Categories: Higher Ed, Highlights

Implementing a Digital Learning Environment at Centria University of Applied Sciences

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Paula Santapakka

Posted by: Paula Santapakka

What is a Learning Environment? To put it simply, a learning environment refers to a place, space, community or mode of action that supports and promotes learning (Laru 2016). The pedagogical learning environment includes the pedagogical methods and practices used in learning and teaching. The purpose of the learning environment, its various operating environments and tools, is to enable the use of diverse learning and working methods (Silander & Ryymin 2012, 49.).

Learning takes place everywhere: in the classroom, in the digital learning environment, during internships, at the kitchen table when writing an essay, in the library looking for source literature, etc. A university student has many learning environments, and the learning platform (VLE) is one of them. By the fall semester of 2021, all courses at Centria University of Applied Sciences will be on the itslearning VLE.

itslearning Courses Screen

Course view in itslearning at Centria University of Applied Sciences.

Implementation phase

A digital learning environment alone will not make learning and studying effective and productive. A digital environment is a technological tool used to support learning. It is the teacher who guides learning through his or her own pedagogical approach. Among other things, the teacher chooses the working methods that enable the student to achieve the goals of the course. The student himself does the work (learning).

The migration to itslearning at Centria University of Applied Sciences is a big change. To enable and support this change, these aspects have been considered:

  • Awareness and training
  • Support and encouragement
  • Willingness to experiment

The main user team, made up of learning services and IT support services, is responsible for the systematic training of teaching staff. Each training sub-team has its own digital mentor to support their team during the implementation phase. As teachers, we know that without motivation it is difficult to promote learning. Therefore, it is important to ignite the spark and the desire to experiment in a new environment. By encouraging each other during deployment, we will certainly create that spark.

The transition to the new learning environment should be made as smooth as possible. This includes the support described above, and the more invisible background work that has been done by administrators since last spring. This ‘under the hood work’ so to speak, has been done to ensure that the environment is as ready as possible for teachers before deployment training begins.

For example, Centria has a template for courses. This means that the structure of courses has been outlined so teachers do not have to start building them from scratch.

Learn the key takeaways from the implementation project of the itslearning VLE at VIA University College, Denmark

Deployment phase

All administrators were trained last spring as part of the deployment training schedule. itslearning provided technical training for administrators to enable background work on deployment. Digital mentors in the field of education participated in pedagogical training. These mentors will pilot the courses in a new environment this spring.

During the deployment phase, it is key to support teachers by training them on how to use the features of the new environment. Using feedback from teachers and students from the pilot courses, we have been able to improve both the environment and the implementation training, which is being held this spring for all teachers. At the beginning of the new academic year 2021–2022, we enter a new itslearning era.

Digital pedagogy as a support for learning

Now we have a chance to reform old habits and working methods and take advantage of the capabilities offered by the new learning platform. During the initial phase, the technical management of the new VLE will be emphasized, but we certainly do not want to forget the pedagogical aspect. Virtanen (2020, 56) defines subject content, pedagogical teaching competence and technological competence as a smooth, influential and meaningful combination. The support received during the deployment phase concerns above all pedagogical and technological know-how.

Digital pedagogical development should always start from the perspective of learning, and this is how we select our digital tools to support learning.

The pedagogy of the self-learning environment is strongly linked to competence goals and making them visible to the student. During workshops at Centria, we consider the learning objectives of the courses – only then do we start designing the curriculum in the itslearning environment.

The itslearning Wheel

The self-learning environment supports streamlined teaching – in which goals, methods, and assessments support student learning. Working in itslearning can be outlined according to the itslearning wheel.

itslearning wheel

During the deployment training, the pedagogy of the digital learning environment is introduced with the help of the itslearning wheel.

Without goals and a plan, it is hard to see where you are going and why. Therefore, at the beginning of training sessions, we focus on the competence objectives of the course. Making learning objectives visible is not only necessary for the teacher, but above all, it is important for the student. To aid this work we use a screenplay from Gilly Salmon’s learning design process called Carpe Diem. The intention is not only to produce online courses, but to satisfy the quality criteria to support the planning of courses.

The teacher and student navigate in the itslearning environment in the Plans view, where the teacher has built a structure to guide the student in learning. Plans make it easier to view content and understand the goals of a course. Centria’s course templates can also be adapted to the different needs of each course.

The content of the course, as well as various activities, are imported and created in the Plans feature. itslearning itself has a lot of features that activate students (such as a Discussion Board, Assignment and Test) and in addition, activities can be embedded in the environment from elsewhere. Content and activities can be linked to the competence objectives of the course. In this way, the learning process is personalized for students and the learning outcomes they are expected to achieve.

In itslearning, assessment tools are found in many different forms within the course. Assessment occurs continuously to guide students, and they are encouraged to self-assess as well. When assessment is integrated into activities and competence objectives, teaching becomes more streamlined. Formative assessment methods support the student in achieving competence objectives. The course Gradebook gives an overview of all assessments, so it is easy for students to follow their progress in a course. The analytics provided by the Gradebook also make it easy for teachers to monitor how students are progressing and who is in danger of falling behind.

Original source

Paula Santapakka
Learning services, Centria University of Applied sciences
[email protected]

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