Phase 3 Blog Post of Near Future Teaching Methods: Testing Vision and Strategy

— From Zoë Prosser and Santini Basra

During the earlier stages of the project, the opinions and values of staff and students had been collaboratively translated into a series of speculative worlds and scenarios. These served as thought experiments, which outlined possible futures for digital education at the University. From these speculative scenarios, an understanding of the kinds of futures that would be ‘preferable’ to students and staff had been identified and translated by the Near Future Teaching (NFT) team into a draft vision and associated strategy for building a preferable digital education future at the University. These were outlined through a series of five aims (vision), each with a set of indicative actions (strategy) to help realise each aim.

Find out more about this process by exploring our earlier blog posts.

Throughout October we supported the NFT team in facilitating a series of sessions with staff and students from across the University to test the response to this draft vision and strategy, and gather feedback and input for a further iteration. Through these sessions, we engaged 15 staff members and 40 students (although over 150 students expressed interest in attending one of the sessions).

The Testing Approach

Since the values and opinions of staff and students directly fed into the creation of the draft vision and strategy, it was important to take these back to them for further feedback. We were also aware that the students and staff members who had taken part in the earlier phases of research were limited in number and also by their distribution across the University. So further testing was an opportunity to widen the project’s scope of engagement, gather a broader range of perspectives, and add detail to our existing insights.

There were three areas that we proposed to focus on during the testing sessions:

  1. Assessing Preferability: Is our notion of what makes a ‘preferable’ future correct?
  2. Adding Detail: Collecting feedback on the aims and indicative actions that is sensitive to the diverse range of learning and teaching experiences from across the University. Understanding how aims and actions might affect people from across the University in different ways.
  3. Identifying New Indicative Actions: Taking suggestions and considering new actions which could be built into the strategy..

The testing sessions were kept brief, to 90 minutes, to allow for four sessions per day and a higher number of participants. At the same time however, it was also important to create an environment for deep and detailed conversation, and so while the sessions were kept short we limited the number of participants to under ten. This meant that the sessions were similar to focus groups, valuing each individual’s responses.

The Methods

As each aim was introduced, so too were a selection of designed speculative artefacts that touched upon the issues which the aim raised. These artefacts, which we called ‘provotypes’ (provocative prototypes), were used during the session to help participants quickly immerse themselves in ideas and discussion topics that are speculative and typically intangible, such as data ethics, new forms of assessment, and building digital skills.

Since the provotypes were intended to help facilitate discussion, and not to propose outcomes or ideas, they were produced in low fidelity. Therefore the artefacts themselves were not the subject of the discussion, but rather a mechanism to enhance and deepen discussions. They invited critique of the aims proposed in the draft vision, and the wider issues that the project is concerned with. Specific focus was placed on the opportunities and specific threats that the aims afforded.

Once a group had discussed an aim and its issues, the indicative actions were then introduced. These actions were discussed, developed and built on by the participants in relation to their own experiences at the University, and views on education. To conclude, students were asked what they thought the University should do to deliver each aim.

Distance students were engaged in a separate online session using Skype. This followed the same format as the previous face-to-face sessions on campus, however the aims that were discussed were those with particular focus on the experiences of distance learners and distance communities. Conversations between the online participants were captured using the chat box as well as audio.

Next Steps

At the very core of the draft strategy is our understanding of what a ‘preferable’ future means to those at the University. Our filter of ‘preferability’ has been qualified by the four values that were identified at the end of the community scoping phase, which concluded in Spring 2018. These values emerged from staff and students who are at the University now, but the NFT team is aware that in the future a new generation of students might hold, or prioritise different values. By continuing our testing with children in secondary and primary school education, the NFT team hopes to understand what new values for digital higher education might emerge in the future.

Following the sessions with school children, the NFT team will synthesise the data captured from conversations, into a final draft of the vision and strategy for digital education at the University, to be published widely.