Putting “content” online: Supporting student learning

Inclusivity in course design—curricular interventions by Ellie Kennedy, NTU.

A key focus of the Success for All educational development initiative was to ensure that curricular interventions—i.e. interventions into mainstream learning and teaching on the course—remain in focus.

Studies on inclusive interventions in the sector (e.g. Thomas 2012; Hockings 2010; Mountford-Zimdars 2016; UUK 2019) emphasise the importance of direct interventions into curricula, pedagogies and assessment practices. These studies found a strong reliance on “bolt-on” interventions, i.e. those in the “exclusive” and “co-curricular” areas of the matrix below. The same landmark studies emphasise, however, that inclusive integrated interventions are more likely to be successful. Within the landscape of intervention types, these “inclusive curricular” interventions sit in the upper left quadrant of the matrix below.

Courtesy of Ellie Kennedy, NTU.

The most effective strategies for addressing disparities, then, are often direct interventions into what is taught, how it is taught, and how learning is assessed. Further, inclusive interventions into learning and teaching can potentially provide the most transformative learning experiences, in that all students can learn from the diverse challenges and perspectives of their peers (in line with NTU’s Creating Opportunity strategy). Future work should include strategies to ensure that inclusive curricular interventions are embedded into learning, teaching and assessment.

The outline (below) may be used as a standalone resource or – better – incorporated in the existing advice and resources on putting lectures online:

The following are useful points to bear in mind when moving lectures or other “content” online. These points are in line with good practice to support Success for All as well as general student learning and engagement.

  1. Pre-record or curate existing content

Lectures do not need to be delivered synchronously, i.e. in real time. Any parts of a “traditional” lecture that involve the tutor speaking, or showing or demonstrating something, can be pre-recorded. Pre-recordings, or screen casts, can be made available to students instead of or in advance of live online sessions. Most students are likely to appreciate this, in particular those whose learning benefits from extra time to pause or rewind, and those whose schedule or IT access is disrupted in the current circumstance. Pre-recording also reduces the likelihood of technical glitches that can occur when large numbers of students try to access the content at the same time.

  • Use “chunking” if it’s convenient

In the current situation, tutors should use the most convenient means available to move content online as quickly as possible. This may mean screen casting full-length lectures. However, tutors should not feel under pressure to produce “lecture-length” content. A series of shorter “content chunks”, each with one or more associated activities, is more likely to increase engagement and support learning. This approach can benefit all students and may also help to narrow attainment gaps. Teaching teams can create their own “chunks” (for example, lecture segments) and/or curate existing resources such as podcasts, text excerpts, and short videos.

  • Embed short tasks

Content by itself does not assure learning: activities such as focussing tasks and knowledge-check quizzes will help students identify and grasp the key points. This is even more vital in the online realm, where the tutor cannot gauge understanding from physical cues such as body language. Such activities can be provided alongside content chunks or can be embedded into longer lectures. In this way students can use their own—and in some cases their peers’—responses in real time to check their own learning. Tutors can access student responses in real time or after the fact to check understanding and address any misconceptions.

  • Make content accessible

Personal Tutoring Online

Enhanced guidance to support colleagues in tutoring online will be available during the University Learning and Teaching Day. However in advance, and in addition to the existing Staff and Student Guides, University guidance and training resources and materials, you may find these link helpful:

Effective Personal Tutoring in HE is a comprehensive text that explores the core values, skills and a curriculum of Personal Tutoring, as well as providing a Personal Tutor Self Assessment system (at both individual and institutional level: https://www.criticalpublishing.com/effective-personal-tutoring-in-higher-education

An online assessment tool to accompany the text can be accessed here: https://andrewstork.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Institutional-SAS.pdf

Also, for further support please view UKAT’s Professional Framework that focus on personal tutoring but are applicable to wider student support.

New post on HEPI

Online learning: Are we asking the right questions?

Without warning, and almost overnight, the higher education sector has embarked on a whole-scale experiment in online learning. There is no doubt that this is a challenging time for both students and teaching staff, but what can the academic literature tell us about online learning?

Please click here to visit this blog which was kindly contributed by Rachel Ambler, an independent researcher, Gervas Huxley, Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol, and Mike Peacey, Senior Lecturer at the New College of the Humanities.


In this review of the literature, we define online learning as ‘a learner’s interaction with content and/or people via the Internet for the purpose of learning’. For example, students interact by watching a pre-recorded lecture online (interaction with content) or participating in an online discussion group (interaction with people). An important distinction that the literature makes is between synchronous and asynchronous learning – whether student and teacher are online at the same time. A Zoom meeting is ‘synchronous’ whereas an instructor-moderated Facebook discussion is ‘asynchronous’.

The Student Engagement team take UniSkills online!

UniSkills provides a wide range of support designed to help students develop their academic skills and confidence at University and beyond. The Student Engagement team (part of Library and Learning Services) are committed to continuing our support during this uncertain time, albeit in a slightly different way.

The team are currently working from home at various locations across the North West (from Ormskirk to Hebdon Bridge!) but continue to provide 1-2-1 appointments, UniSkills workshops (now webinars) and embedded classroom sessions.

UniSkills workshops

We know our popular UniSkills workshops are valued by students across all years of study to help them find high-quality academic information online and develop their academic writing and referencing skills. We are now delivering these workshops as webinars via Blackboard Collaborate. Find out more on our UniSkills webpages.

1-2-1 appointments

Our 1-2-1 appointments remain in high demand and support is now also offered via Blackboard Collaborate. Once students have booked a 1-2-1 appointment in the usual way we will send them all the information they need to join the appointment online. Whilst it’s not the same as a face to face appointment, students have found them beneficial so far and we can provide lots of advice and guidance on all aspects of producing University assignments.

Embedded sessions/online content

The Student Engagement team are also available to join you within your online classroom environment or we can provide digital materials that you can share with students and/or host in Blackboard. Just email uniskil[email protected] to discuss your requirements.

We also have a wide range of online support and information available 24/7 on the UniSkills webpages, and students can also access this information via their ‘My Library’ tab in Blackboard.

If you have any questions or queries about how we can support your students with their academic skills during this period please do get in touch.

Member benefit webinars – Covid-19 series

‘From emergency remote teaching to resilient systems for higher education’

21 and 28 April 09:00 BST

Details from Advance HE are here:

The last four weeks has seen an exceptional effort by the HE sector to continue to deliver or attain learning outcomes in non-ideal circumstances.  Students and staff recognised that achieving a perfect online learning experience was probably out of reach in the time frame available and most have exhibited great patience and humanity. However, as the crisis is set to continue into the next academic year, both returning and new students will be expecting an effective, accessible and flexible learning experience.

In the next two webinars in our COVID-19 series we will hear from academics on the frontline of the current crisis and those who have had years of experience in delivering flexible and accessible higher education. This webinar will help us to reflect on what we have learnt from this crisis to ensure that our approaches to curriculum design are flexible and agile enough to cope with a range of potential scenarios from some students not being able to attend campus either due to travel or health restrictions and/or further outbreaks leading to rapid campus closures.

Both webinars will be chaired by Advance HE’s Dr Kay Hack, Principal Adviser (Learning and Teaching). Ahead of the webinar, Kay has written a blog offering initial insights. Read the blog here.

At Advance HE, we want our member benefits to be accessible to as many of our members as possible. All webinars in the Connect Event Series are recorded and available to watch at your convenience via the member benefits group on Advance HE Connect.

How to move your teaching online – fast

Complementing the many other valuable resources posted, you may find some useful ideas in the attached short paper from David Baume.

It is published by the University of London Centre for Distance Education under a Creative Commons License  CC-BY-SA 2.0. In summary – please copy, use and adapt as you wish;  acknowledge its source; acknowledge any changes you male; and re-distribute under this same license.

EHU Colleagues ‘Taking your Teaching’ online guidance is here.