The university experience hangs in the balance with students paying more than ever before to continue their higher education, during a time where they may not even be able to move to the city where their university is based. What effect does it have on the university-student relationship to have such formative years move entirely online? For starters, the pressure is on for educators to provide value and sustain student interest and engagement levels, and to tackle somewhat unexpected challenges.  

Sarah, a lecturer from Newcastle University, says: “the key thing we noticed when we switched to online teaching at the start of lockdown was the lack of engagement online with students, this was surprising considering how they’re typically so comfortable online and on their phones.” She and her colleagues found students reluctant to partake in dialogue and discussions, with few willing to even use instant messaging or chat functions, even more hesitant to turn on their cameras in seminars and tutorials. Overall, during lockdown, they discovered the students were generally uncomfortable fully engaging in sessions. While she originally figured she would be battling IT issues and stuck on imaginative content creation, Sarah has found herself spending more time thinking of how to simply inspire debate and conversation while addressing these new needs, behaviours and confidence levels.  

It strikes a noticeable and perhaps surprising difference between the webinar-mania from the professional world over the last year, compared to the awkwardness of students using the same platforms for learning when technology is arguably their strength.  

In her online classes at the end of the 2019/20 academic year, Sarah tested and found success in readjusting the session format into panel discussions where students could listen in and observe academics and specialists break down and analyse key topics. It’s helped take the pressure off students and prioritised absorbing and understanding the course, over the focus on whether someone has turned their camera on or not. Nevertheless, it still leaves the teams facilitating learning and nurturing students concerned about how to ensure engagement with online content for this coming academic year. Universities have a vital role in fostering curiosity, innovation, and creativity. If students are switching off, we need to understand why. Here is where matching the flexibility and accessibility of technology with a deeper understanding of audiences and their motivations can really help boost the connection in learning.  

Gen Z audiences, for example, are known to expect instant communication and feedback. From friends and parents but also educators too. Is current heightened connectivity also providing increased feedback and understanding of their performance and progress? When Stanford University ran an informal survey on how students felt sharing video during lectures, two-thirds of respondents reported they have been in a situation where they felt uncomfortable having their camera on in class. When asked why, respondents said they were self-conscious about being seen in class, weren’t in private spaces and/or didn’t want to show their current living situations. Lockdown arguably blurred lines between professional, school, and home life for everyone, and we mustn’t forget that university students living situations are often going to reflect where they are emotionally, financially, and personally. So how can we balance professors needing to know their students are ‘present’ and students needing to feel comfortable or like their space hasn’t been invaded?  

Maybe the answers lie in reinventing the environment instead of replicating the traditional. A new learning environment should mean a new look into innovative approaches to spark interest, participation, curiosity and commitment. It can sound scary and resource intensive at first, but it can be something as simple as integration of Twitter threads for bursts of insightful information in a way that relates to the audience to help tap into the concept of microlearning. Particularly vital during a time where distractions are constant and attention spans are significantly shorter, the expectation to learn primarily from reading long blocks of information may soon be a thing of the past. Or, it could be something more captivating to make the learning experience more meaningful for students. Inclusion of game like elements such as immediate feedback, visualised progress and staggered learning across levels (i.e. have you understood X before moving onto Y?), are ways to enhance the online learning experiences. Various studies [Tan and Singh (2017) and Glowacki, Kriukova and Avshenyuk (2018)have been carried out over the years in the field of gamification in higher education by using gamified tools such as Kahoot, with many specifying its effectiveness for learning transfer, boosted motivation and overall engagement.  

Adding gamification or game elements is a great example of how taking advantage of technology can help to boost more meaningful learning in a way that’s fun and novel, yet also insightful and informative for students. Boundaries can be pushed further with other innovative approaches, utilising artificial intelligence aided virtual assistants or virtual, immersive environmentsAll of these approaches represent a look into how the near future of learning in higher education is developing, particularly as younger generations are in constant search of and desire for new and exciting experiences. 

The last few months have opened the public’s eyes to vulnerabilities in the care system more than ever before. Groups and communities have been isolated, while those trying to protect them have had increased pressure and responsibility, with little or no enhanced approaches to help. There is a real need to rebuild care and connection, utilising the tools and innovation we often apply to other sectors of society.

What should the next generation of care look like? Where could we go from here for cross-collaboration between communities and areas of expertise? Can similar approaches and an understanding of users be applied in a preventative way? And how can we innovatively introduce technology in everyday interactions to improve quality of life?

In our virtual lecture with Newcastle University Open Lab, the team walk through a solution focussed on streamlining and reimagining working processes with compassion. We examine the development journey, through the lens of a real care shift, as an example of how technology, UX design, and empathy can come together to create insightful tools that empower users and promote quality care.

The first step of many towards addressing the structural, resourcing, societal and emotive challenges at the heart of an aging population. 

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Persuasive technology is broadly defined as technology that is designed to change attitudes or behaviours of users through persuasion and social influence, but crucially not through coercion. The fundamentals of Behavioural Science are at the heart of persuasive technologies. When unregulated and misappropriated, technology that looks to touch human behaviour can have unintended or even unethical consequences. At its best however, persuasive technology can step in where other strategies fail, able to accompany us on our devices to help prompt us, support us, guide us towards achieving voluntary, positive, and lasting behavioural change which truly benefits us as individuals 

The potential for achieving genuine, lasting change and ability to help populations in need of support has resulted in its exponential growth in the field of digital health in recent years, where its usage is typically classified into 2 types. The first being when it is focused on the promotion and prevention of issues. This approach involves fostering awareness, promoting positive behaviours to maintain good health and habits, as well as reinforcing behaviours to review or detect early. 

The second being when it is focussed on the treatment of diagnosed conditions. This tends to involve improving the understanding and competencies of patients so that they can better manage their condition and follow the prescribed treatment more easily. 

Its effectiveness has been provenwith recent research stating the use of persuasive technologies (in both types just mentioned) is nearly 100%. This is specifically when the behavioural objectives are related to dental health, diet, sexual health, physical activity, and positive habit building. However, they noted effectiveness is slightly reduced when it’s applied to smoking and substance abuse.

 

Did you know..?
92% of health and wellness apps using persuasive technology yield highly positive results.

 

Achieving Positive ChangeThe Role of Motivational Strategies 

For a long time, behaviours and behavioural change belonged within the realm and study of Psychology. However, in today’s interconnected world, it is now not uncommon for Behavioural Science to be present when designing technological solutions aimed at people. Artificial Intelligence experts, UX designers, product managers, marketeers, software developers, all benefit from being able to gain better insight into behaviours when creating experiences for peopleAs a result, persuasive technology has infiltrated wide range of every day mobile applicationscomputer games, and smartphone functionalities, which you wouldn’t always associate as being supported by Behavioural ScienceAs with all aspects of technology, when used correctly and carefully, with a well thought through strategy, it has the power to enhance everyday life. Some of the applications developed in the digital health space are an excellent example of the positive influence all the different parts working in unison can have. So, what are the different pieces of the puzzle that come to deliver positive change?  

Digital Health apps frequently employ multiple motivational or persuasive strategies. The traditional elements we all recognise from using health related apps are also unsurprisingly the most successful nudges and techniques to build and reinforce behaviours and a solid starting point for persuasive technology according to studiesProgress monitoring, reminders or alert messages, feedback (both visual, textual, or audio) and positive reinforcement all contribute to encourage a patient on their journey. Then through the advancement of new and emerging technologies, simulations and virtual re-enactments of situations are becoming more widely used and opening up more opportunities for persuasive tech, especially to help people get more accustomed to new, unknown or complex behaviours.  

When reviewing the most popular apps, they often had collaborative and cooperative motivational strategies such as social support and knowledge exchange which turn out to be very popular with users, and that helped towards driving adoption and self-awareness. Though intrinsic strategies are most effective for driving meaningful engagementthere is no harm in seasoning solutions with elements that trigger extrinsic motivation (rewards, medals and pointsto generate balanced, sustained participationUltimately, it is important to bear in mind that the success of all these strategies is mediated by the level of personalisation and customisation that they allow. The more they can be adapted to meet the individual’s needs, the better the results. 

 

Putting it into Practice 

Let’s consider an example health application, focussed on helping clinically obese patients make permanent, positive changes. By using persuasive technology, intervention becomes more accessible as it lands into the palm of the user’s hand – allowing for an effective, personalised experience where the individual feels the technology speaks to them, on their terms, in their space. And this personalisation doesn’t need to come at the cost of rigour, for example with the example app, it could be set to run across a duration of 12 months, following a structured but automated program with weekly training sessions. The treatment could be multidisciplinary; touching on diet, physical activity, sleep, psychology, coping with stress and general health to offer a multifaceted look at health and wellbeingThe strategy could set challenges for users to select and take on depending on which ones best suit their preferences, needs and interests. As part of making the content and journey more engaging, challenges or tasks can be grouped (for example, into 50 training sessions) into a variety of formats, such as virtual simulations and trials or social and support groups where you can share your concerns and experience. The follow-up of their progress would be done through immediate and continuous feedback over time. You might be thinking, ‘but what if I don’t remember to go onto the app, or simply don’t have the motivation or desire to do so?’ The app would issue consistently frequent alerts or reminder messages to ensure the treatment is carried out. And for extra motivation, users would receive positive reinforcement comments and also virtual rewards such as points and special badges for their good workGoing that step further and tapping into personalisation, mentioned earlier as a main key to success, each patient throughout the program would also have a personal trainer who would virtually support and guide themThis would significantly help to enhance the main components that make up the programme: self-control, personal trainer communication and feedback, group support and the implementation of a semi-structured intervention adapted to each patient. 

Studies have shown that in comparison to more traditional face-to-face interventions with the same objective, this kind of digital intervention allows 4 times as many patients to be treated for the same cost. With this in mind, not only are these types of apps that are based on persuasive technology beneficial for the end users in terms of preventing and treating health problems, but it can significantly help to improve how things are done across wider organisations and communities as well. Perhaps the inclusion of motivational strategies in persuasive technology represents a glimpse into what the future of digital health could and should look like. And perhaps the future of persuasive technology can learn from positive applications across health and wellbeing to pave the way for more positive experiences at the intersection between people and technology.  

References 

  1. Orji, R. & Moffatt, K. (2018). Persuasive technology for health and wellness: State-of-the-art and emerging trends. Health Informatics Journal, 24(1), 66-91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1460458216650979 
  1. Orji, R., Vassileva, J. & Mandryk, R.L. (2014). Modeling the efficacy of persuasive strategies for different gamer types in serious games for health. User Model User-Adap Inter, 24, 453–498. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11257-014-9149-8 
  1. Väätäinen, S., Soini, E., Arvonen, S., Suojanen, L., & Pietiläinen, K. (2019). Potential direct secondary care cost benefits of HealthyWeightHub – Virtual Hospital 2.0 digital lifestyle intervention. Finnish Journal of EHealth and EWelfare, 11(4), 342–356. doi: https://doi.org/10.23996/fjhw.82457 

 

 

This is part of a series – check out part 1 here 

Schools have long followed the most traditional approach to learning and potentially struggled the most when it came to lockdown learning. With a dramatic range of learning needs, ages and attention spans, examinations, and home situations, it has been hard to deliver lessons with the same consistency and rigour over a screen or via a platform. Helen, a Chemistry teacher from North London, says the COVID-19 lockdown turned her world upside down from one day to the next. 

In a school, not all teachers are following the exact same schedule, facing the same challenges, addressing the same needs, or even required to deliver materials the same way. So, when we moved to remote learning, those different circumstances suddenly became even more accentuated.” Because the immediacy of the lockdown, Helen and her colleagues faced a scramble to work out how to balance teaching in terms of prioritising age groups in need of more personalised tutoring across MS Teams, and in terms of who had more availability. Sometimes this meant everyone doing less, sometimes it meant people without caring responsibilities taking on more than their share. It was almost unavoidable.” Lesson materials were uploaded and shared, homework was returned, the practicalities of teaching and learning continued, but something she genuinely noticed and felt hard to replicate was the pastoral care – both for students and staff.   

On paper, the move to more online learning could be great. By the day younger generations are increasingly familiar with and adept at technology. There is ample potential for bringing learning to the screen. One study showed learners recall more when using virtual teaching methods than with traditional methods, a comparative study of the same core content but through different mediums, which proved a 76% increase in learning effectiveness. With this in mind, going virtual shouldn’t mean a drop in attainment, but of course the theory is not always the case in reality.  

As we have seen, schools were an area of society that were never going to stay ‘closed’ forever and though reopening has its share of challenges, we wonder how technology could assist in the teaching and learning ecosystem of the future.  

Firstly, teachers and schools would argue there is more to their role than just delivering learning. In the move to screen time learning, the biggest missing piece for them became the complexity in sustaining pastoral care – for students and colleagues alike. Pastoral care can feel juxtaposed online, especially when so much can be noticed by watching students in the classroom, picking up on individual moods and behaviours. A significant part of pastoral care is the support network between teachers and co-workers within schools. Grabbing each other for a quick word in between classes, comparing notes and building a better picture of what works and what doesn’t. Coming out of lockdown, Helen says that she came to really value how everyone managed to sustain that teamwork in order to create more flexibility for each other.     

Could schools take a page from the corporate world’s book and adopt team catch ups, incorporating more teamwork and collaboration into the day? Easier said than done though as teachers are renown for having barely any time in the day already, adding another call or meeting maybe wouldn’t be the best use of their time when they may feel stretched or that their focus is needed for curriculum creativity and innovative ways to capture student’s attention. However, the way to navigate that issue, is to design solutions with the teacher’s needs and schedule in mind. Digital platforms can centralise easy and instant creation and sharing of learning materials, that teachers can then adapt in delivery to the needs of the students. The experience can then be enhanced though, by including elements that will support the teacher’s working day. Features that facilitate immediate feedback, flag good news to the wider team, and enable recognition can provide automated motivation boosts during a day where they may not get an actual thank you for their dedication. Within the same platform, messaging can connect colleagues interested in or working on similar areas to improve collaboration or provide functionalities that enable teachers to ‘raise their hand’ for an offline conversation about a concern they may have regarding work, materials or safeguarding. By using personalised, digital solutions a fragmented day becomes streamline.

Asking for help or getting recognition could be sped up for instantaneous responses, and all the effort needed to “connect the dots” becomes less labour intensive, so teachers could then spend less time on frantic creative content creation, and more time on the personalised, pastoral care that technology can’t exactly step in and help with. Innovation doesn’t need to result in overhaul, but we won’t necessarily enhance the learning experience by just moving materials online or creating video content for classrooms. Real change comes by understanding your audience, and identifying where connections can be made, where they struggle, and how to enable small improvements for huge steps forward. A bit like every great teacher we’ve ever known.