Guest post – DigiLearn: Creativity during the pandemic and the impact on future education?

Published by Caroline Carlin on

Author: Debi Spencer – Senior Lecturer and Digital Development Coach (School of Sport and Health Sciences), University of Central Lancashire

As an institution, we are now 13 months on from lockdown and remote working in higher education, due to the COVID19 pandemic. The drive to provide a meaningful and engaging online experience for our students during this time has required academics to be innovative and creative in the way that we deliver our programmes. Using digital tools to enable students to progress with their education journey has been a challenge. I deliver Multi Professional Continuing Professional Development for Healthcare Practitioners. These students have also faced the challenges of working at the front line during the pandemic as nurses, physiotherapists, paramedics and in many other roles. In higher education we need to be creative in the ways we not only deliver, but support students who are committed to their education. These same students have also faced the exhaustion of dealing with the rise in COVID patients in their professional role, with some becoming infected with COVID themselves and being unable to study at times. This has required a flexible approach. I have found these students to be highly motivated in their professional development, as they strive to improve practice for the future – some focusing on the challenges they face in practice due to COVID.

In order to deliver my curriculum in a meaningful and engaging way, my digital skills have been tested over this period. Did I have the skills to deliver the content online, in an engaging way? I was confident in my digital skills, but would the students feel that they were getting value for money from the provision they received? A question often asked and seen a great deal in the media during this last year, with calls for universities to refund part of student fees due to content being online and not in the physical classroom. 

When initially moving to remote working we were just at the end of the academic delivery, and so the remaining teaching, learning and assessment was provided using Microsoft Teams meetings. Over the summer, I spent a great deal of time planning the delivery for the next academic year, as well as supporting other colleagues to do the same. This meant exploring digital media and considering how to flip the creative classroom-based sessions I had in my arsenal of teaching and learning approaches. I run a series of workshops where I use arts, crafts, collage and textiles to develop critical thinking of concepts in nursing theory. This provides a very visual and tactile experience – purposefully intended to unlock the cognitive senses and use the creative and artistic, along with the analytical and methodological cognitive processes. I needed a strategy to engage students in the same way but online. I found my solution in tools such as Flipgrid and Wakelet, which I used to share images and provide the same learning experience – albeit in remote circumstances, rather than physically face to face.

For example, in one of the campus workshops, I use a selection of images on post cards spread out on the floor. The students select up to six images that they feel illustrate their view of nursing theory concepts, which they then present to the group. In the online version I saved the post card images to a Wakelet collection in Wakelet Spaces, which is the collaborative element of Wakelet. Students select their six images and create their own collection including the narrative behind their choices. Another example is where I use textiles as the medium for students to create an artifact that draws together their analysis of nursing theory in a congruence workshop. They were given a requirement list beforehand and the session was delivered live. They were then given time to develop their textile item, and again present these to each other. They also added a photograph of their piece to the Wakelet collection along with the narrative. All the creative sessions previously delivered on campus were very successfully undertaken online, with positive feedback from the students. At the end of the series, the student also has a collection in Wakelet that recorded this activity. One of the assessments for this module is a storyboard, and one student used Wakelet and Flipgrid for her storyboard. This would not have been the case had we not used it in the teaching events.

I have used Flipgrid in my teaching, learning and assessment for some time. During the current period of online delivery, I have found that it has provided an additional opportunity for enhancing student presence. When students use Flipgrid to present their ideas, or introduce themselves to each other, they are able to engage and connect with each other in meaningful communication – which can be lost when not physically face to face in the classroom. Adopting this approach changes the virtual classroom to a connected experience, as opposed to being disconnected with their fellow students. 

I was fortunate to be able to recently share this experience with the Staffordshire University Microsoft Innovative Education Expert Coaching network on their creativity strand – which gave me the opportunity to reflect on the past year, and just how far we have come on this digital shift of our curriculum. The presentation included information about my experience using digital tools to create an engaging and creative teaching, learning and assessment experience for students. I shared my use of a multitude of tools in my teaching practice. I was also able to share my experience of flipping the tactile elements of my creative approaches to digital – under the restrictions of the pandemic, and in and out of lockdown and remote working. I would not like to see this lost as we move forward to easing out of lockdown, and into more normal ways of living and learning. The many lessons learnt in what works well and what doesn’t, must be embraced to provide a new way for higher education to deliver in the future.

Teaching, learning and assessment should not be dull and boring, it should inspire and ignite a passion. Showing my passion is something I hope helps others, and I see this from time to time. Learning also should be fun. Children learn through play, but we sometimes lose sight of this important skill along the education continuum. It is important to hold onto this aspect of engagement, especially today when life is challenging, and the need for mental wellness is part of the education experience. Using creativity in education, whether tech or tactile, can support not just learning, but wellness and fun. So, why not give it a try?


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