Accessibility statement

One year on: Moving complex modules online

Posted on 26 March 2021

Converting complex modules to an online format is challenging.

Jo Hull, head performance coach for the Hong Kong ladies rugby team, delivers her guest lecture

In the Business Planning module at the York Management School, 338 second-year undergraduate students worked in 50 teams to come up with their own business ideas and plans to address issues of sustainability and the environment. 

As face-to-face teamwork was almost impossible, Claire Sinclair and Nicky Forsdike converted the module to run entirely online.

They transformed the virtual learning environment (VLE) site and used Panopto and Collaborate to deliver 34 pre-recorded micro-lectures, 16 seminars and 300 small group tutorials. Peer review formative activity used the VLE discussion threads, garnering over 800 posts.

Working virtually opened up opportunities to access a wider pool of potential guest speakers to share their experiences with the cohort. They welcomed Fred Jones, formerly of Uber, now UK general manager of Tier, to talk about start-up life. And Jo Hull, head performance coach for the Hong Kong ladies rugby team, dialled in from Hong Kong to talk about high performance teams.

“There is no question that the online delivery has been challenging for students, however, it gave them the opportunity to develop online team skills - something that will be important to employers in the future, and it provided an opportunity to collaborate and connect with others at a time of isolation.” Claire Sinclair

In the Department of Economics, Mathilde Peron designed ‘The Economics Summer Project’, which was targeted at first-year students, but open to all.

It gave students the chance to use real-world data to investigate important policy problems across three themes: climate change, public policy and the banking system.

They were able to work on their own or as a group, with access to their own virtual space and collaborative tools. With the help of the Programme Design and Learning Technology team, Careers and the Maths Skills Centre, tips for online learning were also made available to support the students.

“Overall, this project has helped us to develop important skills that will be useful in the future, during our degree and careers. In addition to data analysis skills, we feel that as a group this project helped us to develop other softer skills. We learnt how to adapt to virtual working and collaborating online, developed our communication and teamwork skills, and overall we really enjoyed completing this project.” Alice, Aliyah, Anjali and Leigh, PPE students

Given the positive feedback from students, part of the Summer Project has now been integrated into the first-year core module Economic Data Analysis.

Devising new materials for new challenges

Changes to the content and method of teaching gave lecturers the chance to create and deliver new online resources.

Students can work through them at their own pace and refer back to them in the future, for example when they are on placements in industry.

The staff-facing VLE has enriched provision for students through the sharing of research methods resources.

“A faculty-based initiative was set up to create an interdisciplinary repository of online research methods teaching resources. As I have been involved with teaching Research Methods to the Management School’s online Masters students for the past three years, I shared my recorded video lectures and transcripts with colleagues to help preparations for dual delivery. I am very pleased to be part of this fantastic collaborative effort and have thoroughly enjoyed working with colleagues across the Faculty.” Dr Liz Matykiewicz, The York Management School

Penny Spikins in the Department of Archaeology took the opportunity to devise materials to meet accessibility challenges.

She commented on the broader impact this had for the whole cohort of students: “For example one of my students is visually impaired, so I made my lectures also available as podcasts by including audio descriptions of visual elements such as artefacts. I've carried this through to my undergraduate teaching and many undergraduates have been glad to be able to go out for a walk or run while listening to their lectures. I’d really like to see us developing more different routes through our teaching and assessment. As a member of staff with dyslexia I really appreciate how helpful it is to be able to teach and assess different people in different ways.”

In Education, David O’Reilly led an Education Online Support Group, to collect data on the department’s online teaching experience and requirements.

This work led to the launch of the Education E-Learning (EEL) Hub - a sustainable VLE staff site - in August 2020.

Both the hub and the commitment of the group helped staff to rapidly grow their online teaching confidence and expertise, and provide an excellent learning experience for 2020-21 students.

We are celebrating all that colleagues from across the University have done to keep our students safe and supported over the last 12 months with a series of stories on these pages.