By Keziah Smith
As part of the University’s new £50 million Digital Strategy, students will be asked whether they wish to retain any elements of the online learning experience after the pandemic.
John Hemingway, Durham’s Chief Information Officer, suggests that many formative and some summative assessments will continue to be carried out entirely online post-pandemic.
Speaking exclusively to Palatinate, he emphasised the necessity of choice, underlining that whilst some assessments will always be delivered in person, this is no longer necessary for all.
“[Online software] are part of a solution but if we don’t have those things in place, then academics don’t have a choice in how they support students.”
Maths, Physics and Chemistry lecturers have adopted Gradescope, a marking tool which has been named a “gamechanger.” Hemingway stressed that feedback from academics showed it improved their marking efficiency, noting that this is one example of why “some of the benefits of online [learning] should obviously be retained,” another being online access to lecture archives.
“In a previous role, we put in place some online resources for students and we found that the greatest use of these resources were late in the evening,” after the lecture had already been attended.
As part of this, the University is trialling 20 ‘owl devices’ which will provide 360 degree microphones and cameras for lecture capture. Hemingway and his colleagues, moreover, are currently working to migrate all teaching to Blackboard Ultra by September in an effort to accelerate students’ online learning experiences.
Within the first version of Durham’s Digital Strategy, announced in April 2020, it was assumed that the University did not have the capability to move entirely online. However, the pandemic provided an urgency to adjust and re-evaluate previous plans. Over the past year, Durham has prioritised the roll-out of Zoom, Teams and Office 365 beyond its initial expectations in order to facilitate online learning.
Despite this, Hemingway offered assurance that in-person teaching will not be discarded, saying “you will always have that face-to-face delivery because that’s what Durham’s about.
“What we’ve talked about is that the face-to-face element of our provision is really important and students place a lot of value on this – it is important for peer experience, dialogue, discussion, shared learning”.
The University hopes that students will get involved in the project and it has already had students working as ambassadors and advisors.
More recently, a couple of students presented an idea for a learning support solution which is now being taken to prototype. If it goes into full development, it may even have commercial potential.
Prof. Claire O’Malley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global) states that the Digital Strategy “can showcase what Durham has to offer, and even make the world feel smaller as we connect with others both nationally and internationally.
“The Digital Strategy can increase Durham University’s standing in the world and highlight the very best about who we are and what we achieve together.”
The project has been headed so far by Hemingway and Dr. Simon Brownsell, Director of Strategy and Change.
Image: Rob Barnard via Flickr