Certified for success

In amongst the rubble of the missed or lost opportunities that have accumulated in the course of lockdown, is one of those little flowering moments, an unexpected but wholly welcome event.

We have been running the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification programme (or MOS for short) for seven years. Open to everyone in the University, it offers the opportunity to gain a recognised certification to validate skills in using the Microsoft Office suite of applications. Participants use a variety of materials to suit their learning styles including targeted, self-led learning resources or attending training courses as preparation to sit practical certification exams. The certifications have proven benefits in increasing student employability, but there is a broader impact for both staff and students. By engaging with the exam preparation resources, there is the potential for transferable skills to work flows using these applications and hence improve productivity. So, clear benefits to sitting these exams, but also, an activity entirely dependent on my computer classroom to deliver and thus was one of the first casualties of the move off-site.

However, in true “MOS is dead. Long live MOS” style, we have a veritable success on our hands. Thanks to the efforts by the exam authority tech boffins to develop a remote delivery system, MOS exams have been able to resume to the scattered locations across the globe with the added benefit of allowing a wider range of exams to be delivered. The circumstances of lockdown have given added impetus to ‘do something useful’ and MOS certifications have certainly been seen as fulfilling that criteria. We’ve had a 5-fold increase in exam bookings and the passes indicate more than just a totting up of scores. We’ve had those attaining Expert level qualifications feedback that their qualification had immediate benefits: “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently started freelancing as a designer on Upwork (from graphic illustrations to designing powerpoints / formatting word documents / etc.). Having the qualifications give clients the assurance that I have the necessary proficiency to fulfil their needs” while others have said participating in MOS helped them to “produce more consistent work on a day-to-day basis”. Employability. Productivity. This is the calibre of feedback that we are accustomed to receiving from those that have engaged with the MOS programme, so it is not in itself a revelation. But it is hugely reassuring that the move to remote delivery is still providing where it counts.

And today it counts more than ever as our programme has produced two Champions. The exam results of 2nd year student Andrea Wang and postgraduate Shonaugh Wright earned them a place, from the thousands of exams sat nationwide this year, to compete in the UK National MOS Championships held today, 25 June. Usually a live event, this too has its virtual doppelganger, the winner of which will have a place to compete in the World MOS Championships in Florida in 2021.

More information about the MOS Certification programme can be found on our MOS website or contact Sonny Evans at it-training@st-andrews.ac.uk.

ALT-C 2019 Session Bites #1

Session title: Facilitating peer-led group research through virtual collaboration spaces: a multi-year action research study, Richard Walker (E-Learning Development Team University of York)

Conference Theme: Creativity across the curriculum

Synopsis: This compelling session presented findings from a study using ‘peer-led group learning’ to support research tasks and the development of problem-solving skills in a 3rd-year undergraduate Biology module at York University. ‘Peer-led’ teaching is nothing new; it’s using an expert peer, in this case a postgraduate researcher, as a learning facilitator and resource. However, what was novel was how they used a collaborative technology platform as a virtual meeting and workspace to overcome challenges in more traditional approaches to project supervision such as:

  • tend to be one-to-one
  • problematic timetabling of meetings/supervision
  • little/no benefit to/from peers
  • propagation of solutions is slow
  • issues coordinating multidisciplinary projects

The app they used for the collaborative hub was Slack (a commercial product, similar to our O365 Teams). Using a channel for each student, for planning, and for questions, the ‘always-on’ collaborative hub fostered greater interactions in asking questions, sharing solutions and displaying data.

Their findings indicated this approach supported effective student collaborations, which promoted peer-to-peer learning – with a focus on interaction and creative problem-solving, thus reducing dependency on the instructor for guidance and control of learning processes. Students enjoyed the quick responses to queries and the ease in keeping a record of what’s been said through the conversation feed structure: “We were working as a team; although we have different projects, we have the same problems and were solving them as a team.” See this link for a case study of the initial pilot.

Comment: The app of choice here, Slack, by the University of York was down to the institutional license held for it at the time of the pilot. IT Services have just rolled out the analogous app in Office 365, Microsoft Teams, to the student cohort here at St Andrews, which could be a platform for similar types of collaborations. Given the prevalence of project-based coursework across disciplines, this is an approach worth trying for increasing engagement, not to mention the possible collateral benefits of improved efficiency and productivity.

Session presentation slides available here (thanks to Richard). A short paper of recent findings is in production.