Learning with Purpose: The Importance of Orientation in Digital Practice

By Chris Bell (Senior Learning Technologist, Curriculum Development)

Being well-orientated to clear learning goals is key to ensuring that our students can maximise their time at university. The digital spaces that all students transit through at Derby play a key role in that orientation, and when done well, can ensure that students feel connected to their programme of study, to their tutors and to one another. This short blog post will seek to explore some of the digital practice approaches to clarity and consistency that colleagues have developed to support such orientation.

A Video Introduction

A video introduction is a highly effective way to ensure that students immediately understand what is expected of them and where they can go for help and support, should they need it. Furthermore, it is also a fantastic way for you to introduce yourself to the cohort with a personal touch and guide students through your content areas on Blackboard. A recorded introduction means that students can access this information on-demand as and when they need a ‘refresher’, and by talking students through what is expected of them, it hopefully means that you don’t need to keep repeating yourself to address individual requests.

In line with our expectations, most modules that were explored as part of the ‘baselines assurance process’ had recorded introductions using Panopto, there were however some that stood apart in terms of the approach that the tutor had taken and their perceived effectiveness. These ‘highlights’ were as follows:

  • A virtual discussion with students about the expectations of studying at different levels. This is a great way to ensure that students understand ‘what went before’ and ‘what may come next’ and in doing so, help them to take control of their learning on their own terms and prepare accordingly.
  • Transparency about why students will be expected to complete activities and tasks, some of which may be formative. For instance, if students are expected to collaborate on a topic, it is made clear that this is an opportunity for them to develop group-work skills that are highly desirable in an industry setting. Or, if they are directed to completing a task by using a digital tool, this will develop their digital skills. Again, early warning of this at a module-introduction stage can help students prepare for what is ahead of them.
  • A discussion on previous cohort’s feedback and how that information had been acted upon to improve the module. This can help build trust with your students and make them feel connected and orientated to the past, present and future of their programme of study.

Well Structured Module (and Programme) Areas on Blackboard

A well-structured and clearly labelled module area is important in ensuring that students can spend their time working on the task in hand, rather than trying to find information on what is expected of them. It is particularly important when students move from one module to the next that there is consistency in the way that content is displayed. This doesn’t mean that all modules should be ‘uniform’, rather that content is discoverable based upon previous experience. As per below, colleagues are increasingly using some of the more sophisticated settings on folders of content:

  • ‘Adaptive release rules’ set on content can be useful when we want to scaffold the acquisition of knowledge in intervals. These intervals can be set by date, a quiz score threshold, or the pre-reading and review of other material.

Timely Communication, including Digital Nudges

Students are often juggling lots of digital information in their lives, so it is important that programme and module level messages are timely and in a format that is easily understood and actionable. Some of the ways that we might do this are as follows:

  • Rich announcements with images and links to newly updated content, or external resources, such as free webinars.
  • Module nudges for students who haven’t logged on or interacted with tasks or activities during a time period as designated by the tutor.
  • Assessment nudges as deadlines approach. Again, these can be set by the tutor and delivered through the Blackboard Early Warning System in the Retention Centre.
  • Being mindful of the Blackboard Mobile App, and the power of just-in-time notifications. Consider downloading the app yourself and getting a feel for how the calendar integration works and how notifications look and feel on a mobile device.

Clear Guidance around Assessment Expectations

As per the digital baseline expectation, all ‘assessment’ areas on Blackboard had guidance information uploaded into them, however there were some areas of practice that stood out, these included:

  • Adaptive release rules on folders where there were numerous ‘submission points’, these ensured that students couldn’t upload papers into non-corresponding areas and that guidance could be contextualised.
  • Information relating to deadlines and other frequently asked questions were published to a Padlet, where guidance could be ‘crowdsourced’ by the cohort and overseen by the tutor.

We hope that you have been inspired by some of the above approaches to enhancing the student experience that you and your peers have developed during this academic year. Below are a series of links to help guides for the tools mentioned above. If you would like any further information on any of these ideas, or perhaps you would like to discuss new approaches with us, then please do get in touch.