Flexible learning at Deakin College – the journey so far

18

MARCH, 2021

Digital Learning
Good Practice

At the beginning of Trimester 1, Deakin College developed and implemented a number of changes to support students affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

Deakin College is a teaching-specialised organisation that caters to the needs of diverse students through smaller classes, increased contact hours, individualised support, and a team whose entire focus is quality teaching. Since 1996, roughly 20,000 students have entered Deakin University via a Deakin College pathway program. Over the last twelve months, nearly half of all international students entering Deakin University transitioned through Deakin College.

Block-mode learning

Deakin College’s specialisation, structure, and size allow for rapid innovation. As 2020’s Trimester 1 approached, the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that students in China were unable to enter Australia a few weeks before teaching started.  In this short period, Deakin College developed block-mode learning, where a student completes only one or two units at a faster pace than a usual trimester. Achieving an 87% pass-rate and 95% retention, the block-mode result was in sharp contrast to Melbourne’s COVID-19 situation.

Deakin College was in constant communication with Deakin University’s Cloud team: Can students overseas access this website? Will this work if a student uses a Mac? We were learning from each other. Professor Liz Johnson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education agreed to assist Deakin College with fortnightly meetings aimed at sharing ideas as best practices emerged.

Deakin College’s exam and student feedback results arrived a few weeks before Deakin University’s results. Pass-rates slightly higher than the previous trimester, although student feedback scores were slightly down. This was a huge relief. Of course, this wasn’t an automatic result, it was a reflection of hard work and collaboration across the entire Deakin community.

The Flexible Learning Project

While T2 brought another small increase in pass-rates and a welcome uptick in student satisfaction, it was apparent that one of Deakin College’s strengths, increased contact hours, was leading to ‘Zoom-fatigue’ in our students. With COVID-19 restrictions and border closures sticking around for a while, it was time to revisit our teaching strategy.

Could Zoom sessions be cut in favour of more self-paced activities? For students in vastly different time-zones or students with other commitments, could equivalent asynchronous activities be developed? Could students choose on a week-by-week basis how they engage with study and still be successful? Dubbed the ‘Flexible Learning Project’, Deakin College sought to move from ‘replication’ to ‘reconceptualisation’ with Beatty’s (2019) ‘HyFlex’ approach as the aspiration.

Starting in October 2020 and budgeted at approximately 6,000 hours of teacher training and unit development time, Deakin College’s units have undertaken major changes: radically different LMS layouts, asynchronous activities, flexible attendance options, redesigned activities using a wider pool of technologies, and more.

The future of flexible learning at Deakin College

Week 1 of 2021’s Trimester 1 has just concluded and we’re again teaching on campus. It’s great to be back while offering increased flexibility to students. Where a unit has more than one class, when possible, both classes are run at the same time, one online and the other on campus, allowing students to choose either option while fitting in with their timetable. Labelled as ‘dual delivery’, units with only one class are webcasted from the classroom using PolyStudio cameras, in a way similar to board-room-style technology, the cameras automatically track the teacher around the classroom. And there might even be an asynchronous option for those that don’t want to attend at all…

Deakin College’s Flexible Learning Project is an innovative step with some unknowns, but is underpinned by hard work and supported by a dedicated and specialist teaching team. Further, the ongoing collaboration with Deakin University combined with the comprehensive support from our parent company Navitas ensures a commitment to both quality and continuous improvement.

Deakin College will be keen to share our data and lessons learned later in the year at the Deakin University Learning and Teaching Conference. Stay tuned!

For more information:

Les Hughes is the Academic Director at Deakin College. Feel free to get in contact via Les.Hughes@deakin.edu.au

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