[P9] Ultraversity Project
Jan 01, 2003
Dec 31, 2006
Aim: To design and develop a new work-focussed online university experience to suit 'those for whom traditional university did not fit'.
Reflection: Through this project I consolidated my knowledge and developed new ideas for course design, modular frameworks, online community of practice, action inquiry as a pedagogic model and assessment through patchwork media and exhibition. I also helped developed concepts of business model & operational thinking, and as such it was the closest to the design of a new higher education institution that I had engaged in. I consider it to be the most significant project of all my experience, in that it successfully empowered many hundreds of students in meaningful and effective ways, delivering on the promise of technology enhanced learning.
Contribution: Initially, as part of a small team, I developed the documents for validation and designed strategy and materials for recruitment in 2003. I then had oversight of the direction of the Ultraversity Project in my role as Head of Ultralab from 2005 to 2007. I frequently took a practical developmental role, creating and designing resources, infrastructure, marketing, research and team collaboration as well as a refining a theoretical stance to champion the values and philosophy of the project. My part: 20% (with Stephen Heppell, Stephen Powell and many others)
Originality, impact and importance: This project combined unique elements into a completely new fully online undergraduate opportunity. Its impact was felt deeply on the student's lives and on the researchers who made it possible. It influenced a wider academic community that drew inspiration from its success, and continues to be the subject of much interest today as well as a current course at Anglia Ruskin University. Its importance was recognised by newspapers and government ministers at the time. The project helped me enhance the analysis of The Learner at the Centre[A3] in this profoundly learner-centred design.
Evidence: The video and transcripts of the student's own words included in the portfolio evidence the impact on their lives. An account of the project was published in the journal Interactive Learning Environments (Powell , Tindal and Millwood 2008) The Centre for Recording Achievement recognised the contribution and invited me to keynote at their seminar to celebrate 10 years of the patchwork text in which I presented an early version of my analysis of How can technology enhance learning [A2]. A letter from Chris Smith MP outlines the recognition from government. (Smith, 2002).
Ultraversity was a new fully online work- focussed degree employing multiple innovations, with a curriculum and pedagogy created by a small team and further developed and delivered by a 20 strong team for which I had oversight as line-manager to the project director. 144 students graduated in 2006, almost half with first-class honours degrees.
As well as developing a new experience for students, the project developed managerial, operational and team-teaching methods with a geographically distributed group of lecturers using its own online community of practice.
It was the subject of many conference presentations and publications and led to the invitation to create the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project at the University of Bolton in 2007.
But a real feel for its impact and unique features may be gained by listening to the students themselves - this video was filmed by Andrew Wood and Robin Cusick at the first major graduation event in November 2006. Together with Greta Mladenova, I transcribed and added text tracks for a transcript and for chapters for navigation:
The complete transcript of the movie is below:
Eve Thirkle & Sharon Sweeney
Hi Eve, I'm Sharon, at last we get to meet.
Yes I've seen your name many times, but, not met.
I can't believe we're here, it's been, well getting to this stage, a total of three and a half years
Yes, it has been, hasn't it.
That first year doing our first assignment, I never thought I'd be here.
The first Christmas was dreadful, because I was up to all hours thinking 'oooh' why have I chosen to do this?
But it's been fantastic.
Well the opportunities I think it's now actually given me I've not realised until now,
how much it has actually changed things,
how when I look at my old job and things, and different things, then everything is so different.
You're ICT aren't you?
I do ICT and I'm now doing High Level TA
and doing other, I seem to be being pulled to doing other support things this time
it's opened quite a few doors, that I would never have had opened without it
and doing other distance learning, this has been so much more supportive in comparison
The community has been fantastic, hasn't it.
I wouldn't have survived without people like yourself
Oh, thank you!
and staff here, especially in the first year I found it really tough on different things and stuff
but people like yourself kept us going and stuff and it became a team
and although we never met, I think we're actually stronger as a team.
We know each other, but we've never met and it's weird.
And you could mention about fun things, and we did have some fun online with different things and stuff
The celebration on the last night was quite funny as well
That was good wasn't it
We had like a party online.
Well for me it hasn't done so much in job, though, obviously because I'm a parent
But it's made a difference in the way I look at what I do as a parent
and it's always there in the back of my mind, sort of, "ah I'm doing that"
and then I start to think "ah yes", and it's putting that reflection into practice is amazing
and makes quite a difference.
You get a sense of achievement, and when I looked at my first work, and how it was put together
and look in comparison at the end
You realise that you can still learn more, you can take on more roles
I think the way it works gradually, you weren't given more than you could handle at the start
although it seemed like it sometimes
and then to the work that you produce in year three, it's amazing growth
When we went through today and got the gowns and I was getting the gown on
this gentleman Les who put the gown on me, as he was putting it on I was flooding with tears
I knew not to wear make up, because it just meant so much
the idea was, you know, I would love to have had a degree in earlier life, and never got the chance
and then to do this has just been amazing
and to see the other people and now we're all going round looking at names and different stuff
but I'm finding that its actually making contact, because I've met up with a few other people through other things in education now
Yeah, Well I came straight up the stairs here from reception, saw Glenda and went 'haaa'!
Because it's so great to sort of see the faces, see them in person, it's great
I think sometimes as well, we some of us did put our pictures up, but then we get to here, em
You forget, yeah
I was thinking about my group, that we actually worked in a small group, and I knew their names off by heart
and I've got here today, and I can't think of them, its awful
so I'm sort of looking, but I know the names will trigger
Yeah, yeah once you see them
It's just unbelievable to be here.
And we've got that walk across to get our certificates
I know, I've got, I've had to get new glasses since doing this
because I've actually found my eyesight's sort of being going with age a bit
but I'm not wearing my varifocals today because I'll be tripping up the stairs and different stuff
the actual meeting people and stuff has given me the confidence to now go and do more
and why can't I? and why, you know, it has to be a really good reason why I can't do something now
I found school and things are asking me for things about autism and things, because obviously that's what I've gone into
and the head the other week asked me something about that she didn't actually know
and I could inform her on it, which was brilliant
And when I did my exhibition it was quite interesting when I had some of the like parents coming in
and some who were graduates and stuff
and they'd done a small part about reflection in their degree, and the research a small part
they said "You've done your whole degree through that, how did you manage it?"
I said well, we did!
It's a fantastic tool to actually have
For me, it has had an effect on the school through my research, through the project I did
We have changed some of the things we're doing now
and you think, "I did that!"
I'm going to actually see if I can follow it through a bit more
I don't know what I'm going to do next
but look just to see how that has affected the learning
Next step masters?
Well I think no at first and my husband said no
My husband said no as well
I wondered how I fitted in the time, but everyone says I would find that time again
I think I would, because the rewards I have personally got out of it, it's worth it for me, if nothing else.
It would repay our family if I went on and did work on autism as well, so...
OK, thank you very much.
Manisa Atool Saujani & Carole Bateman
I have been a teaching assistant for about 12 years
Yes, the same as me.
12 years is a long time to be a teaching assistant.
When you see that you do a lot better job than some supply teachers that the school bring in
So, that is what I started off with.
Having said that, now that I've done the degree, I do not want to go into teaching.
Too much hard work, too much paperwork
But, I'd say it's had an impact on my workplace.
What school do you go to?
I was a senior teaching asistant in an autistic school for autistic children when I finished my degree.
and as a result of it, I was given an unqualified teachers' post
so I was employed to teach, even though I wasn't a qualified teacher.
And plan activities: take the pupils out and do things.
But now, since I've qualified, I've been accepted onto the graduate teacher programme
and I'm training as a primary school teacher
I work in a primary. With Key Stage 1, 2?
I'm with Key Stage 2 at the moment but after Christmas, I'll be with Key Stage 1.
Prefer Key Stage 1? Teaching primary? Or Key Stage 2?
I like them both actually. Because they are slightly different, aren't they.
But I think I like the older ones more.
Well I did, as part of the degree we did the exhibition, the final exhibition
senior management team saw me as an organiser, somebody who can work ICT
so what they've decided to put me into is Learning Resource Centre at the Primary School.
so I'm now looking after the Library and the learning resources for the school, which is quite a big impact.
I'm sure if I'd just done teaching assistant, I will still be a teaching assistant.
But it's done. Gone that far.
Through the degree then you've been able to show them that you're more than just a teaching assistant,
You've got more skills, than just
and you can go around and say "Now I am a graduate." Got the piece of paper that says I am a graduate,
which was what was stopping me from being a, becoming a teacher in the first place.
The thing is, with becoming a teacher now, it's becoming more challenging
because you now you need literacy, numeracy and science at GCSE level,
which I'm OK with literacy and numeracy, science is not my subject
maybe in the future
in the future, maybe. I might go to take GCSE in Biology or something and then do it
we could do it before now
yes but now they have changed...
but the Age Discrimination Act came from 1st October, so everybody has to have a GCSE in Science now.
Sally Houghton & Helen Smith
OK. Several of my research projects were obviously based at work,
but my last one was about introducing new strategies to reduce barriers to enable in life style interventions groups
and as a result of that, there's lots of changes that were made to the sessions
and I learnt a huge amount about running focus groups
and I think it was good because it involved genuine consultation with the patients and they felt they'd been listened to as well
and the actual changes every single suggestion that they made and intervention was based on what they'd had to say about it.
So then they were able to see, so I think it just restores a bit of faith really in that proper patient-public involvement
yeah, it was really good, though that it was work-based, wasn't it and you could do
because I managed to tie mine into a big project I was doing at work anyway,
so the fact that I could tie it in, meant it was easier for me to do and I could justify doing some of it in work time as well.
But I did a piece about NVQs and quality assurance and trying to tie in the impact that training has on service.
so I mean, it kind, there are some long term effects, I think
around the fact that everybody became a lot more aware about evaluating training
rather than just saying whether it was good or bad or indifferent.
and about actually what the difference is to patients, which I know is something that you tried to tie in as well, wasn't it?
But the NVQ funding has run out, so that's kind of been a bit of a negative side to it but that's outside of control anyway, so you know...
but it was a really good thing to be involved in and my confidence at work is much more increased
because I am dealing with lots of different people now, whereas before it was always training people.
What about you?
As a result of the exhibition that we did in the final year, the team of people I part coordinate with
to give life style intervention advice increased, 'cause people, we needed new members but
that opportunity to exhibit to them gave them an insight more into what the programme's about
so in the end they volunteered to be be involved which is nice because I think they realised that they were doing something worthwhile
It's really hard to get other people involved otherwise, isn't it?
and I think like you say about evaluation it is actually giving me more confidence in evaluating other people's work
in courses that I have been to, I have been confident to be critical really, so hopefully
give them some useful suggestions.
yeah... I mean, a bit of a spin-off for me was because I'd done so much around like reflection and learning styles,
is that I now run all of the team development sessions for our teams,
so that was something quite unexpected but I am really enjoying that and that's what I want to do next.
I want to do something around organisational development
But actually, I recently applied for a job in a college and I played on that the study that we've done into learning styles
and I think that is probably one of the reasons I ended up getting the job,
and they did say, you know: "What's the most memorable thing you've achieved in the last 12 months?"
and it was really nice to say: "Well, I've got a degree."
Not many people able to say that, so
No, no... I mean that's significant when you talk to people
and you say "Oh yeah I did it in three years - and I worked".
Sarah Brown & someone
So, how did you find the degree?
For work it's been really, really useful, especially the third year. The organisation is going through merger
and so I concentrated my final action research on a communication tool for staff
and that's proved really, really popular. We decided to do something that was web based
so that if you are at work or if you are at home you can actually access information about the merger
and especially now we've got all the jobs coming out, I've been able to sit at home,
look at jobs and apply for jobs. So that's been really good.
I think thats been the best bit for me about the degree as well, is that I have been able to use all my work that I was doing at work
and actually sort of go deeper into it than perhaps I would have been able to have done on a general day-to-day basis.
So, and it's helped, you know all the staff I was doing it around the knowledge and skills framework
and I produced a leaflet which they've now found very useful now that they're having to use it,
so that's been good. And I think other people have realised about the degree
and I had lots of congratulations and that, so it's been good.
Yeah, and I think as well, it's the fact that with the sort of action research every time I think of something now,
I was watching Robots, the video, and it was going about find a need, fill a need
and that's how I think now: what's the problem and how can we actually get over it
and I am doing some work with the Department of Health at the moment,
and whereas before I would have just gone: right, OK, let's do it,
I'm going: hang on a minute, is this the right thing to do? what do we need to do? how do we need to accomplish it?
is this the right way of doing it? and asking a lot more questions, which I don't think before I may have actually done
I might have just gone: vro-oom, let's get in there.
Do you think the degree has got you into that work with the Department of Health?
Would you have felt that confident to have done it before?
Probably... I would have worked with them, but I don't think I would have been so, I say, critical
positively critical about about what's been asked of us. I think beforehand, I would have just accepted things,
whereas now I question absolutely everything, which I don't know, it sometimes gets me into a bit of trouble.
but I think, you know that's what it's about, isn't it? So, yeah, on that count it's been really good.
Is it helping you with the merger, 'cause I know with us we are going through major changes
everyone's applying for jobs and that, to suddenly show that you've got a degree is making quite a difference
Yes, it has. Yeah, definitely. Because once I, even at my band you need a degree, so that's fantastic
The sort of the downside is: anything higher, I need a Masters
That's what I have noticed the other day: it said, you know, you had to have a degree, desirable is a Masters or studying towards it.
Exactly, yeah. So really to be at the band I am, I need a BA which I've now got, which is really, really good.
And it's made me think about what I want to do in the future a lot more, because my job isn't about teaching
but there's lots of things I can do with teaching people how to do things.
And I sort of did, for the second year, I did a training guide and I am doing a lot more training just even internally,
and that's the sort of way I think I want to go.
Do you think you will carry on your education now?
Well, I've thought about teaching for two seconds, until I realised it will be little children
But yeah no, I'm seriously thinking about that now, so will see what happens.
And what about you?
It's helped, yes.
Pauline Eustace-Day & someone
How are you feeling, Pauline?
Well, I am more excited than I thought I was going be actually. I was quite calm this morning.
And now I am here, it's lovely, it's absolutely lovely. I feel, we have really done it today coming here, yeah.
Do you know, the people look so different.
I know, I know. I have been looking at everybody's name tags and trying to put the faces to the names.
And it has been quite strange, really. But everyone's so friendly, even though we've never met in person,
it's really lovely
Will we do it again?
No, I don't think I ever want to do it again. It was very stressful, but now it's all over with I'm just so proud of myself, yeah.
What about you?
I do, I'm excited, I like the hat after all, I think I'll take it home with me.
And the community, it's just so strange thinking we finally all got together and everyone actually, everyone is
Everyone's real and most people are our age. I was expecting, I don't know what I was expecting.
A lot people to be younger perhaps, but they're all our age which I think is great.
So the old birds can do it.
Yeah. Well, I don't know really what else to say, except that I'm so excited.
I'm so excited today. It is lovely.
Well I'll take lots of photos.
Yeah. That's it. Sorry.
Phillip McCann & Colin Shaw
So what did you study online?
What did I study online?
Why... I actually studied online simply because one, I have essential skills problems and also dyslexsia
and found Ultraversity was a very good way to study using technology
and therefore could use my weakness as a strength to study
Yeah, I found that. I've done it because I just felt that I could go in whenever I wanted to
I can put the time in when I wanted to and I wasn't in that set routine
when you have to go to a college or university for those set lectures, so that is why I studied online.
And that is actually a very good benefit, because like yourself, I mean, as I said I had the essential skills issue
but again I was able to come in, cope and do the work at times that suited me and family
because I was there to care for one of the family members and I find that studying online at times was a godsend.
And I think for the workplace there is a benefit because they don't have to release you during work time,
because do you find you've got any time at work?
I actually got no time off of work at all, so any work I've done was done at home or in my own time
and obviously that was an advantage to use Ultraversity to do so.
Yeah, I found that as well, very beneficial.
Barbara James & Shirley Murison
Yeah, I think the last year did help us go on when we were online
I definitely think that the interaction between all the members in our learning set was beneficial
it was useful to bounce different ideas off people,
it was useful to have some feedback from other students about the work we were doing,
and I don't think, I think without that interaction we would have found it very difficult to continue
through to the end and to succeed as we have.
I think the online community, it helped you, you didn't feel so isolated
because when people, other researchers had problems they posted it
and you could, you could connect to their problems.
I agree with you and I think there were many people online who were very supportive
and were always there to give advice and to give critical feedback when it was needed
I think I would have found it very difficult, especially the last year
if I hadn't had people in my learning set questioning what I'd written
and giving me the opportunity to answer their sort of criticisms with my own thoughts and feelings
and in that way I think my overall performance improved because of it.
Yes, I also think as well where sometimes I used to think that you had a small little silly problem
somebody would post the same problem and I'd think, ahh, you could relate, really relate to it.
and definitely the criticism that you had, the constructive criticism helped you in especially in the last year
Yes, I agree.
with your reflection
It was very difficult to take sometimes
you know, it was, you would feel quite sort of hurt sometimes by it, but you overcame it and you moved on
and you were definitely improved because of it.
What surprised me was the friendliness that developed on the online community
and though you've never met a lot of the people
you felt that with the postings, that you did really get to know them.
Yes, they became your friends
And for us in the management community we actually met several times over the period of the three years.
and I made life-long friends through being on the online community and I think that's wonderful, you know.
One of the benefits I also found was when you're insular in your own school, you also read the problems that are in other schools
and you could, you could identify with them and it made you realise well you're not alone.
No but in many schools, all school communities are quite similar
and that the degree and actually talking to people about the degree you realise that
you were sort of a valued member of the community in which you work.
Enough, is that enough?
You have a different journey, so would you like to tell us about it?
Yes, well I was an LSA in my local primary school where my children went for about 10 years
and they always encouraged me to be, to go into teaching because I used to teach groups as an LSA,
I wasn't actually a classroom based LSA
then I found out from my staffroom for this degree
and in the third year of my degree, I managed to get a place on the Registered Teacher Programme
and with the wisdom of my school, at the same time they actually gave me a class to teach at the same time,
so I was teaching a Year 5 class doing the third year of this degree
and as I say, I started a Registered Teacher Programme, so I was doing sort of three things at the same time,
which was quite hard but I managed to get through the year, and I am also a mum of four children as well.
It was very hard, but the support of the people on my learning set was fantastic
They were all saying "Are you mad? Can you fit anything else into your life?"
But after the degree finished, they then fast-tracked me on to the GTP which is the Graduate Teacher Programme,
and I am due to qualify as a teacher after Christmas.
So I literally finished my degree in July and I will be qualified as a class teacher,
although I have been teaching as an unqualified teacher for virtually two years now.
So it is a really special achievment today, then?
Yes, I was really pleased actually to get a first as well, I was amazed.
I mean, it did take a lot of hard work, and tears sometimes and the support of my family was fantastic.
But, yeah I am really pleased to have made the journey and got there in the end, so yeah, it is fantastic.
Hello, I am Denise Binks. Hello, I am Denise Binks. I've... I really don't know what to say, we really have to start thinking what to say really.
To begin, when did you first found out about this degree?
Shall I start off by when I was a child?
Because when I was a child, I really wanted to do a degree
but I had to leave school and start work, that was the culture of my family
and so I then went into working for a travel agent, I was a travel agent for quite some time
and I did my exams for travel agencies. But then I had a career break to have the children
and at that point when I wanted to go back to work, I had no qualifications to show exactly what I could do.
So it was then that I found a leaflet on my desk about the Ultraversity
and it seemed the obvious answer for me, because it meant that I could still continue to work but at the same time do the degree.
So I took the first steps into doing the degree.
I found it very good, because it was using my skills in workplace and therefore it was workplace orientated
and we could structure the degree around what we were doing in the work. So it didn't feel as though I was doing two things
and I also found the online community was very good because it meant that we could find we were all there together
there are other people like myself who had children, who were out at work and they pushed me on,
so when I said "I can't do this because I've got the children",
I found that I was doing it because other people were in the same boat as I was.
Can you tell us about your role?
I started off as ICT technician, LSA, and at first I was simply looking after the computers
my rôle has changed through doing the course I'm now an ICT teacher
and I'm looking forward to trying to qualify as a fully qualified teacher.
OK then, sorry.
start telling me about the major gain doing the degree for you, OK?
The degree helped me to gain my teacher status at my employment, George Dixon.
I'd been going as a teaching assistant helping in mainly ICT and science.
As I progressed through the degree, how can I put it, I gained some certain skills that I was using at work
it helped me to gain confidence, and it just boosted me in my work, really.
So I was put forward to possibly teach as an instructor
I started teaching just one or two lessons on my own and now, this year, I was put forward to doing a full time teaching
teaching, full time teaching science and ICT. So this is basically it.
Any other questions? 23
So when you left school, what kind of qualifications did you have?
I left school with 11 GCSEs. I went to a college and studied PE and Geography at A-level.
So I finished ending up with two A-levels coming from college and I was working on building sites initially!
And then a friend of mine got me a job at the school where I work right now.
After a year I have been at the school, I got on to the Ultraversity course and then it's just taken off from there to be fair.
Tell me about your contribution then to the community.
I personally got a lot out of it. I mean, I like speaking to people in an online community
and I liked being able to help people. I chatted a lot online to people and emailed people
and I felt that I was able to support other people who were perhaps less confident in online communities
and I think, that they appreciated that. I got a lot of positive feedback from that.
We all learnt from each other, and by opening up discussions in FirstClass, we got to know one another on a personal level
which we then took a stage further by meeting up at various locations and that built up a really good relationship with other students.
So, I felt that helped our learning experience because we trusted each other
because we had met on the online community and then in person,
we could share our work and our experiences perhaps at a deeper level.
You also got humour into it.
Oh yes, yeah, we had lots of laughs, I mean, we shared sort of funny emails and we talked about what we did at work
and the silly things that the staff did at school to annoy us. We brought our own personal experiences in to it
and all of that helped us to develop this sort of deeper relationship which I felt, personally helped my learning experience
but I think also helped other people who were perhaps less confident.
I mean, I could see over the three years how people's confidence grew, because we were such a friendly bunch of people
and we got on so well together and we trusted each other.
someone & someone
What do feel that you, that's been your major gain working with Ultraversity? What do you think you gained?
Initially, the gain was being able to do a course while I've got two children and managing
and also being able to work as well
How did you manage the fitting in the course as well as working?
Well I think that it makes you really good at time management because you have to juggle, haven't you?
You've got to juggle your children and your workplace,
but the great thing is, is learning from experience and taking that experience into …
From everybody else's views, when you go online and you gain experience from everybody else's views
… and work experience as well. You know, going in to work and sharing your experience with colleagues as well.
Did you find that, that helped you?
To be able to compare my experiences with their's and researcher's online
it really helped me to re-learn what I already know, if you like, to confirm what I already know
and then cascade that information back down to other work colleagues as well, to help them in their role
I just could never envisage myself here, with a degree, because I always thought that I wasn't an academic
because the books didn't mean much to me, but actually reading and then putting everything into work experience
it came alive to me. Is that what happened to you?
It did to me. And I think the main, that one of the things that really helped me when I was working with Ultraversity
was the learning journal, logging everything down and every experience
I still do that, do you? Do you still do that? Yes, I do.
It's very hard to get out of that habit and I think it is a good learning curve
to have that and to be able to refer back, whether it's written or whether it's tapes or whatever. You got it there and that helps.
And it's great evidence as well, isn't it for everything you do: in the workplace, home learning, its great.
My name's Michelle Townsend and I've just recently achieved my degree in Learning Technology and Research through Ultraversity
It was a difficult journey really, but manageable due, thanks to the support really of my family and also my work colleagues.
I work in Grimsby, North East Linconshire at a childrens' centre
which is a Sure Start initiative run by the government.
I was very well supported by the head of the centre throughout my degree, she actually paid for the training completely
and was very supportive in any research that I needed to carry out during the degree.
As a result of achieving this degree, I am now acting family services manager at the children's centre.
A brief history of what of my life at the children's centre is:
I went there in the year 2000 as a nursery nurse, working in kind of outreach work.
I then became the training coordinator three years later,
where I worked with parents and families to try and help them achieve their potential basically,
helping them achieve literacy, numeracy skills, also helping them get back into the workplace.
So it was a real rewarding but difficult task, as I work in one of the most deprived areas in the country.
but you know, I am just really grateful that this route was available to me because
it was a long-term aim of mine to achieve a degree,
but there was no way I could afford to give up my job and go and study for three years full time.
So when the flyer fell on the staffroom table, it was really you know the answer for me, it was the right route.
And that is me, really.
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