Sheffield Hallam University

Technology Adoption Series: Encouraging a Deeper Engagement with Technology Enhanced Learning



In our final webinar of the series, Brian Irwin, Head of Digital Capability, and Dr Ian Glover, Senior Lecturer in Technology Enhanced Learning at Sheffield Hallam University discuss how a ‘menu’ of teaching approaches has helped academics to change their attitudes towards technology or intentions to use technology in their teaching.

Sheffield Hallam University is a city centre university in the north of England with 33,000 students and 2,100 academic staff. The University uses Blackboard Learn as its Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), as well as Blackboard Collaborate and a large range of other tools to provide a student centric learning experience.

In common with many other institutions, Sheffield Hallam University faced challenges around a lack of consistency in the student online learning experience and wanted to encourage both more consistent and deeper engagement with technology enhanced learning. To address these aspects around consistency, the University identified a set of minimum expectations in the use of e-learning of what should be available online for all taught provision. Brian says, “We had lots of feedback from students about inconsistency across their e-learning experience, therefore we developed a set of minimum expectations as a way of establishing some principles.” This included having a Blackboard site to support each module so that students could access core administrative information such as assessment briefs, grades, staff contact details and marks, as well as learning materials and activities that were appropriate for the module. Brian explained that, “Minimum standards were unfortunately not enough. A lot of what we were doing was about giving students administrative information. It wasn’t about teaching in a different way. We wanted to do more to make sure we were achieving the potential of technology enhanced learning.”

How the ‘Menu’ Was Developed

To go beyond these minimum expectations, Sheffield Hallam wanted a way to get more academic staff informed about a variety of teaching approaches and putting them into practice. Their goal was to encourage a shift from a primarily lecturer focused model to an active and student focused approach. A national programme called Changing the Learning Landscape (CLL) provided an impetus and executive support to begin a project creating resources that helped staff go beyond the minimum with their teaching online.

The first part of the project involved a simple survey with three questions that all academic staff were invited to take part in. The survey asked staff to describe their current practice, what worked well, and what they would like to improve. The information was collated and analysed, and the different types of activities and practice were categorised. This led to the development of a ‘framework’ which illustrated the different teaching practices, tools and techniques that were being using across the institution.

Following initial input from academic staff a series of workshops were run. Over 100 academic staff signed up and this helped to develop the ‘framework’ further. One of the first things that staff suggested, was that the resource should be called a ‘menu’ rather than a ‘framework’. Ian explained, “Framework was too officious, however, the term, ‘menu’ suggested something that could be picked from.” After further feedback and refinements a ‘menu’ of teaching approaches was created based on teaching practices across the University. “We invited feedback from all our stakeholders as we wanted to produce something that staff at Sheffield Hallam could see the value of and understand how it could fit in with their particular teaching practice,” said Ian. To support people in investigating the information on the menu, additional resources such as case studies and details of teaching approaches and technologies were created and integrated into the menu.

Promoting the ‘Menu’

The widespread dissemination of the “menu” was via blogs, mail outs to all academic staff, targeting influencers (including those both with and without a formal TEL role) and it was promoted to all staff at the University Learning and Teaching conference.

The “menu” was also used in open workshops for academics across the institution to come and share best practice, get ideas and discuss teaching practices. These voluntary workshops aimed to get academics thinking about their own teaching practice, the spread of technology used, the different teaching approaches across their modules and about what they wanted to change. It helped them see where they could branch out and try something new or indicated if they were spread too thin and were perhaps using too many different teaching approaches and technologies. During the workshops, academic staff came up with personal action plans, which they could follow up with the central or faculty TEL teams.

As well as the open workshops, there were tailored workshops for specific faculty groups. Ian explained that, “The tailored workshops were very good to get significant practice changes.” By working with entire teaching teams, it was possible to use the menu and workshop activities to stimulate an open discussion about teaching practice and the use of technology on a course, challenge assumptions, share practice within the team, and develop a holistic understanding of the course as a whole. This allowed teaching teams to be more consistent in their use of technology, such as by not using different blog tools in different modules, and to ensure engaging teaching approaches were used across the course.

Underpinning Success

There were a number of factors which drove the success of the project and the development and use of the ‘menu’. Ian highlighted these key takeaways, which could help you in your own technology adoption initiatives:

  • Executive level support is vital to drive the adoption of the project, to get the non-‘innovators’ involved, and help in awareness raising.
  • Local focus helps people see the value in the project.
  • Take a grass roots, bottom up approach which involves academics.
  • Use the principle of constant refinement throughout the development of the resources.
  • Avoid technology and pedagogical jargon to help get, and keep, people engaged.
  • Embed into formal course design at the beginning and review processes.
  • Bring together a project steering group i.e. from the Student Union, TEL Support Staff and academics.

For more ideas about how you can encourage deeper engagement with technology enhanced learning view the recorded webinar here.