During the EMEA 2020 Studiosity Online Symposium, Gavin Clinch, Head of Online Learning (Student Experience) at IT Sligo shared insights into IT Sligo’s background, their response to the emergency COVID-19 situation, the role of their new Online Student Advisors and alternative assessments to invigilated exams.
You can view the highlights video featuring Gavin's presentation here.
Organic growth and the returning remote student
Many of IT Sligo’s students are those looking to get an Irish qualification and therefore returning to a local provider to study remotely. With their large online reach, IT Sligo has successfully filled that gap. Students are from far flung oil sands in Canada, to an oil rig in SE Asia, to a Sierra Leone mine.
Successful partnerships within the industry have been key for both the development and delivery of courses, and for increasing their numbers of students. They have also partnered with FutureLearn for the delivery of their MOOC courses which are heavily focused on connecting students to the workplace.
A drop in traditional course numbers back in 2002 meant that the growth of online courses was purely organic. The Centre for Online Development was established in 2011 and was able to grow their online learning by adopting a grass roots, bottom up approach. Gavin shared their ‘keep it simple’ model characteristics, likening it to taking an evening class and putting it into an online environment. Since their inception, they have been surpassing their enrolment target growth predictions.
Remote teaching as a response to the emergency situation
Gavin stressed the difference between remote teaching and online learning. A key point when reassuring lecturers who pre COVID-19, had not previously engaged in online learning. Explaining that in the emergency migration of courses to online, they were facilitating remote teaching. A very different thing to actual online course development which takes place over a long period of time, utilising key expertise gained in the process.
A range of support was designed for lectures to pick and choose the technology they wanted, with the advice of choosing platforms appropriate to their pedagogical model that they and their students would be comfortable with, also thinking about the type of engagement they want to encourage.
The Online Student Advisor
Created as an intervention as lectures were struggling with the volume of administrative enquiries from their online students, the role of Online Student Advisor was created following a successful pilot in 2018. The role provides ongoing administrative support to students from pre-enrolment right through to graduation. Crucially at this time, they have been able to help with the communication of alternative assessment methods.
A first point of contact, they also play an active role in student recruitment and retention. In one instance, there were some students who were struggling with a maths module and considering dropping out. The Student Advisor was able to intervene and another maths module was made available to further support these at-risk students.
IT Sligo's online student retention rate is 97% compared with 80% for the rest of their students in full time programmes. The nature of the online student is that they are often within the workplace, and are very sure of why they are doing the programme.
Who killed the exam?
A futures paper Gavin delivered last year on ‘Who killed the exam’ - somewhat prophetically given the current climate - looked at the ever present technological arms race between cheaters and detectors and how this will become more and more challenging, year on year. The days of writing notes on your sleeve are over and far more sophisticated options are continually being created.
We now have the opportunity, through necessity, to start looking at authentic assessment alternatives to invigilated exams. We should be thinking of writing assignments, collaborative assignments, case studies and debates that are less susceptible to cheating when students embed their own experiences. At IT Sligo the Centre for Online Learning team have been supporting staff on a range of alternative assessment methods.
>> Watch Gavin's presentation here.