Manchester Metropolitan University
Providing students with a hands-on learning aid to enhance engagement in the pandemic and beyond
Dr. Susan O’Shea, of Manchester Metropolitan University, was concerned with how the prohibitive pandemic rules of social distancing would affect the learning structure and experience for students in 2020. Working with her Sociology department, O’Shea organised the purchase of 520 of the new Ketso Connect kits for her student cohort. As many lectures are moved to online environments, Ketso Connect helps students communicate with each other in these remote sessions, as well as ensuring there is a more focused way of engaging with learning than simply watching and listening to a lecture on a computer screen. This helps keep students from being distracted whilst online. The kits also support self-directed study, as an aid for structuring ideas, engaging with background readings, revising, and learning.
With the Covid19 pandemic, university life for students took a radical turn, one that dictates that students must work remotely from their own rooms and lodgings whilst engaging in online lectures and group sessions. There is a sense of isolation for students, and it is harder to forge the feeling of belonging to a university community.
Even where face-to-face teaching is possible, it can be difficult for students to connect as they sit far apart, wearing masks. The restrictive rules during the crisis also challenge learning in the traditional way. Students can be distracted when attending virtual lectures, and there is a lack of personal connection with lecturers and other students in the way they communicate, interact and learn together.
Some innovation was needed to help students engage with their learning, as well as to promote collaboration and engender a sense of a community learning together. It is easy for a student to feel lost when working remotely online, so making sure that everyone feels confident and able to have an input in group discussions was an important consideration for the university.
Ketso Connect was seen as a way to give students something extra, when so much is being taken away from them during the pandemic. When studying can be potentially more confusing and less active, the kit gives a way to grow ideas and insights, which can promote deeper reflection and engagement. Students report finding the tactile and visual approach more engaging than using a pen and paper to take notes.
Ketso Connect helps students prepare, organise and prioritise their studies and learning and can be used effectively as part of remote and blended learning, the new norm for students. Using Ketso Connect for short break-out discussions or to structure interactive workshops, lecturers can help students take turns in communicating, and track their learning and insights in a highly focused way. Students and tutors connect together via the medium of the hands-on kits.
A powerful feeling of belonging to a learning community emerges from everyone engaging in the same activity at the same time, despite being separated by distance. This can be enhanced by the option of having the University / departmental logo added to each kit. Ketso Connect has also proved a great tool for self-directed study, invaluable for all kinds of learning activities, from developing essay plans, to project planning and self-organising.
“Personally, I like that idea of moving away from the screen, even when in an online session. Our attention span wains after twenty minutes of staring at a screen. It may not be possible to see people’s faces in the group so we sometimes lose the social cues we might have in physical classrooms. This kit allows students time to think and reflect, yet to stay connected to one another. Having a tool like this allows us to take some of the core elements of participatory education and quickly adapt them for blended learning contexts.
This idea of collaborative learning, so often successfully used in the classroom, can be extended into private study spaces by using a kit like this. This is something we should strive to maintain well beyond the current situation. When we begin to move back to more traditional lecture halls, students can bring their kits with them and keep those collaborations going.”
– Dr. Susan O’Shea, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University