I am currently working with undergraduates, postgrad research students, alumni and staff (of all kinds) on an investigation to answer the question: how can students become Extended Classroom Champions?
We have seen in the past that there are significant benefits for staff and students in working in partnership to enhance learning, teaching and the student experience (LTSE) through design and development work. Students get paid to do this work, but also access potentially life-changing opportunities. In return, enhancement projects benefit from the student perspective, energy, skills and creativity. We are now looking into how we can use this approach more extensively for the Extended Classroom initiative. In this article I report on progress so far, and outline the basis for a framework that describes how students can become, and make the most of being, Extended Classroom Champions.
The Extended Classroom is our vision of the University as an integrated platform of technologies, spaces, services and techniques designed to sustain and amplify the value of student-teacher and student-student interactions. Read more about the Extended Classroom idea here. When I use the term Extended Classroom, I am referring to this platform as it is now. Sometimes I might also use the term Future Extended Classroom to refer to what it might be in the short, medium and long terms (the longer the term the more uncertain and radical it gets) – especially as ubiquitous computing/learning practices become normalised (our business school technologists are seeing this happen now, and responding with their own platform innovations).
This idea was initially inspired by interviews with successful Warwick students, who talked about treating the University as a platform upon which they can build their own experiences, capabilities and careers. They also talked about how the University needs to work more like an integrated platform enabling creativity and innovation.
The current Warwick Extended Classroom includes many technologies, spaces and services, enabling a broad range of LTSE practices. It is becoming increasingly well integrated across its diverse elements. Integration is a key design value, although in the past universities have been poorly integrated. In our initial communications work we have focussed upon making a core set of tools more easily recognised: Lecture Capture, Personal Capture, ResponseWare, Moodle Quiz, Moodle Module Space, MyPortfolio, Tabula Student Profiles. But there is far more to it than that.
Extended Classroom Champions are students and staff of all kinds who are great Extended Classroom practitioners, and can help others – especially academics – to become great Extended Classroom practitioners. They work in both a responsive mode and a proactive mode. In the responsive mode they are available as a network of talent from which project teams or shorter collaborations might be formed by staff to enhance LTSE (for example, helping to integrate Moodle Quiz into a module, or creating learning content). In the proactive mode the Champions actively create new opportunities for enhancing LTSE through the Extended Classroom, or even extending the Extended Classroom with new innovations.
Successful students who have worked in this way report that they grew in capability and competency over time, and this allowed them to move from the responsive mode to a more proactive mode – in some cases becoming independent of the support structures and operating as freelance consultants and creatives helping academics and other students. They went from being directly trained and supported, building enough capability and competency through projects organised and managed by staff (me) through to undertaking their own business development activities, finding/creating opportunities, developing a brief, recruiting collaborators with the required skills, and completing projects to great effect. Importantly, it should be stressed that this progression was not just about skills. Acquiring confidence and attitude drove the move from responsive to proactive. This then fed into their academic work, which is said to have significantly benefitted as a result. And then it helped form the basis of a post-degree career.
We therefore need a framework that tells us:
- what are the competencies and capabilities (including knowledge, skills, attitudes, values) that someone should develop to become an Extended Classroom Champion?
- what experiences help people, specifically students, to develop along these lines, and what can we do to help them access such opportunities and make the most of them?
Based upon my investigation so far, this is a breakdown of what the Champions should be able to do (their competencies):
- recognise the elements of the current Extended Classroom (technologies, spaces, techniques and design values etc) and are fluent in explaining their applications and their value in LTSE;
- recognise emerging trends and opportunities to innovate that will shape the Future Extended Classroom, can make good judgements about their potential value in LTSE, and can communicate this to everyone and anyone in the University;
- have a good-enough understanding of elements of the Extended Classroom to know how to effectively and efficiently integrate them into existing and new LTSE practices and projects – for example, introducing Moodle Quiz into the teaching of a module;
- are able to help others to gain that understanding, so that they can plan to integrate elements of the Extended Classroom as appropriate for the enhancement of LTSE;
- are able to intelligently, flexibly, creatively adopt new practices, adapting existing practices to make the most of what is enabled by the Extended Classroom, and where necessary, adapting Extended Classroom techniques to fit better;
- are able to help others, especially academics, to adopt and adapt with the Extended Classroom;
- have strategies that enable the continual use of Extended Classroom based practices once they have been adopted – so that they are sustained and endure over time;
- effectively reflect upon their own practices, and can help others to reflect, so as to identify improvements, gaps, opportunities, risks etc. and plan action to address the issues identified;
- use their experiences and knowledge to act as informed advocates spreading innovation more widely across the university;
- participate effectively in design and development projects, using insights gained through experience and reflection, working in short design collaborations and focus groups, as well as longer projects – to develop the use of the Extended Classroom but also to refine and extend the platform, feeding into the development of the Future Extended Classroom platform.
- network effectively, discovering new opportunities, forming new collaborations, developing ideas into briefs, researching designs and methods, planning projects, accessing people and resources, completing projects.
How can we best support students to become effective Extended Classroom Champions? Considering the experiences of students who have worked in these ways in the past, especially where they have made the transition from the responsive to proactive modes of working, it looks as if we need to provide a structured series of opportunities and experiences in the first year.
Recruit students, provide basic training (online and blended), give them a simple challenge that requires them to adopt, become expert in and reflect upon a technology – in the case of the Arts E-Squad, the challenge was to make a video of interviews with students about their experiences of university so far.
Create a reflective review of the year, presented as a video overview of their portfolio.