With the recent launch of UTS Open, our new self-paced online learning platform and latest innovation for postgraduate (PG) students – we take a look behind the scenes to see how one academic in Law and a learning designer from our PGFutures team have worked together to transform their PG course and ultimately the students’ experiences.
Now in its second year, the Postgraduate.futures (PG.f) initiative – a team which includes four learning designers, as well as media production and support staff – matches academics with learning designers to reimagine postgraduate learning.
Enter Learning Designer Sasha Stubbs and Lecturer and intellectual property barrister Jane Rawlings. Throughout 2017, they teamed up to reinvent Jane’s PG law subjects in Canvas, the learning management system behind UTS Open, which is being used to deliver all-new postgraduate subjects.
Jane says, “When we began participating in a Postgraduate.futures pilot in our faculty back in late 2016, I’ve got to say I was sceptical! Brian Elkington and I are both senior intellectual property practitioners. We run the subjects Trade Marks Law and Trade Marks Practice together and were used to a way of learning that was formal lectures and PowerPoint slides. “When we started the project,” says Jane, “I thought we’d simply import our existing PowerPoints and recorded lectures into Canvas. To me, Canvas seemed to be a souped-up Blackboard.”
It’s not an uncommon initial reaction, Sasha explains. “Before UTS, I’d worked as a learning designer at other institutions where they’ve simply moved materials across to Canvas and that was ‘improving’ the online experience. A ‘tick the box’-like move. “But that’s not what we are doing here at UTS. We’re transforming subjects. Working hand-in-hand with academics to rethink the way they deliver the learning experience for postgraduate students.”
To get started, Jane handed over her transcribed lectures and PowerPoints to Sasha. “I played around with the existing content – created example online activities, discussions, social polls – just to give Jane a taste of what was possible in Canvas. At the same time, I was learning. So I found examples that would engage someone new to these complex legal concepts they were trying to explain,” recalls Sasha.
Sasha showed her examples to Jane. “We had to be convinced to move away from PowerPoint and hour-long recorded lectures to something that is much richer,” recalls Jane. “And what Sasha showed us was just that!”
“You can’t simply turn a lecture into a video and think that’s a great online experience”, explains Jane. “With Sasha’s help, I learned that students wanted to engage with the content online, but they wanted it presented in a multiplicity of ways – short punchy concept videos, social polls, interactive quizzes, live links to cases that substantiate the concepts. And Postgraduate.futures helps us do that.”
It’s better to show, than tell, so a few examples of the changes Sasha and Jane have made in Canvas.
1. Trademarks and signs activity: This activity uses real trademarks to introduce the concept that it is not only words and images that can be trademarked, but also other more intangible elements such as shapes, sounds and colours. The activity asks students to guess the product and then takes them to the actual shape trademark. It’s a fun and easy way to actively engage students with the concept.
2. Pre-video poll activity: This poll allows students to test their background knowledge on a topic safely and anonymously, as well as see how they went compared to their peers. Students are then motivated to watch the video in order to find out whether or not they were correct.
3. Interactive timeline: This interactive timeline allows students to explore the evolution of the tort of passing off based on key cases. They can see the actual trademarks and products involved and get a direct link to the relevant cases which were instrumental in developing the law to its present day incarnation. It’s a more engaging and visual way to present the content.
4. Deceptively similar activity: After learning about the concept of deceptive similarity, this activity gives students the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice by being presented with two marks from a real case and deciding whether they are deceptively similar or not. After voting one way or the other, students find out whether they were correct and are given a summary of the judgement and a link to the case. Following this, they have an opportunity to see how they did compares to the rest of the class.
The result, Jane says, is more students understanding the content and achieving higher marks. And, for the academics, “It saves us time as fewer students are misunderstanding content.”
Canvas is also more functional, adds Jane. “There’s 24/7 technical support and it’s easy to update materials as new cases come out. Marking is also great! It’s completely online; we can mark directly on the documents. It allows for back and forth dialogue – students can comment on my comments. And this is very much how we collaborate in real life.”