Evaluating our Faculty Learning Communities

As well as the mammoth task of pulling together all the data from our Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) over the last couple of weeks for inclusion in our project’s baseline report, we’ve also been evaluating the effectiveness of the FLCs as part of a digital literacy change management process.

To gather feedback from our participants we gave them a postcard in the initial session and asked them to mark on it why they were taking part and what they hoped to gain from the experience.  We then revisited these postcards at the end of the final session and considered: whether participants had gained what they’d hoped for, what else they unexpectedly got from the sessions, what was positive about the experience, and how they though it could be changed. It’s been interesting to hear from participants why they chose to get involved, what they thought of the FLC process and how they thought it might be improved.

School of Management FLC

School of Management FLC

Motivations for involvement

  • To improve understanding of what digital literacy and the digital environment are.
  • To generate, as a group, a better understanding of digital literacy for the institution.
  • To build a better understanding of student expectations and experience.
  • To enhance knowledge of how to best support students.
  • Because of a personal interest in technology, new directions and the PriDE project.
  • To discover how to integrate digital literacy into learning and teaching practices.
  • To future proof programmes of study by considering digital literacy opportunities in a wider context.
  • To meet with colleagues and widen understanding of Faculty/Department ideas and initiatives.
  • To understand how central services (such as the Library) can be involved in future developments.

Feedback

One of the most useful things about approaching digital literacy from a Faculty perspective was the inter-departmental multi-stakeholder conversations this sparked.  Many participants in the FLCs commented on how helpful it was to be able to discuss ideas about digital literacy and current practice with colleagues from other subject areas. Participants also welcomed the opportunity have the time and space to think about digital literacy and to deepen their understanding of what it involves from both a staff and student perspective.  In the words of one of the participants… ‘Interesting! Made me think!’

Improvements that could be made to the FLCs… and measures put in place

  • Student engagement  Participants would have liked a better understanding of University of Bath student expectations with regard to digital literacy.  Although there was student representation in every FLC, participants felt they would have benefitted from wider student consultation. By taking a multi-stakeholder approach, and many of the stakeholders being staff, the balance of the sessions was not equal and so the student voice may not have been as strong as it could be. Some staff also raised concerns that power relationships in mixed student/staff sessions may make students reluctant to voice their opinions as honestly as they would when working only with their peers. There is a student version of the FLC planned for later this month and an opportunity for us to disseminate student views in an FLC feedback event we have planned for March.  The PriDE team highlighted during the FLCs the fact that one of the drivers for the project is the Students’ Union’s focus on digital literacy. However, it may have been more productive to have introduced the entire FLC process with a selection of student views. There may be benefit in holding a student digital literacy session or canvassing student opinions at the beginning of a project to give a wider context to the FLC process.
  • Reservations about groupwork  Concerns were expressed that since the FLC participants were to some extent a self-selecting group this meant that the emphasis and ideas coming from the sessions would not necessarily reflect those of the whole Faculty. It was also felt that the nature of groupwork can lead to groups tending to be driven by individuals.  The size of the FLCs was thought to counter this and offer an optimum number of participants for discussion, but the downside to this would be that a smaller group would be likely to be less representative. Participants felt that working and discussing as a group could mean that for contentious topics you are more likely to see a conservative approach.  It was suggested that if a project requires blue-skies thinking then starting the process with individual conversations with participants might yield more radical ideas. The project had aimed for a balance between breadth (through a multi-stakeholder approach) and depth (through sustained engagement with the project – each participant attending 6 hours of digital literacy sessions) in order to achieve representation that would be appropriate for the aims of the project. The nature of the three consecutive session over three months allowed for ‘member checking’ to be built in to the process. The PriDE team would give back to the FLC community the previous session’s outputs to check that the understanding of the project team was the right understanding.  To some extent  the feedback event planned for March will give another opportunity for member checking of the outputs and findings.
  • An opportunity to share good practice  Something that participants had hoped to gain from the FLCs were practical examples of how to support students in acquiring digital literacy skills  and embed this in learning and teaching. They would also like the opportunity to make links within the institution around the provision of digital literacy. It may be that participants’ expectations about the purpose and content of the sessions need better managing. There was space provided for the sharing of good practice within the final FLC session. The intention is to use the FLC feedback event in March to highlight this again and to provide a forum for networking between faculties.  However, it might be wise to build regular sharing of practical examples (whether from within the institution or from earlier JISC projects) into the FLC sessions.  As well as having the opportunity to voice their views on digital literacy, participants would then have something extra to take away from the sessions that they can share within their discipline areas – giving a more tangible benefit to taking part in the FLCs and enabling improved dissemination for the project. A focus on sharing good practice was highlighted both in the FLC outputs and in feedback on the sessions suggesting there is an institutional need for this, something that the PriDE project will act on in the coming months.
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