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Case Study: How one Russell Group University Adapted to a Global Pandemic

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Hubble Studios partnered with a Top 30 UK, Russell Group University in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, it became essential for several of the University’s academic programmes to be fully accessible online at short notice. It was essential that the University’s collaborative approach to teaching and learning wasn’t lost in this online transition. 

In considering the goal, leadership at the University identified internal resource shortages and required additional dedicated support for the transition of eight of its largest Postgraduate Taught (PGT) programmes to an online and blended modality. 

In addition to the transitioning of teaching units from face-to-face to blended delivery, Hubble Studios was tasked with a Learning Ecosystem Analysis. The intention of the review was to identify possible gaps that would hinder the deployment or impact the student experience during blended delivery and make recommendations for improvement from functional, non-functional and tooling perspectives. 

Against this backdrop, Hubble Studios set out on a collaborative and supportive journey, not only to transition the eight PGT programmes to an online and blended delivery, but also to do it in a way that would enable academics to succeed on their own in the future.  

With only a few months until thousands of students would log in for the first time, we quickly began to analyse the requirements at programme, course and content levels. Workshops with programme-level stakeholders revealed opportunities to preserve the ‘spirit’ of the University in the online student experience, but also to enhance the programme identity and level of support available to a remote and diverse cohort. 

In parallel to the analysis on content, we began our investigation into the current set-up of the University’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). We had many collaborative workshops with a multitude of stakeholders responsible for various parts of the VLE and components or third-party tools in use. 

Course Directors worked closely with their dedicated Hubble Studios Learning Designers to ‘flip’ their traditional classrooms for online and blended delivery. Using a learning design plan as the blueprint, existing content was repurposed based on its position on Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Foundational concepts were addressed in readings, notes and infographics. Lecturers applied these concepts to case studies and scenarios in recorded lecture videos, and students received expert guidance in the form of discussion boards and synchronous sessions. Finally, students gauged their own understanding of these new concepts by completing practice quizzes and self-graded assignments in preparation for the summative assessment. 

This close partnership with multiple university stakeholders enabled the successful delivery of the first week of content to students across 25 courses within just three months. Perhaps more importantly, the academics we worked with had learnt how to redesign their courses in a way that balanced synchronous and asynchronous activities, and didactic and interactive activities, for an optimal learning experience. They had also learnt how to upload, format and deliver their courses via an LMS and integrated teaching technologies.  

Given the university’s progressive view of digital learning as an investment for the future, these tools and skills were the wings their academics needed to soar in a time when traditional educational delivery was ‘locked down’ by a global pandemic.  

Stakeholder management & lessons learnt 

At the outset of the project we anticipated approximately 60–70 stakeholders across the various programmes and units. However, as the project progressed, the engagements required within various central University departments became more far-reaching. To manage this amount of communication efficiently, the workload was split into three areas of responsibility.  

Two project managers each handled half of the units and the portfolio manager handled the technology-related workstream. As a counterpart, the University’s project team always had one project manager and two business analysts that assisted our team members to communicate effectively and to timeously receive the materials required to meet deliverables. We ultimately ended with approximately 145 stakeholders that we have engaged with throughout the project lifecycle. 

In that light, we found that continuous, fluid discussion – whether on a project management level or on a deliverables level – was a large contributor to success. Using Microsoft Teams as our primary communication tool has empowered us to seamlessly collaborate internally, as well as with the clients, via multiple channels.  

We quickly discovered that varying levels of comfort amongst the academic stakeholders with regards to online learning, technology, and even our own involvement would need to be managed carefully and effectively. Working closely with the client project team, and in the face of severe time pressure, we delivered frequent and informative communications to upskill and build trust amongst Course Directors. This was key to building strong, cooperative relationships that enabled us to meet tough deadlines. 

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