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How to improve teaching in higher education with itslearning

How can itslearning help lecturers at a university or university college improve their teaching? Tor Haugnes, a historian and lecturer at the BI Norwegian School of Management, has found that itslearning makes teaching more efficient – and improves student results.

In higher education, there are often a large number of participants in each course. At BI, Tor is responsible for a course called The Firm, an obligatory course which looks at companies in a broader social context using historical, ethical and theoretical perspectives. The course has 4,000 students from all of Norway’s BI schools.

“itslearning is the hub, but we provide the content,” says Tor. “Users and courses are automatically imported into itslearning, which saves lecturers time. But we must also create good content. The features in itslearning are easy to use, and as long as I have a plan, I have noticed that I use fewer resources when working with itslearning.”

For example, instead of email and messages, Tor now uses itslearning’s built-in discussion forums to channel subject-specific questions. For the lecturer, this saves a great deal of time because the students discuss issues between themselves and the lecturer doesn’t have to take time to answer direct questions from individual students. All the lecturer has to do is oversee the discussion as an administrator.

 Torunn Gjelsvik and Tor Haugnes.

More pedagogical possibilities with itslearning

Tor has used both surveys and polls to find out how students use the courses in itslearning, and the feedback enables him to adjust and improve his courses. A simple poll in a course, such as “What is difficult in this subject”, can provide surprisingly useful responses from the students.

At BI, itslearning has made it easier to try new pedagogical methods – that actually work. “It takes so little effort!” says Tor. “Not long ago, I published a ‘vote and win’ competition about ethics. I encouraged the students to send me suggestions about funny course-related videos online. After receiving all the videos, I created a poll where the students could vote for the best one. I engaged more students this way, and I also learned a lot that I didn’t know before.”

Tor also uses itslearning to publish notes from his lectures and course information in the form of bulletins and RSS feeds. To test actual knowledge and increase his understanding of the students’ learning process, he uses the test tool, polls and surveys.

Students expect digital presence

“With help from the itslearning platform, I try to make a course that many find boring more exciting. And the students are actually grateful that something is happening in itslearning. I get lots of positive feedback from students, confirming that they are happy when the learning platform is used well by staff.”

Torunn Gjelsvik was responsible for the roll-out of itslearning at BI – a record-breaking project that saw BI establish 22,000 active users in around 9 months. She agrees with Tor.

“Students today have another expectation when it comes to digital presence,” she says. “Many have used itslearning or other learning platforms in primary and secondary schools, and learn itslearning easily. Teachers are perhaps more afraid of making mistakes – clicking a wrong button, for example – but young people have no inhibitions.”

Satisfied users

BI offers a wide range of different courses, and has a differentiated student group, from young students direct from secondary school to mature students who have worked for many years. With itslearning, the teaching can be tailored to each user group.

Before BI started to use itslearning in 2010, they used the American learning platform Blackboard and the self-made system Apollon. But the two systems proved difficult to use and feedback showed that students wanted a system where everything was gathered at one place.

“In the beginning we ran itslearning and the other systems in parallel, and the students found it disturbing,” Tor explains. “Now, with all students up and running on itslearning, it seems like they really like the system. Not long ago Inside – the student newspaper at BI – published an article that showed the students’ experience of itslearning to be very positive. From a lecturer’s point of view, I can see the advantages of itslearning compared to the other systems. Previously, I spent a lot of time on the technical details in Blackboard; with itslearning it’s easier to get started.”

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