Fostering a sense of community in online learning with Talis Elevate
The University of Sussex is piloting Talis Elevate for their Foundation Year programmes.
We spoke to Dr. Graeme Pedlingham, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Student Experience and Head of Central Foundation Years at the University of Sussex to find out more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at the University of Sussex
I’m the Head of our Foundation Years Programme, which is a programme that includes most of the university. It’s an interdisciplinary programme, students join and usually take a broad range of subjects before deciding what they want to progress onto.
We have a large teaching team, across all different subjects.
What kind of students typically join your foundation programme?
There are a number of reasons. Students might join because they want to come to a research-intensive university like the University of Sussex, but might not have the right grades or qualifications, potentially due to educational disadvantage.
Others join because they’ve been out of education for a while; some want to change direction in life or studies. Some people like the idea of a foundation year because they’re not sure what they want to study and might be interested in different routes, this way they can decide at the end. It might be a combination of all of those.
How do their requirements differ from a typical undergraduate student, and how do you support this?
We put a lot of focus on academic support, like writing skills or independent research, as well as subject-specific content.
Foundation Year students may require more pastoral support needs, to help with learning differences and a lack of confidence. They might also need support in understanding their potential and how to realise it.
Our goal is to support students in accessing the Higher Education of their choice. We focus on attainment, and even though students join with lower grades than a year 1 student normally would, they usually finish with a head start and do tend to get higher attainment at the end of the course. We try to give them an accelerated year to enable them to progress.
You’ve just purchased Talis Elevate for all of your Foundation Year modules. How does Talis Elevate help support your goals and your students’ requirements?
That’s right, we’ll be piloting it with around 25 modules across a really wide range of subjects.
One of the things that was really appealing about Talis Elevate was that it’s a useful tool in fostering independent engagement with academic texts at a deeper level. Importantly it encourages active participation, which we know produces better results and a richer understanding of the content.
Something that’s really important to us is building communities of learning between students, which we think Talis Elevate helps us achieve: supporting collaboration, helping students understand how they can work together to develop understanding together, is key.
My colleague Wendy Garnham piloted Talis Elevate last year, in her Psychology modules. She came away with very impressive results. She found engagement was really high which had a knock-on positive impact with attainment, and the students’ understanding of the subject was increased after using it.
Judging from what I’ve seen so far, students often challenge each other within Talis Elevate. They are facilitated and guided by the lecturer, but it really allows them to test ideas and question each other, discuss and debate, which is exactly what Higher Education should be about.
What features, in particular, do you think support collaborative and active learning?
The ability for students to annotate the text, respond to each other’s comments and questions, and get a discussion going directly on the text is great.
I like the ability to do this across a range of media because it makes it more useful across a wider range of subjects, and encourages students to engage with different kinds of objects whether it’s an article or video. Students should then get used to that way of debating and discussing ideas on different formats, which is really useful.
The ability to post anonymously or not, as students choose, was an essential feature for us. Without this, there was the potential for this to be a barrier to participation. We are trying to build up students’ confidence, so it’s important to offer anonymity so they can test their ideas judgement free.
What role do you see Talis Elevate taking this coming academic year, considering the shift to online teaching that COVID-19 forced us to take?
It could be a really important tool for us. Of course, we’ve been thinking about how we deliver remote teaching to a greater extent than we have previously. One of the concerns with on-line delivery is often engagement, what extent and level students will engage with online content.
Talis Elevate gives us a way of approaching this differently and developing engagement with resources in a virtual way. More importantly, Talis Elevate may allow us to build a sense of community amongst students. Something we are thinking about carefully with online delivery is how students can feel part of a learning community, whilst being online.
It will be interesting to see how it’s used across different subjects. It puts the module content front and centre, and should really encourage students to engage with it through engaging with each other. That’s something that I’m really hoping to see.
I think it’s an ideal moment to be trying this, we’re looking at lots of different platforms and tools to engage students in their learning for the coming semester, so this couldn’t have come at a better time.
Thanks to Graeme for his time on this interview.
You can check out more content about Talis Elevate here.