Graduation Tales: Annie’s research has helped transform online learning at USW

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When the Coronavirus pandemic hit the UK earlier this year, no-one could have predicted how quickly the whole nation would need to move to working online.

But Annie McCartney’s research over many years into technology enhanced learning (TEL) has helped to transform the learning experience of University of South Wales (USW) students.

As a senior lecturer in Construction Law and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) at USW, Annie’s day job was very different up until recently. She was far more used to teaching students about construction contracts; the roles of quantity surveyors, project managers and civil engineers; and the legal obligations of these professions which are set by their accredited bodies.

When the pandemic hit, Annie worked with a team of colleagues from across the University (CELT, library staff, technical teams and others) to help make the move to blended learning as fast and seamless as possible in March this year – within days of the UK going into a national lockdown.

“I had been collecting annual data on TEL for more than a decade, and decided it was time to share my findings via three projects forming my PhD with project focus – MCQ (multiple choice question) assignment Panopto lecture capture and a range of collaborative learning tools,” said Annie.

The PhD explores how TEL, and the digital footprint it leaves, can evidence how the student contract to educate – and the requirements of the key stakeholders to deliver this contract (Higher Education Institutions, academics and students) – have appropriately delivered on their legal duties.

“I never imagined that my work would need to be put into practice so quickly,” she added.

“Being honest, I hate technology and needed quite a bit of persuasion to actually run with these three projects comprising my PhD. But being an early adopter of these tools meant that I had plenty of help from the USW Tech teams at the outset.

“The seamless way that USW was able to move online was thanks to the work that had been done by academics supported by the Tech and library teams in those early TEL days. It truly was a team effort. A project like this draws on expertise from the Library, IT Services, Copyright – the list goes on. None of it would have been possible without all these key partners working and collaborating together, focussed on the learning experience for USW students.”

The TEL now being used by USW is available to students across its global community, and has made a huge difference to students with disabilities and additional needs.

“It has made learning more equitable for all, especially for international students and those with disabilities, as they are able to watch lectures back and work at their own pace. It has been transformational for them.

“My hope has always been that TEL could be used to equalise and democratise education in deprived areas in ways which seemed impossible not that long ago, and reach those schoolchildren who need support most. The sad fact is that if you’re socially excluded, you are likely to be digitally excluded, and these wider social issues require the attention.

“We’ve been able to see straight away that the value of this work is unquestionable. The need for high quality provision that delivers better value for money for students is a priority. Whatever discipline you’re in, there needs to be teaching that is current, up to date, has an employability agenda and delivers on its promises to fee paying students.

“My PhD was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m so glad I did it and I couldn’t have asked for better thesis supervisors in Dawn Story and Clare Kell, who have been so supportive and encouraging from the outset.”