The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) is an inner city university in Australia with over 39,000 students. It has a strong reputation for practice-oriented, research-inspired learning and highly-employable graduates.
Over the past eight years UTS has rolled out a university-wide strategy to facilitate development of studentsâ capabilities to succeed in a changing and complex future world. The strategy transforms studentsâ learning through aligning: curriculum renewal and innovation; curriculum-led learning technologies; and new learning spaces.
This transformation has been supported by its AU$1 billion redevelopment of the UTS campus. The design of the new spaces has been driven by a vision for learning that is characterised by blended and collaborative approaches including both online and face-to-face experiences. Thus, rather than standard lecture theatres, our new campus comprises collaborative learning spaces, both formal and informal, to support this blended learning approach to its new curriculum. http://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/teaching-and-learning/learning-futures/new-spaces
Three of these new buildings opened in 2014 creating a âstickyâ environment (an environment that results in students âsticking aroundâ rather than going home) for student learning and innovative approaches to blended learning, known as learning2014 practices, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rL0eFmac7mA).
The learning2014 practices have been adopted across UTS such that studentsâ on-campus learning experiences typically include learning activities such as group problem-solving, simulations, real life case studies, debates and role-plays. The development of graduate attributes such teamwork and communication skills is embedded.
The strategy has involved a set of policy instruments and support processes combined with targeted awards, events, fellowships and funding to deliver and sustain the change. The distinguishing feature of this project is that it is not a one-off curriculum or building project, it involves systematic change across every faculty, in every course, and has resulted in changes to every single building in the university.
The objective of learning.futures is to shine a light on how students experience learning and what they need to do to achieve the desired learning outcomes, and then on what teachers should do to support that. It also integrates the best of online and face-to-face learning.
Whereas teaching previously focused on telling students what they needed to know (often in lectures and tutorials, labs or studios), and then testing whether they could reproduce it in exams, the focus is now on how students come to learn. Now, learning at UTS encompasses primarily collaborative learning activities while students are on campus, with an off campus learning experience that includes engaging in "real life" experiences such as work placements and community projects, and preparing for on-campus learning, by for example via podcasts, accessing online material, doing pre-readings, online tutorials and group work, doing assignments, and undertaking research. Students make the best use of podcasts, screencasts, YouTube, Open Education Resources, online learning resources, readings and digital resources from Library and social media as well as the more traditional textbooks and class notes. Importantly, they are able to reflect on their own learning experience, and take an active role in that. Feedback is integral, and assessment is authentic, and real world.
This approach was initially called “Learning2014” because that was the year UTS would complete three new purpose-built buildings that include specifically designed learning spaces that facilitate blended modes of learning. As those buildings were completed, and now it is 2015, Learning2014 evolved to become learning.futures, incorporating innovation in course and subject design as well as blended learning pedagogies.
The UTS Model for Learning provides a framework for practice-oriented learning and teaching at UTS, which links to the development of graduate attributes and curriculum design that values diversity and inclusivity and draws different ideas about learning.
The model’s distinctive features are:
• An integrated exposure to professional practice through dynamic and multifaceted modes of practice-oriented education
• Professional practice situated in a global workplace, with international mobility and engagement as centrepiece
• Learning that is research-inspired and integrated, providing academic rigour with cutting edge technology to equip graduates for life-long learning
A strategic working party was formed to further articulate the kinds of learning experiences students would need to have in order to achieve the aims of the model.
For learning in a practice-oriented curriculum for example, it was determined that students need to learn using the following approaches:
• Work-based learning
• Work integrated learning
– Internships, practicums, work placements etc
• Volunteer activities
• Field trips – real and virtual
• Simulation and role plays – in class or online
• Problem-based or issues-based approaches
• Multi-media case studies – including student produced work
• Guest lectures or podcasts by professionals
That group identified the following learning contexts for developing practice-oriented attributes:
• Active engagement of learners with what and why they are learning, including using:
o Inquiry-based learning
o Experiential learning
o Creative production
o Problem posing and solving
o Collaboration and peer learning
• Authentic environments – focus on a diversity of practice contexts and issues
• Learning occurs in both formal and informal contexts, online and face-to-face
A blended learning approach was determined to be the most appropriate.
To engage our team we formed two further engagement groups: Learning technologies and Learning Spaces. The brief of the Learning Technologies group was: “which technologies will support UTS’s students, and the curriculum?” They investigated a range of emerging technologies, paying attention to supporting the strategies highlighted above. Our Learning Spaces group started by asking students to complete photo-diaries of where they spent their time on campus, which spaces worked well, and which did not. This group used this work with knowledge of the above, to design the future looking spaces.
Next, we communicated the top-down vision to UTS faculty, and created the conditions in which they could make it their own (bottom-up implementation) via three approaches: inform, try and recognise.
a) Inform: focused on information provision about the new blended learning:
• A Learning2014 website (now called learning.futures) containing:
o animated videos which provided an over of the new approaches;
detailed information about new blended learning approaches, eg.flipped learning, OER, inquiry-based learning;
o case studies of implementations of the approach;
• A guide to the range of new learning spaces;
• A weekly Learning2014 Series of workshops and seminars on the new approaches;
• A week long Learning2014 Festival of events, workshops and hands-on sessions.
b) Try: provided opportunities for faculty to try out new approaches via:
• Small and large implementation grants to faculty;
• Establishment of communities of practice in: Flipped learning, Open Education Resources and Inquiry-based approaches;
• Nomination of “Future Learning Fellows” within faculties to translate the messages into the faculty context and support at the local level.
• An Annual Senior Managers Forum in blended and flipped learning mode.
c) Recognise: provided for recognition and reward:
• Change in promotion criteria to place weight on successful introduction of these new approaches;
• Creation of university teaching awards for successful introduction of these new approaches.
The greatest impact of the project has been the significant change in the way students learn across the whole university, resulting in vastly improved student learning outcomes as well as the increased preparedness of our graduates for the workplace. See: http://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/teaching-and-learning/learningfutures/new-approaches/case-studies
The outcomes of our learning.futures strategy are already being evidenced in the results of the national University Experience Survey, where the UTS students ranked the focus area of Learner Engagement statistically significantly higher than the Australia average (UTS: 68 vs Aus: 62). This included all items related to students’ experience of working with others, and being engaged in interactive learning experiences.
In UTS surveys, the following three items on the Student Satisfaction Survey have gone from being HIGH in Importance and LOW in Performance in 2007, to HIGH in Importance and HIGH in PERFORMANCE in 2014
o My classes are held in sufficient, well equipped lecture theatres, classrooms and other learning areas
o There are adequate spaces on campus for me to work with other students on group assignments
o There are sufficient quiet places to study on campus
o There are sufficient spaces for me to use my laptop on campus
See Professor Alexander’s Higher Education Academy keynote (slide 48): http://www.slideshare.net/ShereelAlex/hea-keynote-july2014
The strategy has been recognised by others internationally:
• It features in a Ithaka S+R Case Study on innovations in HE: http://sr.ithaka.org/research-publications/making-place-curricular-transformation-university-technology-sydney
• Professor Alexander was invited to present a keynote address to the Higher Education Academy conference, Birmingham, UK 3rd July 2014, on Higher Education in 2020, and presented Learning2014-learning.futures as a case study.
• Professor Alexander has been invited to speak at the Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-Learning (ACODE) Learning Technologies Leadership Institute in August 2015 on “The Blended Physical Space”. ACODE is the peak Australasian organisation for universities engaged or interested in flexible and e-learning.
From 2015 our learning.futures implementation project now features:
1. learning.futures agreements with faculties
Each UTS faculty has entered into an agreement with the University for the achievement of specific objectives in the implementation of learning.futures, incorporating the adoption of blended learning innovation. Agreements recognise that each faculty will have specific starting points, challenges and opportunities. Some faculties have decided on a target percentage of subjects that will be learning.futures compliant by the end of 2015, while others have nominated specific courses/ subjects/ majors to be redesigned and redeveloped to achieve compliance.
The faculty priorities have been agreed within some constraints including the need to:
• match the space availability of different size rooms available;
• reduce space requirements for activities which could be supported in alternative ways, to accommodate increasing numbers of students;
• work within the budget available for teaching and learning activities; and
• focus on innovative ways of enhancing student learning.
The university will support a course/subject team approach to the design and development of Learning2014 practices.
2. Initiating a system of peer review of compliance
Peer review will be the principal method used in faculties to establish whether or not a subject or course is learning.futures compliant. Peer review will provide the opportunity for subject coordinators to reflect on their subject design, discuss their subject with a peer, and see what innovations in pedagogy others are using to meet the learning.futures criteria. Reviewers are UTS academics with a background in learning and teaching, have already implemented or are in the process of implementing learning.futures, and are able to provide constructive feedback. Those who have their subjects reviewed generally find it valuable to discuss their learning designs with an experienced peer and reflect on improvements.
Learning.Futures will ensure that the passionate change agents we created from 2012-14 remain positively engaged.