September 2021: Back to what normal?

Today I attended AulaCon, the annual conference of the UK based Virtual Learning Environment provider. The title of the event was ‘September 2021: Back to what normal?’ and hosted a range of expert speakers giving views on the future of higher education in the UK. the underlying theme for the day was that returning to campus is an opportunity to refocus on designing and delivering outstanding learning.  

My three key takeaways:

  • Lecturers must focus on doing what works best
  • Returning to campus should be designed to build better learning communities
  • Learning should be structured to spark curiosity

John Hattie opened to conference with a conversation about evidence-based teaching. He suggested the most lectures find a way to teach that works but do not then spend the time investigating the best ways to teach. Hattie, who has spent his career studying teaching methods that have the highest impact on student outcomes, recommends looking at the most successful practice in your institution and scaling that up as a starting point. Hatti also stressed the importance of monitoring student conversations and feedback and the impact of your teaching rather than being overly worried about the exact method. A final piece of advice that Hattie has picked up from working with athletes, a theme of this blog, is to start each teaching session by setting an expectation of what success in that session looks like and then trying to stick to that, 

One of the common themes in student feedback this year has been the loss of community. The social elements of learning and being a part of the university community are essential to keep students engaged and feel belonging, helping them stay and succeed. Multiple speakers also pointed out that these communities should move beyond the classroom and individual modules; they should start in the transition period before students begin the course, build while studying, and continue after they graduate. Recommendations for building community came from several presenters; most said to start small, make it inviting for students to talk and take the time to build up trust within groups. Students need to feel comfortable interacting with each other and are not afraid to ask questions and make mistakes. Get students to start talking using breakout rooms and chat functions, and let them know it is there thinking you want to influence, not just taking in information. Conversations are also to keep students engaged in their learning. The critical point was that academics must be a part of the community to make them impactful and lasting.

Ramsey Musallam presented his take on how lessons should begin by sparking curiosity in students before delivering all the content. He suggested that story narrative such as the heroes journey could be used as a model for providing lessons where the students are moved into uncertainty through open questions and missing information. Only when curiosity is teased in students that the teacher can then reveal the complete picture. The narrative approach allows students to make connections between ideas and engage with the learning process. Musallam provides a lesson planning template lecturers can use to structure a session using the hero’s journey following the 5E inquiry learning cycle. 

Aula has a fresh take on what a VLE should be and has built its platform on internet technology without the difficulties existing providers face with bloated, sometimes over-complicated software that has evolved over decades of updates to serve multiple industries across the globe. The co-founder and CEO, Anders Krohn’s focus on learning design is also refreshing. It is not yet clear how much of the market Aula will capture in the next few years, but the new kid on the block is set to disrupt the now established Virtual Learning Environment market currently dominated by three companies. The incumbents need to take note of Aula’s approach if they want to stay competitive. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s