Case Study: Adapting a course for a larger cohort

Guest post by Sue Campbell from the FMS Graduate School, Module Leader for ONC8024: Chemotherapy Nurse Training.

The Challenge

In December 2020, we were informed that Lancashire Health would be sending their Nursing students to study our course, which was due to start in February 2021. We had already seen an increase in our own numbers so with these additional students we were going to be expecting a much larger cohort than usual. The increase was in part due to the COVID situation and study leave cancellation in the NHS. We needed to investigate if the course structure would be suitable for 50 students instead of the usual 10-15 we had taught in previous years.

What did you do?

We reviewed each activity and imagined how it would work with 50 students. Activities that students completed on their own such as crosswords and quizzes were fine. 

Our main concern were the collaborative wiki tasks – these are pages within Canvas, usually involving a table, that students completed together to create a resource. We wanted to keep these tasks as they encouraged teamwork, but the tasks were not suitable for 50 students to be able to contribute. After discussing the problem with others who have experience of working with larger cohorts we came up with a solution. 

With help from the FMS TEL Team we were able to separate the students into groups of 10-15 students and provide each group with their own collaborative wiki task to complete. Once the course began we experienced registration issues so students were all starting at different times. We decided to adjust the groups so the late starting students would be in the same group and would not feel left behind.

“It’s about finding solutions you are not aware of; groups was a really quick and effective fix for what I envisioned to be a much larger problem.”

We wanted to keep the discussion tasks as they worked well in the past but would they work with large numbers? We went through each discussion task and made changes. 

Where we had previously asked students to discuss three points, we changed so students could choose one discussion they could take part in but were able to view all discussions. 

Modified Discussion Board: Before and After

We decided to change the scenario discussions into branching activities instead. The questions asked in these discussions had only one right answer and were more of a fact checking exercise than something the students discussed. Students could complete the branching activities independently, so cohort size did not matter, but the objective of the task was still achieved. We also added a presentation to summarise the learning from the scenarios which replaced the interaction from the Module Leader that would have usually occurred on the discussion board at the end of the week.

Branching Activity

Tips

  • Ask for advice – I spoke with the FMS TEL and Programme Teams and they provided several solutions I wasn’t aware of. I also spoke with our DPD, Victoria Hewitt for marking help
  • Consider running the module twice a year if numbers/demand remains too high to sustain within one cohort
  • Branching activities will work regardless of numbers so we can easily roll those over year after year now
  • Groups in Canvas is easy to turn on/off and adjust depending on numbers

What might you do differently next time?

We shall wait and see the student feedback but we are currently in week 5 of the course and so far it is going well and the group work is successful. Some things we are thinking about are:

  • We have a lot of activities, but they are now largely peer to peer or independent tasks so to bring back the teacher presence I would like to include more videos and presentations
  • We do provide a general Q&A discussion board, and for the rest of the course we are also introducing fortnightly, 10 minute 1:1 Q&A bookable slots via zoom for any students preferring a one-to-one discussion with the tutor.

Resources:

Animated GIFs for Instruction and Demonstration

Animated GIFs are a great alternative to short videos or sets of screenshots. They can be used to display short moving images that can be looped to play repeatedly. The example GIF below takes the place of a series of screenshots demonstrating how to access a menu in Canvas.

Making your own GIFs

To make your own animated GIF, first record your screen as you perform the steps you want to illustrate. You can use Zoom for this, or any other screen-recording software you are comfortable with. Once you have your video, upload this to a video-to-GIF converter online. The best choice at the moment is ezgif – it has a wide range of features and good terms of use. They don’t store your file or claim any intellectual property rights over anything you upload, and your file is removed from the server in an hour. It’s always worth double-checking these online tools to make sure the terms are reasonable.

Using ezgif it is possible to crop the screen recording to show the specific part you are focusing on, and you can trim the clip to start and end where you need it to. Other settings include changing colours and setting how many times you want the animated GIF to loop.

Once you have created your animated GIF and have saved it, you can add it to a Canvas course in the same way as any other image.

The advantages of using GIFs

  • Compared with video, they minimise the storage space needed for the content, reducing data needed and loading times.
  • They can replace long sets of screenshots to show stages of a process. Often these screenshots take up a lot of space, and text can get lost amongst the large images.
  • They can be made quickly with no need for specialist skills or software.
  • Recently a change in Apple software made some other types of video and animation – those displayed in iframes – impossible to access using the Canvas app on iPhone. GIFs are a very accessible format and don’t require iframes to work, so using them where possible avoids this issue.
  • Some older formats of animations have become obsolete – animated GIFs have been around for over 25 years and show no signs of disappearing.

Uses for GIFs

  • To illustrate a couple of steps in using some software.
  • To show a series of improvements or changes to a document or file.
  • To show consequences of changing parameters in a simulation.
  • To illustrate the differences between a series of images, such as diagnostic scans.