12 April 2022
'Campus Plus’ - An institutional model for success after COVID
Professor Patrick McGhee
Assistant Vice Chancellor, University of Bolton
Learning from lockdown
As I outlined in a previous QAA blog, the University of Bolton took a number of distinctive steps to support students during the pandemic lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. The focus of our approach we term ‘Campus Plus’, a particular model of blended learning which supports staff to help students succeed through a combination of digital and campus-based engagements.
This model confirms our focus on face-to-face teaching supported by interactive digital activities and aims to promote local solutions within an overall institutional framework which recognises variation in student expectations, skills, learning outcomes and professional body expectations. The model reaffirms the ideas in our pedagogical philosophy of TIRI (Teaching Intensive, Research Informed).
The initial impetus for the development of Campus Plus came from our Vice-Chancellor, Professor George Holmes who highlighted how the institution should be focusing on developing what had been learned during lockdown:
Some of the innovative pedagogic practice which tutors and support staff were able to engage students in remotely over the last 18 months have been exemplary. We have had some excellent feedback from students. Our delivery on campus this year cannot therefore simply put the clock back to 2019; we must not lose the innovation which has been so well thought through by colleagues across the University.
Vice Chancellor George Holmes, email to staff September 2021
Drawing on national research by JISC and their Student digital experience insights survey, the QAA Building a Taxonomy for Digital Learning resources and our own regular internal polling of students during 2020 and 2021 on their experiences and preferences in relation to online and blended learning, a Steering Committee identified 12 practical principles to guide our engagement with blended learning institutionally. These principles and the accompanying action plan were subject to institution-wide consultation including live webinars which used an anonymous interactive polling platform to gauge opinions and solicit suggestions for development and implementation.
This work built on our earlier decision to move towards a delivery model for all our modules of 70% traditional on-campus face-to-face teaching alongside up to 30% digital - principally through synchronous delivery. These parameters are amended to accommodate any professional or statutory body requirements.
The student voice was particularly important in shaping Campus Plus. In our polls of over 1,000 students, when asked what features of learning during lockdown should be retained, students identified interactivity during synchronous sessions both technological and peer discussion alongside access to lecture recordings. But students were also positive about re-engaging with on-campus learning.
‘Campus Plus’ - 12 principles in a flexible framework
The 12 principles we have developed seek to provide a strategic overview to shape our evolving engagement with blended learning as an institution-wide endeavour. They were developed and endorsed in collaboration with academic and professional service staff across the institution, as well as the Students’ Union.
Campus Plus means Teaching-Led
The University is a teaching-led institution and as such places a particular emphasis on effective teaching, individualised learning and on student achievement that leads to positive outcomes - such as graduate employment.
This restatement of the primacy of teaching was felt to be necessary to reaffirm that our Campus Plus model was a strategy to achieve student success through additional and alternative means, but not a change to our overall long-standing TIRI philosophy which has served us and our students well.
Campus Plus reaffirms TIRI and Student Centredness
TIRI remains our primary philosophy - Teaching Intensive, Research Informed. Students - and their success and outcomes - are at the heart of all that we do. We will continue to seek to embrace a wholly inclusive approach in line with our Access and Participation Strategy and more generally. Students and the Students’ Union will be key partners in our strategy.
Our TIRI Strategy has been our research informed teaching model which seeks to customise support for students and ensure contemporary evidence-based curricula. We believe that this philosophy has been one of the principal drivers of our success in increasing student satisfaction and successive improvements in retention over the last 5 years.
Campus Plus means Campus-based
Given that students have an expectation of value for money and a fully rounded learning experience on campus, face-to-face teaching will be the principal delivery format for our programmes.
We value our campus and academic centres and our students do too. The challenge was not whether to base education on a campus but the best way to do it. That would be decided by staff locally in collaboration with students.
Campus Plus has a Technology Core
Given the effectiveness and student appetite for interactive technologies that promote flexibility, individualisation, empowerment and fun, educational technology will a core component of all of our delivery.
By ‘core’ we mean a central vehicle for all modules and programmes even when it is used in different forms and serving different functions. Technology-supported learning is important for both our digital and campus work. For example, we have invested heavily in on-campus simulation facilities and learning spaces to promote group and individual work for the development of specialist skills.
A 'Campus Plus' Model
The University will adopt an approach to teaching and learning where approximately, but not prescriptively, 70% of scheduled teaching will be delivered face-to-face in person with the approximately corresponding 30% delivered using flexible, creative and innovation learning technologies. We will call this model ‘Campus Plus’ to emphasise the primacy of on-campus teaching but signalling the added value of our digital teaching.
This 70:30 model is the game changer in our adoption of genuinely flexible, blended learning.
Campus Plus will succeed through Local Solutions
The success or otherwise of our teaching and learning model for 2021-22 will depend upon local solutions by academics facilitating local variation, normally led by Schools and Deans, supported by central professional services alongside visible, consistent and imaginative leadership.
Amongst the many lessons we learned during the pandemic was that empowerment to Schools and Services was essential to deliver flexibly to student groups facing different challenges during Covid. From distinctive professional body requirements through to differential access to specialist facilities, local solutions within an institutional framework are increasingly necessary when flexibility is not just a response to disruption, but a major feature of academic delivery.
Campus Plus recognises the Centrality of Learning Support
The entire learning environment and support infrastructure, including specialist support staff, and for example library, IT and facilities professionals, are crucial to student success.
Increasingly we find the term ‘learning support’ not doing justice to the engagement of students with resources and specialist professional support staff outside direct teaching activities. In our Campus Plus investments we proactively ensure services are able to access resources as easily as Schools.
Campus Plus means Success is Outcome
We will measure the success of our Campus Plus delivery in terms of the levels of student satisfaction, staff fulfilment and student outcomes particularly in relation to academic engagement, retention, success and employment.
While many of the initiatives we have taken and will be taking seek to make the learning and teaching process more enjoyable, the focus remains on success. We recognise the possibility that many of our students will never again get an opportunity for personal, professional or economic benefit that matches the opportunity they have during their time with us.
Campus Plus means a ‘Face-to-Face Base’
The learning experience for students benefits from a solid foundation established at the outset of the academic semester and year. Students will benefit from as substantial an induction as possible, with a focus on face-to-face on-campus teaching sessions and other academic activities which facilitate excellent tutor-student and student-student relationships. Generally, it is believed students are likely to embrace pedagogically effective arrangements for remote delivery (where such delivery is scheduled and appropriate) if they have a clear connection with the institution, their school, library, IT facilities and academic staff.
We took the view that in order to build a stronger and more flexible blended model, that the foundations had to be secure and we see those foundations as being the campus experience.
Campus Plus means Flexible Creation
Success in the development of flexible delivery often requires flexible development and support. In that context, academic and other staff may be best supported by intelligent time management, planned and supported across the academic year in collaboration with their line manager and academic colleagues.
We recognise that in order to fully develop and apply the lessons learnt during COVID in the future, we need to avoid the mismatch of flexible production from inflexible support. In that context we are developing scheme to support colleagues manage production projects in a fully flexible manner. This is still work in progress but it will an important part of our Campus Plus model. Our funding schemes (see below) focus on providing colleagues with time to develop new teaching initiatives.
Campus Plus means Resourced and Realistic
The University is committed to the development of creative, innovative, inclusive, collaborative and, where appropriate, disruptive teaching activities and engagements in order to foster informed and confident learners. This must be balanced with recognition of the academic learning outcomes of the given programme, the expectations of students, the logistical constraints of timetabling and the resources required to deliver the activity effectively and sustainably. This will include specialist facilities as well as IT support in general.
While we want to foster innovation and enterprise, it must be sustainable and relevant to students’ expectations and experience. This is not to exclude challenging and disruptive developments, but those are not the focus of our strategy.
Campus Plus still means Attendance is Essential
Student attendance and engagement is essential to any form of learning. Students will be expected to attend on-campus events in person and online events with an appropriately high level of engagement.
Our new Student Attendance and Engagement policy seeks to be supportive rather than punitive and this is built on the premise that students are clear about expectations regarding their attendance.
From idea to implementation
After Senate’s approval in October, we were keen not to lose momentum and so focused on rapid investments and developments which had been highlighted in the feedback from staff and students.
To ensure that the blended learning model of Campus Plus could be implemented effectively a rapid review of priorities for delivery was undertaken with investments made in areas highlighted by staff feedback to the proposals. This was managed through a Priority Investment Group for IT, chaired by Assistant Vice Chancellor, Julian Coleman. The key investments made included:
- Flexible student and staff spaces (for example, pods and soundproofed furniture in communal spaces)
- Staff IT equipment (for example, updated headsets, pilot hotdesking equipment)
- Student IT equipment (for example, upgrading Bolton One and other classrooms across Campus)
- Software licenses and learning support resources (for example, Vevox, sitewide licence for student polling and other interactive features, and Uniwise Remote Exam Proctoring software)
- Staff development/training and learning support (a staff development co-ordinator and Steering Group)
- Student Development and Generic student digital skills (for example, investment in the JISC Discovery Tool to support development of Digital Skills)
In order to further reinforce the Campus Plus model as our model, we trademarked the name. This was not to anticipate the model being used by us as a new branding device, but as a measure to stop others cybersquatting.
Bottom-up good practice
To launch the framework and to share good practice, our Teaching Professors group organised an online showcase of case studies of effective practice developed during the pandemic lockdown which were now being reconfigured to work powerfully in the context of blended learning.
Examples of good practice from this collection include:
- A blended approach to the delivery of Medical Biology Honours projects
- Lessons of how to support students working on the front-line during the Covid-19 Pandemic:
- Enhanced Industry Engagement via Online Professional Talks
- Making a Clinical Diagnosis: House MD and the Whiteboard.
- Blended learning: Clinical supervision and authentic assessment.
- Being Better Present Online: How Zoom improves tutorial attendance and engagement.
- From Intimidation to Inspiration - An interactive Deconstruction of Previous Student Projects through Articulate
- Here, there and everywhere: Using the student voice to shape a model for blended learning
- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – Using AI for student engagement/Digital Skills Passport.
These reports will be available as an edited collection to be published in 2023 (Edited by Teaching Professor Dr Mohammed Sadiq).
Funding Innovation and Enhancement
To further support collaborative working, in November 2021 we held a competitive bidding scheme to fund innovative projects to accelerate the Campus Plus blended-learning model. Successful projects included:
- simulations systems for health care
- online employability development,
- the development of an online Refugee Employment Support Clinic
- Digital Output - DigiSkills Student Accounting Passport. Individual Digital Portfolio of students application of knowledge and skills acquired through the Accounting and Tax Clinic
Staff development and recognition
Responding to observations from colleagues around the institution that targeted, collaborative staff development would be needed to deliver the Campus Plus model, we adopted a triple-track approach.
- The first track was a series of 15 webinars delivered by specialists around the University on topics addressing the relationship between blended learning and assessment, students with special needs, the library, career progression, programme design, employability, action learning and interactive digital technologies and platforms.
- The second track was an open fund for staff development initiatives for teams of staff to access staff development, training and expertise from outside the institution or to secure resources externally to develop what they needed locally.
- The third track was to amend our promotion criteria to explicitly highlight the value of managing blended learning with our Teaching Professor scheme.
Student engagement in the development of the model
Students have been involved at all stages of the development and implementation of the Campus Plus Model. Additionally, funding has been given to the Students’ Union to support the generation of ideas from the student body to further enhance the initiative. As part of the launch of Campus Plus, Bolton Students’ Union President, Nihit Nahar made the follow statement:
Bolton Students' Union welcomes the introduction of the Campus Plus model and we are pleased to see that the academic needs of students are at the forefront of the model. It is great to see that students are seen as partners in the implementation of Campus Plus and that the Students’ Union are named as key partners in the consultation document ‘12 Principles’. We will continue to consult with students on how they see blended learning working for them in the post-lockdown era. We are pleased to accept the invitations to join the Campus Plus Project Group, the December Showcase planning committee, the Campus Plus Research Fund Panel and the Priority Investment Group for IT.
The rapid development of the Campus Plus model has provided the University of Bolton with a flexible and sustainable model to manage a decisive shift from campus-based to campus-enhanced blended learning. We do not pretend to have got everything right in what has been an accelerated development and implementation – for example there is more we want to do to support our franchise partners where they themselves seek to embrace more student-cantered blended learning. We already have a range of evaluation measures in place– we have for example amended our Module Evaluation Questionnaires to more directly capture students’ views of synchronous digital learning which is such a large part of the model. Our annual teaching and learning conference will focus on how Campus Plus is working and what we are learning as an institution.
And so, we will continue to reflect on and review Campus Plus, and where necessary, reshape and reform.