Coventry University has been a teaching institution for 175 years. Its emblem is a phoenix, to reflect Coventry city’s triumphant rise from the ashes following the Second World War.
The institution ranked among the country’s top modern universities for seven consecutive years from 2011. Today, it educates one in every seven higher education students in the West Midlands and welcomes learners from across the world.
Echo360 was being used by some teaching staff primarily to record live video lecture captures in large lecture theatres and smaller classrooms during tutorials. These videos give students the opportunity to revisit sessions after the event to embed what they have learned or catch up on any lessons they have missed.
When Eoin Coakley became the university’s Echo360 Academic Champion in 2018, he was keen to expand the use of the system across the Faculty of Engineering, Environment and Computing, to ensure more sessions are captured for the benefit of more students.
“As an Echo360 Academic Champion, I wanted to encourage more teaching colleagues to capture their lectures for the benefit of students, so I set about trying to understand and address what it was that might be holding some staff back.”
Eoin began by running a test of the outdated clip-on microphones that many staff had been using to capture sound during live sessions. He was disappointed to find that during a seven-hour recording session, these third party low-cost devices only captured around two hours of clear audio.
“All the functionality within Echo360 was running perfectly, but the test highlighted that we needed to upgrade our microphones. So, the Echo360 Academic Champions grant was used to purchase some more reliable plug and play devices, which solved the problem very quickly,” Eoin continues.
In addition to replacing the microphones, some of the Echo360 Academic Champions grant was used to purchase tablet devices with stylus pens, which enabled live video to be captured of tutors’ handwritten calculations in class.
A series of training sessions were launched to give staff members who had not been using Echo360 regularly the knowledge and skills to record more of their on-campus sessions. There was a big push to raise awareness of the benefits of the personal capture functionality in Echo360 too, which some staff had started to use with positive results.
As Eoin explains, “The software allows tutors to create learning materials or short videos offering feedback to individual students from any device, wherever they happen to be located, so I was keen to get more staff using it.
“The work we did resulted in a significant uplift in the use of Echo360 across the School. What we didn’t know at the time was that this proved to be essential groundwork for helping us to shift to delivering a more blended model of teaching once the Covid-19 lockdown hit in March 2020.”
“Our staff really stepped up to the mark for students and Echo360 was the engine behind this. There was a surge of pre-recorded support materials created for students revising for exams too. The system was well used throughout the summer months as we geared up for the start of the new academic year,” says Eoin.
From September 2020, Coventry University’s doors began to open once again, with many students accessing a mix of online learning and a maximum of 5 hours of face-to-face lesson time to ensure compliance with social distancing requirements.
“Alongside the blended learning being delivered, we wanted to make a fully online option available to students who are either located overseas or were at home shielding,” Eoin explains.
As a subject that previously involved a lot of physical teaching, staff had to think creatively to ensure the online offering continued to meet students’ needs.
Eoin wanted to ensure that all students had access to recorded lectures and other digital learning materials once the university’s gates closed after lockdown, as Coventry University is a popular destination for students from across the UK and abroad wanting to study civil engineering.
As part of this, lectures recorded previously were quickly edited and updated. “The new functionality in Echo360 made editing videos so easy, saving hours of time that we could spend creating great content to support students’ progress.”
Making use of their new skills, many staff made personal captures from home too, enabling the department to create a package of learning materials to support UK students who had shifted to learning online and those who were continuing their studies in different time zones.
All students are given access to a wealth of pre-recorded content, with additional live Q&A sessions arranged at different times using video conferencing software to allow students to ask their tutors questions about anything they were confused about.
Tutors creating online learning resources have found alternative ways to explain concepts that they would normally demonstrate during in-person sessions. For example, Microsoft Onenote has helped to teach online students when explanations require a mix of diagrams, sketches or equations and this can be captured in the video recordings from Echo360.
A videographer is being commissioned to film teaching staff delivering lessons in the on-site lab too. Eoin believes this will enable engaging virtual lab sessions to be created for students who are unable to be there in person.
“An annotated video to demonstrate how to mix concrete or carry out load testing adds a critical visual element to the lesson. This is a much more effective way to explain these processes and help students retain what they’ve learned than simply asking them to read a set of online instructions.”
Teaching staff are also making short videos to guide students through the process of setting up land surveying instruments too, and by incorporating a quick online quiz at the end, they can check that students have understood what they are learning.
“We can provide screenshots of what students would see through surveying equipment out in the field, then ask them to make a note of the correct readings. Their answers can be shared quickly with the tutor through our VLE.”
This has been quite a year for Coventry University’s Echo360 Academic Champion, but next steps for further development of the system are already in the pipeline.
Eoin is already planning an initiative to increase the use of active learning methods across the civil engineering department to help engage students in what they are learning, whether they are on-site or online.
A comprehensive package of pre-recorded lectures is also being created for late enrollers, with additional support from the civil engineering faculty to guide these students through the digital content and help them catch up quickly with their peers.