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#generationonline: An interview with Online Dean Carol Draycott

The University of Law’s Online Campus provides students with the flexibility to study when and where they want with the benefits of highly experienced tutors and the expertise of our Employability Team. However; that’s just the beginning of the benefits. We caught up with Online Dean Carol Draycott to discuss ULaw’s newest campus and what it can provide to students across the globe.

I started my career as a solicitor in a high street firm dealing with a mix of litigation and family matters. Looking to change to a more specialist area of law, I moved to The University of Law (then College of Law) as a tutor, thinking that I would stay for maybe two years and then move again. I enjoyed teaching so much, assisting students to reach their own career goals, learning about legal education and education generally that I soon made the decision to stay and make legal education my new career.

I became a senior tutor and completed training in higher education and designed the tort programme and the book for the degree The University of Law was delivering with the Open University. I found designing a course for online distance learners so interesting I became a manager with The University of Law managing our partnership with the Open University for a number of years. I undertook a lot of management training during that time and moved on to manage the Chester Campus, the Chester and Manchester campuses for a while and then the Chester and Liverpool campuses. For the past few years the Chester campus has been responsible for delivering some elements to the online students in the University. When the University decided to have a separate Online Campus I was delighted to be offered the chance to continue my role by specialising in developing this new campus and area of higher education.  

No two days are ever the same and I am not sure what I would class as a normal day. I log on around 8.30am and will usually have meetings to catch-up with various members of the Online Campus team, programmes and support services to discuss our priorities, both short and longer term. These meetings will focus on what we need to work on to enhance the student experience and this will often lead to arranging meetings with other stakeholders and departments to discuss initiatives we want to put in place. There are University-wide meetings I attend where I represent the Online Campus. I also attend external meetings and groups with employers and other education providers. We have regular team meetings where I can catch-up with the whole Online team. Between these meetings, I prepare papers and documents, either for internal groups or for external bodies. On really good days I have meetings with students and hear directly from them.

Students have always needed a variety of ways to study. For a number of reasons they cannot always attend a physical campus and having good quality online programmes to give them the same qualification as their peers is, and always has been, important. Bringing the online students and the University’s online expertise together in an Online Campus enables a focus on these learners’ needs and will bring a new learning community to the University. Of course, in the current climate, as the world battles a pandemic and everyone has to review how they live, work and study, there is added impetus to having an Online Campus. However; it has always been important to bring together the online learners in one campus dedicated entirely to them.

The University of Law has been delivering to online students for over a decade and has programmes designed to flexible with a minimum of compulsory interactions which were scheduled to fit around the online student. This year, during the pandemic, many of the University’s face-to-face programmes have had to be delivered online. To do that, previously attended lectures have been recorded and scheduled workshop sessions have been re-scheduled into online classrooms. Workshops have been streamed with students being taught with their peers in real time, in the same way as they would have been taught in the classroom. This has blurred the distinction between online learning and what is being offered to attending students who have had to have their sessions moved online during the pandemic. Going forward it is likely that online learning will be offered in different formats so students have even more choice of how they study with us online.

 The main reasons students choose to study online are:

  • They prefer the online learning methodology.
  • They have work and/or caring commitments so they need a very flexible way to study with no schedule.
  • Geographical reasons mean they cannot attend a physical campus.
  • Lifestyle choice. Students do not want to be tied to regular scheduled sessions they must attend and want to learn in a more fluid way.

This year students at The University of Law have been able to attend face-to-face  lectures but at any time during the year opt to have their sessions delivered by streaming. They can opt for online learning for a term or they can opt for the full online learning experience. This flexibility means students have a huge amount of choice across the University and while there is no doubt that the pandemic has made more students consider which of the many options works best for them.

Studying online allows you to do plenty of things you can’t in a classroom; like work in your pyjamas. Really though, it means you can study at whatever time of day works best for you. Students are not tied to being in a classroom at a specific time on a specific day so the flexibility is huge as a learner. Students learning online are also learning digital skills which will be invaluable as you take the next steps in your career. Other than that, you are learning the same content and working to the same qualification as your peers in a classroom, just in a different way.

We have had students tell us how much they appreciate the flexibility of online learning and the support they are receiving from their tutors.

We are currently working on new ways to stay in touch with students and for them to stay in touch with each other. We have some initiatives we are working on but I have had meaningful interactions with various groups of students via Skype meetings, emails and Zoom. We have had our first Online social activity; I was the quiz master for our inaugural social quiz and I am working with some Online Social Rep students to look at what other activities they would like us to organise.

An Online Campus Hub is being built on our student platform Elite and in the next few weeks there will be a dedicated space I can put messages on for all students. The Hub will have a student common room for students to meet each other socially. As in any campus, the students are all in classes and work together in those classes and smaller groups on tasks and get to know each other that way.

I have loved every role I have taken on and overcoming the challenges each role has brought has given me great personal satisfaction and sense of personal achievement. Being the first Online Dean brings a huge challenge and at this early stage there is a lot I need to do to shape this new campus. Working with the campus team and the students, I hope that when I have achieved everything I want for our new campus - being the Online Dean will be my highlight of my career.

If you are interested in Online study come to one of our online events. Meet the tutors and current online students and hear from them first-hand what the online learning experience is like. This will help you to make an informed decision as to whether it is the right choice for you.

 

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