 with a focus on transitioning different learner types into Irish Higher Education, for example the seminar held by University College Dublin in May 2015 “Challenging Assumptions: Transitions and Widening Participation (see http://www.teachingandlearning.ie/national-seminar-series-2015/).

Phase two of the Student Success Toolbox project involves an analysis of relevant literature and current digital readiness tools available internationally to support successful transitions during initial stages of the study lifecycle for flexible learners. As part of this a number of international initiatives were identified, for example the range of tools in use in other institutions internationally that are used to support flexible learner transition into Higher Education. The phase two report will be available from the project website (www.studentsuccess.ie) in July.

Next Steps:

  • Phase 3 – Development of the toolbox of eight digital tools
  • Phase 4 – Piloting and evaluating the digital tools across the partner institutions. Based on feedback gather during this evaluation phase, the digital tools will be adapted/augmented to ensure that they are fit for purpose.
  • Phase 5 – Production of a Digital Guide for Supporting Flexible Learners. Delivery of a series of workshops in different higher education institutions on how to support transitions for flexible learners.

[1] HEA ( 2012). Part-time and flexible higher education in Ireland Policy, practice and recommendations for the future. Available from http://www.hea.ie/sites/default/files/part_time_report_0.pdf

European Projects in Open Education

The NIDL is currently playing a lead role in three European funded projects which focus on leadership and maturing our institutional understanding of the potential benefits of Open Education. The HOME Project aims to strengthen an open network for cooperation on open education in general and MOOCs in particular. HOME stands for ‘Higher Education Online: MOOCs the European’ way. The Project is anchored in the philosophy of Open Education and amongst other things seeks to explore the potential of MOOCs when based on values like openness, equity, quality and diversity. The Porto Declaration on European MOOCs reflects this philosophy and was an outcome of a high-level meeting of institutional partners after an Open Education conference late last year.

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The SCORE2020 Project focuses on building regional and institutional capacity, and maturing the level of knowledge in the area of Open Education, including the use of MOOCs. The Project supports the European funded OpenupEd MOOCs platform as a means of opening up higher education following principles of cultural and linguistic diversity. The NIDL is leading two of the major work packages and will host a National MOOC Symposium in April or May with support from SCORE2020. Also two journal articles have recently been submitted to a special European issue of the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning on MOOC initiatives as part of this project.

SCORE2020The third European funded project is known as EMPOWER and in December last year around 40 institutional leaders met in Brussels to start this initiative. At the core of EMPOWER is the modernisation agenda for European universities as the project supports policy reform with regard adopting new flexible modes of teaching and learning for both campus-based and off-campus learners. A number of expert communities of practice will be supported by EMPOWER and the NIDL is playing a lead role in the specialist area of policy development. The Project has funding for three years and benefits from the administrative support of the European Association for Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU).

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A DCU Connected Experience, Wherever You Are

This morning over 130 DCU staff and external guests from around Ireland attended the launch of a major new brand called “DCU Connected”. Today’s launch by the President of Dublin City University, Professor Brian MacCraith, marks a very significant milestone for both DCU and the National Institute for Digital Learning. The NIDL has played a key role in the development of the brand, although importantly ‘DCU Connected’ is inclusive of teaching and learning activities throughout the University and Linked Colleges.

Launch Photo1

Of particular significance is the way ‘DCU Connected’ places the focus on the way learners can be connected in today’s digital world, wherever they are, rather than promoting a particular delivery mode or technology platform. While ‘DCU Connected’ includes a growing suite of online degree programmes it also encompasses flexible short course options (including MOOCs) and a number of major transnational initiatives with strategic partners. Most importantly, “DCU Connected” is not merely another term for delivering online courses to people living throughout the world. The initiative is grounded in DCU’s mission of ‘transforming lives and societies’ and a philosophy of working with partners around the globe to develop local educational experiences for local requirements.

During today’s launch DCU’s new overarching brand for its digital learning environment (Loop) was also announced but more information about this initiative will be available over the next few weeks. The intention is that all DCU students will be in the loop, part of the loop and will play a key role in making and maintaining the loop!

A copy of today’s formal press release issued by DCU appears below.

Press Release

Thursday August 7th 2014

DCU launches a new Online Education brand

 A DCU Connected experience, wherever you are in the world

Dublin City University today announced the launch of an exciting new online, flexible learning brand, DCU Connected.

This overarching brand encompasses a growing suite of online degree programmes for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as flexible short course options and major transnational initiatives in many countries where DCU has already established strategic partnerships.

At the launch today, President of Dublin City University Professor Brian MacCraith said, “Today’s announcement is much more than a brand launch – rather it is a public commitment by DCU to embrace the best of digital technologies to enhance the learning experience of students, both nationally and globally. Whether you live in Sligo, Seville or Shanghai, DCU Connected provides access to world-class online education, with international expertise and locally-relevant courses designed to meet your needs.”

DCU Connected “…perfectly describes our off-campus, flexible study options and courses available either directly from DCU or in partnership with one of our strategic global partners, such as Arizona State University.”

These strategic partnerships around the globe will provide a key point of difference for DCU Connected, as they greatly extend the range of study options available to students. They also reflect DCU’s mission of ‘transforming lives and societies’ by working with other organisations around the globe to jointly develop the most appropriate world class educational solutions for addressing local problems.

Professor Mark Brown, Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning at DCU, noted that “DCU has over 30 years experience offering what was traditionally known as ‘distance education’. DCU Connected is the evolution of our commitment to flexible learning but with a more contemporary and clearly international focus”. Importantly, DCU Connected “is not just about online learning but a deeper philosophy about the connected nature of learning in the 21st Century — wherever you are”.

At today’s launch, the guest speaker was Professor Gráinne Conole, an internationally-renowned expert on digital learning and open education resources, based at the University of Leicester. Professor Conole, who is also a Visiting Professor at DCU, commended the university on its vision and leadership, noting that the brand was future-focused and that “online learning at DCU is no longer at the edge of the university experience; it’s at the very heart of it”.

The new DCU Connected website www.dcu.ie/connected will be available from Monday 11th August to coincide with an extensive marketing campaign to support the launch.

ENDS

Media Contacts:

Teresa Murray

DCU Communications & Marketing

T:  01 700 5217

M:  085 174 4279

E: teresa.murray@dcu.ie

 

Michelle Smyth

DCU Open Education

T: 01 700 5327

M: 08

E: michelle.smyth@dcu.ie