Spotlight on Learn Foundations: A backstage pass

A person riding a bicycle through George Square at Edinburgh University with the image made up of binary code and coloured green
Image Credit: Designed by Joe Arton from original photography from the University of Edinburgh Collections

In this Spotlight on Learn Foundations post, Claudia Jones, a 4th year history and sociology student, describes her experience of working on the Learn Foundations team as a student intern, and illustrates how the contribution of student interns was integral to the University’s successful transition to digital and hybrid teaching and learning…

Reading through the Learn Foundations Spotlight blog series to gain inspiration for my own, I couldn’t help let out a small laugh (or sigh) at Stuart Nicol’s observation in September 2019 that “online space can sometimes be overlooked for on-campus courses”. Little did we know that one year later on-campus teaching would be a distant memory.

The Learn Foundations project has been working since 2018 to overcome this notion, unaware at the outset of the looming global pandemic. In a year like no other, virtual learning environments could not been overlooked and Learn Foundations reacted to this chaos in a remarkable way. Almost overnight, “online-learning” and “hybrid-learning” became the buzzwords which now seem so familiar. As pressure increased, phase 2 of the project was propelled into motion much faster than initially planned. This blog will outline the value and positive contribution of student interns such as myself in allowing this to successfully happen.

I have been working as part of the Learn Foundations team as a student intern for 8 months now, but it all started with an 8 week summer internship. I was recruited in a cohort of 46 student interns to work on the then unfamiliar Learn Foundations project. Securing an internship during an extremely uncertain summer provided a great sense of relief for me. At a base level, it gave me purpose, routine and provided a meaningful distraction from the somewhat overwhelming outside world. However, it quickly became clear that the work we were doing was immensely valuable and important to Learn Foundations, Edinburgh University and student experience as a whole. It has been eye-opening to witness and partake in the planning and implementation of the Learn Foundations template to our online learning platform, Blackboard Learn.

Having been a student at the University of Edinburgh since 2017 I already had vast familiarity with using Learn, I knew how students engage with the platform and what they seek to gain from it. The value of using student interns cannot be understated, our diverse academic backgrounds and skills allowed each of us to be an important voice. As experienced users of Learn, it seemed colleagues could learn from us just as much as we could learn from them. As a collective, we achieved some impressive milestones throughout the summer. We migrated over 3,000 courses to the new Learn template, making online learning more consistent, courses easier to navigate and more accessible for both students and staff. We mapped 600 courses to understand how they could be better organised and gave advice on where learning materials would be best placed within online courses (based on our own experiences as Learn users). We performed accessibility checks on over 2,000 courses and liaised directly with over 100 academics to deliver specific migration requests such as discussion boards and tests.

Image Credit: Claudia Jones

Involvement with Learn Foundations has provided a plethora of transferable skills and professional insights that I would otherwise be without. These ranged from technical skills on Excel, PowerPoint and Media Hopper Create to interpersonal skills such as clear communication and teamwork. I am part of a group of 6 interns who were retained from the summer and the variety of work we have carried out since has also delivered new skillsets. Currently, I am executing an analysis of the processes carried out over the summer, providing statistical and visual representations of our achievements.

Morphing from a student in the audience to a behind the scenes staff member has certainly changed the way I think about my own online learning experience. I have a new appreciation for the huge amount of thought, dedication and detail that goes on backstage, always placing the student at the heart of decision making. The projects unique potential to reach every single one of my fellow Edinburgh University students provides a real sense of accomplishment. I am very grateful to be part of the project, just as the Learn Foundations team is grateful to have enthusiastic students on board in an attempt and bridge the gap between the audience and backstage.

Photo of the authorClaudia Jones

Claudia is a 4th year history and sociology student. She interned over the summer with Learn Foundations, working mainly in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures. She has remained working with Learn Foundations throughout the academic year and is currently creating visual and statistical analysis of the work interns completed during the summer. She also helped to create a presentation for the Association of Learning Technologists 2020 winter conference, focusing on the benefits that student interns can bring to learning technology projects.

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