Nottingham Trent University’s Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) held its annual symposium around flexible and online learning, and we were delighted to be able to attend and present. As always, there were too many sessions for us to catch all of them, but some of our takeaways are below.  

In its third annual symposium, TILT very much focused on sharing good and innovative practice when learning and teaching online. This year’s theme was “Stories of flexible and online success – What does the future hold?” and the optimistic and energetic feel was clear right from the welcome message on day one.  

Professor Sarah Jones, PVC for Academic Enhancement at the University of Gloucester, gave the first keynote of the conference which looked at The future of flexible learning – what is possible? The talk offered some fascinating speculation on where teaching online might be going, including some perspectives generated by ChatGPT! Sarah discussed the potential in AI for being used in personalised learning, but also pointed out that AI can do little to facilitate the development of key soft skills that have been highlighted by employers as increasingly important, such as emotional intelligence and empathy. She also shared interesting possibilities about where educational speculative fiction might be shaping and reflecting how we progress. 

Sam Tanner, NTU’s Head of Flexible and Work-Integrated Learning, followed up with Strategic perspectives on the future of flexible and lifelong learning, an insightful look at planning to engage and maintain the attention of students with diverse and changing backgrounds and demands on their time.  

In the LTSU’s session Implementing the use of Activity Logs to support students documenting Work-Like Experience, our team used the framing of supporting academics with a particular request to talk more widely about the process we go through when selecting and using tools for specific purposes. Our final thoughts included the benefits of thinking outside the box, the advantages of consulting with colleagues, and the importance of carefully planning the testing of whatever solutions this helps you create!  

This was followed by Enhancing Student Engagement with Active Collaborative Learning through the NOW ecosystem, in which Dr Sarah Broadberry – Principal Lecturer at NTU’s School of Animal Rural & Environmental Sciences – shared how a virtual learning environment can be used to enhance engagement through an active collaborative learning approach.  

Then we had a student panel, Student Perspectives on Flexible and Online Learning, where students at different stages of their learning journeys shared some insightful thoughts about what they expect and what they want from learning online. As ever, consistency in the layout of learning rooms was emphasised as important to them, and the different ways they engaged with the content revealed how different learner priorities can be.  

Day two started with Dr Nigel Francis’ keynote, Drylabs, exploring #DryLabsRealScience, a professional learning network that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic to support remote laboratory teaching.  Dr Francis is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University.

Dr Samantha Read (Learning and Teaching Manager at Nottingham Business School) shared Enhancing Engagement and Creativity through Digital Storyboarding: An Interactive Workshop, looking at how digital storyboarding can be used in online learning. Dr Anthony Ogbuokiri (Senior Lecturer in Construction Management) and Dr Rebecca Gamble (Senior Lecturer in Product Design) talked about Enhancing engagement in online learning communities by encouraging engagement through personalisation and collaboration.  

Meanwhile a discussion co-hosted by our team discussed ChatGPT and what it means for education, in which colleagues shared ideas about how to use generative AI to develop critical thinking skills, and innovative thoughts about how assessment could be adapted. A thoughtful session that covered the opportunities, as well as the challenges, that AI offers in education.  

The final panel covered a range of subjects including the digital skills of graduates and the development of digital confidence in colleagues, something that the LTSU has written about and continues to explore. For some of our findings, please read our article Locating opportunities for building digital confidence in staff‘.

Overall a lot of learning, a lot of discussion and a lot of inspiration over a fantastic two day symposium.