Having left the campus at Wrexham Glyndŵr University (WGU) on 23 March as a result of lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic, the Senior Management Team headed up by our deputy vice-chancellor (DVC) Professor Claire Taylor, mobilised to establish an action plan for semester two to set out how we would support our students effectively given the circumstances. To say ‘we didn’t have a clue’ would be an understatement. However, an Academic Continuity Group (ACG) was set up, that included academics and professional services from across the University, with our first meeting scheduled for 25 March. The group met weekly initially through April and then fortnightly through to the end of August. We still meet monthly.
Initially, like most HEIs, we focused on supporting the current students and staff to move to remote learning. Not an easy task, but one embraced by everyone. It was an anxious time for all and we somehow felt like we were in a disaster movie. However, everyone worked together and we were able to develop a ‘no detriment’ policy very quickly to support students, and the Faculties looked at ways in which we could amend assessments such as exams through a revised quality process that ensured that our assessment processes were still rigorous and reliable and in line with QAA guidance.
Once the immediate concerns were resolved, we recognised that we needed to re-conceptualise our learning and teaching approaches for 20/21 and support our staff with appropriate development opportunities. Our new Active Learning Framework, affectionately known as ALF, was born.
A staff guide and a Moodle VLE page was created, which contained asynchronous opportunities for staff to gain an understanding of the underpinning philosophy of the new approach: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and other development opportunities to learn about the digital skills they would need to reimagine their resources and module delivery for 20/21. ALF was launched officially on 1July by the DVC, Professor Claire Taylor, with a webinar attended by many of the staff both academic and professional services. ALF champions were recruited across the University and staff went into overdrive, supporting existing students and preparing for the new academic year.
Finally, we prepared a student guide for ALF, aimed at sharing the development of our new learning and teaching approach and reassuring them (we hoped) that we had a plan. The student guide outlined to students that the new framework for learning and teaching was designed to take our current student centred approach and make it even better. The approach was designed to support accessible and inclusive learning opportunities through a blend of remote (both synchronous and asynchronous) and on campus activities where appropriate, whilst always following government guidelines.
In addition to focusing on our current students and our new and returning students for 20/21, we also considered how we could support A-level students across Wales who were now unable to complete their exams. We put together an online asynchronous module entitled ‘The Confident Learner’ and this was available in both English and Welsh medium. The course was free, with students supported online by academics in the Education department throughout their study; we had over 300 students enrolled on this over the summer. The course was designed to help students who were still intending to go to university this year to prepare for and gain some confidence in their ability to continue with their studies, without having completed their formal exams. Feedback was excellent and we are continuing this from January 2021 to support next year’s new students.
Of course this isn’t the end and we have a long way to go with an uncertain future in terms of the pandemic, but we feel better prepared to deal with whatever circumstances we find ourselves in for 21/22. This academic year we are planning to evaluate the ALF approach through the perceptions of both students and staff, in order to provide an impact assessment with an ongoing action plan. So much has changed and we don’t plan to stand still at WGU. Initial feedback from students is positive and we hope to build on these developments to continually enhance the learning experience at WGU.
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."
Dr Sue Horder is Associate Dean: Academic Affairs in the Social and Life Sciences Glyndŵr University and leads on the PG Cert Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and the HEA Fellowship scheme. In 2004 Sue won the national title of Learning Centre Manager of the Year at the annual World of Learning Conference (WOLCE) event.
Connect Member Benefit Series November: Exceptional student retention
Throughout November, our Connect Benefit Series focuses on the theme of ‘Exceptional student retention’. As part of the series, we will host a webinar on 26 November entitled ‘How to support and retain the Covid-19 generation in higher education’. The webinar is free to all colleagues at Advance HE member institutions.
Book your place here.
All outputs of November’s Exceptional student retention theme, along with related resources and services can be found here.