My fantasy end of year wrap up – the best learning environment ever?

So this is the time when a lot of people are making predictions, sharing their views on developments and trends over the past year. When ever I read these posts, I tend to get a sense of plus ça change plus ça la meme chose. So I’m not going to critique any of these reviews instead I’m going to share with you, dear reader,  what I can remember of a dream I had last night about what my end of year post would be.

I don’t know if you have ever listened to Tenacious D (stay with me on this) on one of their albums they have a song called The Best Song Ever. It’s a cautionary tale of a rendezvous with the Devil, writing “the best song ever” or words to that effect, forgetting almost all of it the next morning but having the frustration and knowledge that they had indeed written the best song ever – if only they could remember the killer riff and the words. This post may be a bit like that . . .

image of calendar

(image: CC0

What a year it’s been. I think we’ve finally cracked it. As you’re aware over the last couple of years we’ve made some pretty radical changes not only to our physical campus but also to the structure of our academic year. After our digital participation conversation – open to staff, students, alumni, our (local and international) community, we decided that our third trimester would be one where no formal teaching takes place. Instead this now is a time where all our staff and students really focus on developing a range of approaches to building, creating and maintaining our approach to “the common weal”. All our students are either on placement in industry, within the 3rd sector, or in the university itself. If students are in the university they are working with staff on a range of different projects. From reviewing and redesigning all our programmes, reviewing our learning and teaching spaces, our technological infrastructure to reviewing and extending our data sources and ethical use of data policy. No-one has classes to go, school/uni committee meetings are suspended until the last two weeks of the trimester when there are round of review, publish, and where next meetings. So everyone is able to turn up for projects meetings and get “stuff done”.

After a couple of iterations we think we’ve cracked the module evaluation, course redesign, OER resources creation and research cycle. Our staff are rotated during this trimester so they are focusing on one aspect. This seems to be working well now and we are seeing much more informed feedback from students as they understand what is involved in module design, have actively been part of the process and understand what kind of feedback is needed and is useful.

Staff get time to develop and/or repurpose (open) learning and teaching resources. We also run a series of one event based open programmes where our students not only get the change to co-design the events but they also are offered opportunities to be online teaching assistants. Our research outputs are on the increase and our new digital scholarship recognition scheme which offers staff a dedicated sabbatical during trimester C for either creating learning and teaching resources, research activity or any type of digital scholarship is being extended to accommodate additional staff numbers.

Our open data policy and open data stack allows students to create their own GCU homepage with the feeds that they find most useful to them. Each year our student mentors help our new students (face to face and online) design their own. Our most popular feed is still from the cafeteria, students still really want to know what’s for lunch.

This year our wearable technology working group as well as coming up with some really sensible guidelines for the use of wearable tech in the classroom, also have come up with some great ideas which they are taking to the City Council about why retailers should not be able to allow access to certain retail spaces based on financial data assumptions via loyalty app points. Glasgow city centre is for all the people of Glasgow – not just those who can afford designer handbags. A draft paper on our website site has attracted considerable interest internationally and the group have submitted several conference paper submissions. A video summary of their recommendations has had 250,000 hits on Youtube.

Our more traditional research also benefits during this trimester as we now host our social innovation research sprint. Over a week a number of key local (and increasingly international) businesses work with our staff and students to develop ideas and pitches for short real world research projects. At the end of the week teams of researchers are selected to work on the best of these projects. The businesses provide varying levels of support for the research teams depending on the nature of their business and the research being carried out.

Stress from exam marking has gone down (and all our systems are fully integrated so any mark on any system automagically gets fed into our student record system). Students are more engaged, have more real world and ideas for projects to work on for their final year dissertations. Our results on all levels are steadily increasing.

As well as changing our traditional trimesters we also have become a much more flexible working environment. Gone is the 9-5 replaced by a number of flexible working patterns the allow the physical campus to be open for classes from 10 am – 9pm. Despite initial concerns from Unions, staff are finding the flexibility this provides really useful, particularly for those staff with child care responsibilities. No one is on a zero hours contract. This more flexible approach, combined with our greater online provision has also proved attractive for students and we are seeing our numbers steadily increasing. Our outreach activities are growing with pop-up learning cafes on particular areas, as well as maker spaces open to everyone a regular part of campus life. The campus really is providing a central space for the community.

We have developed our own agile approach to creating achievable and measurable results. Our senior management are actively involved in at least one learning and teaching or research project and some of them are actually teaching again, our staff numbers are going up. OK, things get a bit fuzzy around here, but for a while there last night it really was the best year ever . . .

6 thoughts on “My fantasy end of year wrap up – the best learning environment ever?”

  1. Wow: so many things in this resonate with conversations I’ve had with colleagues. Perhaps it wasn’t a dream, more of a collective delusion of optimism 🙂 Fantastic post as always.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *