UCL Changemakers


Reflections from the Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment COVID Cohort

This case study examines how postgraduate taught students adapted to the new online teaching and learning environment during the emergency pivot as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

12 February 2021 

 Case study by: Lauren Clark, Lecturer (Teaching) MA Education

What was the aim of the project?

The aim of our project was to establish how the PGTs from the COVID Cohort (2019-2020) in our department - Curriculum Pedagogy and Assessment in the IOE - adapted to the new online teaching and learning environment. An online survey and follow up interviews were used to collect data on participants’ perspectives on synchronous/asynchronous modes of teaching, technology needed to support online learning, and challenges they encountered to adapting to this new way of learning; this data was then used to create a video ‘Preparing for Online Learning’ that was shared with the incoming 2020-2021 cohort.

What did you do/what happened?

Katherine Riding, a PGT student in CPA, approached Cosette Crisan with an idea for a project that would involve students from the COVID Cohort (2019-2020) reflecting on their experience of moving to online teaching and learning as a result of the lockdown. Together with Lauren Clark, Cosette and Katherine developed a survey to distribute to MA students in CPA about their experiences with different kinds of teaching methods (asynchronous/synchronous, group tutorials, one-to-one tutorials), e-learning platforms (Zoom, Teams, Moodle), and technology needed to support online learning (larger screens, headphones, microphone, desk chair, etc.). We then recruited another PGT student to join the project, Kristy Campbell, who also helped conduct follow up interviews with 6 of the 28 participants. These interviewees also participated in making a short video, which was recorded remotely and then compiled, in order to disseminate to students studying in the 2020-2021 academic year. 

Why was this project important? How would it improve the learning experience of students?

Katherine Riding felt that it was important to provide a space for students to reflect on their experience of moving to online learning, not only to help prepare future students for learning online, but also to help staff in facilitating online learning and making them more aware of the challenges students face when engaging in an online learning environment. Both Cosette and I shared these aims and felt that the project would not only improve the learning experience of the students directly involved in the project, but also the students in subsequent cohorts. 

The video has been disseminated to prospective students for 2020-2021, and a report has been shared within our department so that staff can also benefit from the reflections of students when designing and facilitating their online modules. 

What was your role?

My role, as one of the staff partners, was to offer support to Katie and Kristy as they designed and carried out the research. Cosette and I tried to take a backseat role in the process in order to let it be truly student-led. However, we did offer support and guidance to Katie and Kristy when needed, particularly when analysing the data and writing the report. Cosette worked with Media Central to arrange the editing of our video, which mostly showcases student voices along with a shared message from the research team. 

What roles did other team members play? And how did staff and students work together on the project?

Katherine came up with the original idea for the project, which we then discussed as a team. Katherine also developed the first draft of the survey on Microsoft Forms, with feedback from Cosette and I who are more experienced at collecting data. It was at around this time that we recruited Kristy to join the team from the MA Education programme. Both Katherine and Kristy were student representatives and therefore had some idea of students’ experiences, which helped in making the survey relevant to students’ concerns and needs. Katherine and Kristy disseminated the link to the survey on their programmes’ Moodle pages, as well as on other CPA PGT forums. When the survey had been completed (n=28), Katherine and Kristy carried out short video interviews with 6 volunteers from the survey participants. We then all looked at the data and identified common themes, which helped to structure the report we disseminated to staff as well as the video we made for students. Because all of this was done asynchronously it was a little challenging to analyse the data together, if we had been able to meet up, I think we could have done this together rather than relying more on staff analysis. 

What was involved in terms of approach, logistics, time or resources?

In some ways, having to conduct our meetings and work over Teams made the project take longer than it would have if we could meet face-to-face. We arranged several Teams meetings, concentrated at the beginning of the project, when we were still brainstorming and designing the research. As time went on, we started to work more individually, splitting up the tasks and reporting back. This was largely due to technological constraints, including bad connectivity (some of us in London and some in more rural locations), as well as other demands on our time (teaching and dissertations). The actual research didn’t take very long to carry out, as Microsoft Forms is user friendly and makes survey design easy. The logistics and design of the project were more time consuming. 

What difference has this made to staff or students?

This project provided an opportunity for two student reps in our department to get further involved in working with staff, and also provided them with more research experience. This came at a time during which they were also working on their dissertations for the MA, which may have helped to support them in designing and carrying out their own research projects. 

“Participating in the COVID Cohort UCL ChangeMakers project was a tremendously insightful experience on two levels. Assisting staff to collect data and interpret themes provided the opportunity to enrich my research skills, to apply to my knowledge base and professional development. Secondly, being a part of this project during a globally trying time, as a student, helped me to access and understand how my peers were coping, ways we can support one another, and how to maintain engagement with our learning” (Kristy Campbell, student partner and MA Education Student Rep).

Because the video has just been disseminated to students at the beginning of this term it is difficult to know the impact. However, I would imagine that hearing from previous students who also had to transition to online learning would provide some helpful insights into how to prepare for and adjust to learning online. 

What are your plans for the future?

Although at present we don’t have plans to take this project further, it might be interesting to see if the perspectives of students are different this academic year seeing as they have had to engage in online learning from the beginning of their programmes—it may be that staff are better prepared this year since they were not suddenly required to move programmes online. Hopefully they also considered the advice from the COVID Cohort when designing and facilitating their modules for the new term. Indeed, hopefully students’ expectations and experiences were also impacted by the video reflections of previous students.