Bangor University are on a journey to digitally transform the way they deliver teaching and learning. Awel Vaughan-Evans, associate pro vice-chancellor for digital and flexible learning first started working with Jisc back in January 2021 in her previous role as digital learning lead. Working with Jisc, the starting point was to carry out an audit of their current provision and to see where they were at in relation to their digital learning. Looking at best practice across the university and identifying where they might want to develop, including what support they might need to give to staff and students.
“One of the most beneficial aspects to come out of working with Jisc was the auditing of our current provision and really gaining an understanding of where we were in terms of digital teaching and learning.
“It was also really beneficial to have the expertise of the individuals that we worked with because they were so insightful. The conversations were brilliant because they really developed our understanding of our institution’s digital capability in terms of what we needed to improve but also how we could then support staff and students to develop their digital capability as well.”
Following the audit came a series of recommendations such as creating additional training resources for staff around how to translate on-campus materials to online. They invested in the Jisc digital experience insights survey (DEI) to get quantitative and qualitative data to assess how they were doing, and they used the discovery tool to enable staff and students to reflect on their digital skills and think about how they might develop them further.
“Resources like the digital experience insights survey and discovery tool have given us valuable data that we’ve been able to use and act on to support staff and students.”
Listen – don’t assume
Part of Bangor’s appeal is that it is traditionally an on-campus university. When the shift to online teaching and learning happened, as an institution, they had to move quickly and adapt, with a need to ensure engagement and buy-in by staff and students so they could develop the very best learning experiences in the context of the shift.
“To do this we listened. We ran surveys, focus groups and interviews and there was valid concern. We were asked about the impact of online learning on the teaching and learning experience, student engagement and student and staff workload.”
Despite there being a willingness to move to online teaching and learning, there was concern about the impact on the staff and student experience. Whilst this could have been perceived as resistance to change, Awel and colleagues soon realised it was actually about the need for support and guidance.
“Our Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) did a fantastic job of creating a staff training hub to help staff to get their on-campus materials translated into an online world. We also offered innovative teaching and learning grants so if staff had an idea, they could get support to develop it fully.”
As part of the need to upskill staff to deliver online teaching and learning, Awel and colleagues recognised that there was a disconnect between what staff were expecting students to be able to do and what they were actually equipped to do. “There was a misconception among staff that because students have grown up using technology, because they use it day-to-day, they would know how to use all the tools we were introducing and navigate their way around the systems”, says Awel.
“That was something that we identified as a potential barrier to learning early on and so we did a lot of work to address it.”
Staff in the University’s teaching and learning support team worked with teaching staff to ensure that they kept a consistent format in Blackboard Ultra - the university’s virtual learning environment (VLE). Whatever modules the students were accessing, it was important they looked the same as this would reduce the cognitive load needed to find different resources, thus enhancing the student learning experience. The team also emphasised the importance of clear communication and encouraged staff to tell students how to do things, where to find resources, and where they could find support.
“For students we signposted them to different resources such as the University’s teaching and learning support team, helpdesk facilities, and our study skills provision. We also set-up a ‘transition site’ to introduce our new students to the different systems so that they could navigate them successfully.
"Indeed, every month, students get taught something new to help them transition into University life. We’ve developed these resources because we recognised that there was a gap and it’s been well-received, as reflected in our positive DEI results.”
Data driven approach
The guidance and support provided has been well received by staff. Results from the digital experience insights survey over two years demonstrated that staff were feeling more confident in their online teaching.
Having used the survey for a couple of years Awel says:
“The first time we ran the survey the responses we were getting were around the issues – the things that weren’t working or that could go wrong. The second time we ran the survey the responses were around the need for additional training in particular areas.
Students are also rating the quality of the teaching as particularly high across the board, with 81% of students rating the quality of online and digital learning at Bangor as Good, Excellent, or Best Imaginable, which is above the sector average of 74% – “it is fantastic to see.”
Using data isn’t just something that Awel is doing to inform decisions on how they transform digitally – “in terms of my leadership style I want everything to be data driven; I don’t want to just do things on a whim.”
“I want to make sure that any interventions that we implement come about as a result of data, and that we actually evaluate their effectiveness by asking for feedback from staff and students to see if it’s actually working - is it beneficial to them?”
It’s important to recognise that digital teaching and learning doesn’t happen in isolation. There are other things that you need to consider such as the infrastructure and developing the digital skills of staff in other disciplines.
“You need to ask yourself – do staff in professional services have the necessary skills to support teaching staff and students? Is the estate fit for purpose and can it support digital teaching and learning?”
The road ahead
Going forward, a priority for the university is to figure out how to take what they’ve learnt during the pandemic and maintain it now that they are out of that period of crisis.
“I hope that we keep going forward and that we don’t go back. It’s always a bit of a risk and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that digital transformation happened because of the pandemic, and now it is over we don’t have to do it anymore. So, I’d like us to maintain what we’ve learnt and also develop our digital teaching and learning even more.”
How they continue to support staff to develop new high quality blended or online modules and enhance digital capability will be key.
“Our staff are doing a fantastic job of embedding digital into their teaching, and our students are engaging with high-quality, technology enhanced learning.”
The university are working on the digital skills of their staff and students to make sure that they’re upskilling them and that they are ready for whatever is next.
“We want our students to leave Bangor university as strong graduates with the ability to thrive in a digital world.”
As a predominately on-campus university Awel hopes to see developments in flexible learning.
“I’d like us to continue to support and promote the innovative teaching techniques that we’ve been using over the last few years, such as virtual field trips with 360-degree tech, and the use of VR technology to support students in the school of medical and health sciences, and roll these innovations out across other subject areas.”
For Awel one of the biggest lessons learnt is, “assume nothing, and make sure you listen.”
“Listening and talking with staff and students is the most valuable thing that you can do to foster engagement to produce the highest quality learning experiences.”
Find out more
- Discover how our strategic planning services can support your digital transformation: digital experience insights, building digital capability
- Read our latest report which provides a snapshot of how universities are developing, implementing and evaluating the impact of their digital strategies and looking to the future of digital in HE.