#Take5 #48 The best way to deliver Learning Development in a time of COVID?

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Kate Coulson who is Head of Learning Development at the University of Northampton and the Secretary of the Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education (ALDinHE). Here she tries to summarise the current face-to-face  and hybrid teaching situation for Learning Developers from September 2020.


Photo: Kate Coulson face in full visor/mask mode!

Does anyone care how Learning Developers are engaging with their students?

I do! I absolutely care about what my peers are doing within UK HEIs and beyond. Maybe I am just nosey but gaining an understanding around what others are embarking upon is crucial to inform my own thinking and understanding of the current conundrums as a fall-out from COVID-19. We are all feeling our way and working out what is possible, what might work and what cannot be contemplated.

So, to find out what’s going on, I emailed the LDHEN email list and asked everyone:

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What did I find out?

I had many responses from the community and some peers asked to remain anonymous which is a first-time experience for me in terms of gaining feedback from LDHEN. I think this might be because we are in unprecedented times and we don’t know how the current situation will play out. That said, the responses I received were very rich in their detail about how they would be teaching their students and also in terms of the reflection they have done to get to those conclusions.

Overall, peers are working on the COVID-19 teaching continuum, with online being the main focus and face-to-face teaching happening in some but not all HEIs. The following themes/trends were very clear:

  1. Most HEIs are ensuring that students have some time on campus each week
  2. The timings range from two to four hours per student and may be taught sessions, personal tutor sessions, LD workshops and lab/studio sessions
  3. Teams based within Library departments seem less likely to have to teach on campus
  4. Colleagues in other configurations are more likely to be expected to teach on campus where needed
  5. Some colleagues are offering online tutorials, drop-ins and workshops only
  6. Some colleagues will be offering online tutorials, drop-ins and workshops plus on campus tutorials and drop-ins
  7. And others will be offering online tutorials, drop-ins and workshops and on campus versions of all three too.

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Photo of the Learning Development Drop-In Area at the University of Northampton.

How does the Learning Development community feel about these changes?

On the whole colleagues seem comfortable with their local arrangements. Although some have expressed their concerns around particular measures in place for things such as tutorials – ventilation, appropriate spaces etc. – it is also clear that some colleagues have made the decision to be 100% online or hybrid within their individual teams and have told their HEIs what they are doing, others have had these decisions made for them. That said, the general mood is positive but cautious.

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Photo: Student ambassadors at the University of Northampton greeting new students with hand sanitizer!

And what is the plan at the University of Northampton?

We are a COVID secure campus; our Estates team have worked relentlessly to ensure we are safe. All staff have attended meetings led by the Director of Estates to ensure we all know what has been put in place and what is expected of us:

  • All staff have been issued with a visor to be used when teaching face-to-face. Face masks are to be used at all other times. In offices, at your desk, you can remove your mask. We have snazzy ventilation because it is a new campus, and this has been meticulously adjusted to allow the appropriate air flow
  • The LD Tutors will spend one day a week on campus undertaking face-to-face tutorials and drop-in. They are paired up and are happy with this arrangement
  • All students are to be given two hours contact time per week on campus. Our default position is to teach all embedded workshops online via Collaborate and face-to-face workshops are an exception in unusual circumstances
  • I am expected to be “seen” on campus as are other leadership staff so this will equate to two days on campus to start with and I will review it after a few weeks
  • Northampton is embracing the “hyflex” model – which is seen as controversial by some and the guidance to all staff is being created to ensure a smooth transition as possible. I feel that on campus time should be utilised to generate a sense of belonging and collegiality, to formatively check understanding and learning and to do what I would call the “soft, fuzzy stuff” – being human!

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Photo: Kate Coulson next to F2F tutorial survival kit: cleaning materials, signage and a place to pop our visors.

And how has week one worked out? And what’s next?

The new approach to working kicked off on 21 September 2020, at the time of writing (25 September 2020) we have been on-campus for five days. Most colleagues have enjoyed being back, seeing other colleagues and students. There have been some challenges around using visors – there is a loss of sound and understanding, they make some people feel dizzy. Another surprise has been the acclimatising to having to “go to work”! The physicality of going to a place of work is tiring and some have commented on cognitive overload from the noise of a different physical space. We have had some interesting conversations in our morning team catch-up! That said, it is great to see students again and those who have chosen a face-to-face tutorial or drop-in have been very happy to have this option.

I sent a summary of the themes to the LDHEN list and suggested that I follow it up and check-in again at the end of October to see how things have worked out. We are all very aware that changes happen on a national level most days so by the time we get to October 2020 the landscape could be very different.

Watch this space and I will report back!

Kate’s Blurb:

Kate is the Head of Learning Development at the University of Northampton and is also the Secretary of ALDinHE. She has worked in HE for over 10 years in a variety of roles as a librarian and learning developer and has led teams in both areas. In her previous life she worked in the City of London with lawyers, bankers and management consultants but realised she needed to be somewhere where she could use her creativity every day.

Kate is a Senior Fellow of the HEA, a professionally qualified librarian, a Certified Leading Practitioner in Learning Development and a passionate advocate for allowing colleagues to show vulnerability in their teaching (and sharing it!). She feels that her greatest professional achievement thus far is getting her team through the first six months of the COVID-19 lockdown without too many catastrophes. She talks a lot.

1 thought on “#Take5 #48 The best way to deliver Learning Development in a time of COVID?”

  1. Thanks so much for this, Kate!
    Our university actually locked down two weeks before the Govt. – and our Senior Leaders discussed things with staff and students – and basically except for the science students in the Super Lab, we have planned for online delivery till January – except for Learning Development workshops. I think at ours, students are being offered two hours a fortnight…

    BTW: Another unexpected consequence of all this COVID for us has been buying the tech for ourselves. All the laptops that the university supplied us with have gradually been dying – so first I bought myself one a few months ago – this week Tom cracked and ordered three more – so that we can work with two each. If teaching online, you do need at lest two screens. They’d better not make us redundant now!

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