Last semester, teams across the University introduced their newly adapted hybrid programmes. While approaches differed across Schools and Colleges, the creativity of teaching teams in adapting to this challenge has been incredible.
One such instance can be seen in the School of Mathematics. When first faced with the challenge of converting their entire offering to a hybrid model, a number of working groups were quickly formed to respond. The ASID project (Adapt, Support, Implement, Deliver) was created with input from across the School; including academic and professional services staff and, critically, students.
ASID recognised that the shift to hybrid teaching would require a complete overhaul of processes across teaching, student support, technology, estates, PhD students, and communications. As the School already used several digital interactive programmes in their teaching such as STACK, Coderunner and Piazza, it was in a strong position to make the transition, but it was still a huge undertaking to complete in a short amount of time. The team also recognised the need to carry this out to a high standard, ensuring their students, and staff, felt supported when working in a hybrid environment.
Fiona Carmichael, Project Officer in the School of Mathematics, was one of many involved in ASID. She explains how they decided that recruiting students from the School was the most beneficial way to successfully shift to a hybrid model: “It became apparent very early on that it would require a huge amount of work to move to hybrid teaching of the quality that the School and University strives for. It would involve staff, who were already adjusting to home working, in developing skills and using systems that not all of them needed or used when teaching on campus. A case was put to the College for extra financial support to take on Course Creation Support (CCS) Assistants.”
Employing students from the School would mean that the CCS Assistants were already familiar with the courses, processes and staff, and also ensured that their own experiences and comments could be incorporated into hybrid learning. It was also an opportunity to support members of the School community who had just graduated into an uncertain job market.
The team of 16 PhD students and 32 fourth- and fifth-year undergraduates worked with ASID and teaching staff to tackle the immense amount of work needed to convert the Mathematics degrees to a hybrid mode. The CCS Assistants worked across more than 40 courses over just 14 weeks, taking on a huge range of tasks. This short video, created by one of them, shows the scale of the work they achieved.
The project was a huge success with both teaching staff and the CCS Assistants. Fiona shares how helpful the CCS Assistants were in approaching the challenge: “They exceeded our expectations. Feedback from those who used their services was overwhelmingly positive. We were also pleased with the feedback from the Assistants about their time in the project, with many of them highlighting that they were given more autonomy and responsibility than they had expected, but always with support.”
Many of the CCS Assistants particularly enjoyed the opportunity to contribute their own experiences and voices to the project. One wrote: “[I was] able to make significant contributions in the work I was doing, in particular… to contribute to the changed learning environment and challenging new student experience. This is something I expect to be rare in an entry level role. It was also rewarding and heartening to be able to develop effective working relationships entirely online and gain experience in a variety of virtual technologies.”
Professor Iain Gordon, Head of the School of Mathematics explains how the project has had a huge impact on how the School functions: “Out of the ASID project, the most wonderful thing has happened – something that will live beyond Covid-19: the act of working together with groups of students, as co-creators, to improve our learning environment. We saw our students in a new light and they were superb: talented, questioning and diligent. Their contribution to the project to deliver hybrid teaching this year was enormous; but possibly greater still was the new connection we have with our students and which we want to continue year after year after year.”
In light of these results the School will be continuing this work into Semester 2, looking to incorporate feedback from the CCS Assistants and current students. Fiona explains more: “Although the initial stage of the project was scheduled to finish at the beginning of September, the success of the CCS Assistants meant that we decided to keep on a reduced number to be available for last minute work for Semester 1 and preparation for Semester 2.
“The School is looking to replicate the employment of student assistants next summer. The ‘forced’ experiment was so successful that we want to take it into the future.”