Introducing… Our Learning Designers

Posted on: 2020-08-17

Plenty goes into ensuring UCEM’s supported online education is the very best it can be for our students. A large part of that work is carried out by our Digital Education Team led by Kate Lindsay.


The Digital Education Team comprises a series of smaller teams and in the first part of our series looking at these teams, we spoke to our Learning Designers to find out what they do, how they interact with other teams at UCEM and what they enjoy about their role.


Damien Turner has worked at UCEM for 15 years, working in various roles across the Online Education Department during that time; Sandra Scalzavara joined UCEM’s Content Development Team in 2015 before moving into learning design; and Sharvari Balagatte Ramesh joined the team a year ago.


The role

Damien Turner: Our role is to work with the Academic Team – Tutors, Associate Tutors, the LATE [Learning and Teaching Enhancement] Team – to design, develop and improve our modules for the students.

Damien Turner

Damien Turner

We are implementing UCEM’s educational framework, with the aim of making our modules an active learning experience and putting students at the heart of them.

Sandra Scalzavara: You might be asked to read a study paper or a book chapter but what we are introducing is providing students with information on why you need to read or listen or watch something, and follow up tasks aligned to the learning outcomes. In this way, we make the learning active by giving the purpose and making it relevant to students, especially in the context of their careers.

Damien: Where possible, we try to create activities which reflect their workplace. We work to quality standards which have been defined for the team. Baseline is where we make smaller but important changes to a module. Baseline Plus is more involved providing more scaffolding [modifications to enable students to gain stronger understanding and independence in their learning].

Sandra: We are looking to get to Baseline Plus across all modules, starting with our Level 4 modules.

Damien: The process involves working backwards from learning outcomes and assessment, designing relevant activities and finding resources which support that activity. The work also involves enhancing students’ study skills.

Sandra: We review all study resources with the module tutors, we may need to update them or find alternatives, or convert them to be accessible. They are then set up on the virtual learning environment (VLE). Putting the resources onto the VLE previously was done by the Core Services Team but now it’s a collaborative effort.

Sharvari Balagatte Ramesh: My focus is on the Level 3 apprenticeship programmes. Our focus is more on scaffolding, rather than content. We are introducing much more ‘Active acquisition’. This means, when students watch webinars, videos, read books, articles or websites, they are not just absorbing information. Acquisition can be made more active through asking students to consider/ask specific questions, investigate/analyse a scenario and discuss their opinions/research on discussion forums. We are providing a more social learning environment through discussion on the forums or on Padlet. Though we are online, we have peer-to-peer discussions and interactions with students and Tutors; learning is in collaboration.

Damien: We are building a learning community, where students, tutors and support tutors can learn from each other and share experiences.


Key work relationships

Damien: We work very closely with the e-Library, the Media Team, the Editorial Team and the Core Services Team in terms of producing and publishing materials. We call upon [UCEM Information Governance Manager] Lucy Roper’s expertise in finding the most relevant resources to use and making sure students can access these resources. We also try to use the most relevant media for the activity we have in mind. Sometimes a video might work well for one activity, but for another a piece of reading would be more appropriate.

Sandra: In terms of ensuring our content is accessible and provides a good user experience, we work closely with Graham North [UCEM Learning Technology Researcher] and Tharindu Liyanagunawardena [UCEM Learning Technology Researcher]. We work together on new material, as well as updating existing resources.

Sharvari: Accessibility is a priority. We are all focused on creating activities which are accessible for different groups of people.

Sandra: In terms of the wider UCEM team, we work closely with the Tutors and the LATE Team. We work closely with the Tutors to review and update module resources and to enhance and design new learning activities.

Damien: The Tutors and LATE Team provide students’ points of view – what works well, what doesn’t work well. If we don’t have their support and confidence, we can’t perform our role. It’s a real collaboration.


Career paths

Damien: I have been at UCEM for 15 years. I worked as a Teaching Assistant for Years 1-6 at a primary school for three years. I then moved to UCEM, working in the examinations office, working on the scrutiny of exam papers. I then moved into the Editorial Team working on study materials for six years. I got transferred onto project work as an Instructional Designer which is what I continued to do before changing my role to become a Learning Designer.

Sandra: This is the fifth year I have worked for UCEM. In terms of the journey to UCEM, I have only been working in the field for five years.

Sandra Scalzavara

Sandra Scalzavara

My first degree was in Education – a primary school teaching course. After I graduated, I moved to England. I did a degree in English and Spanish at the Open University which was my first experience of online learning – as a student.

Once I finished, I did an online Master’s degree on Learning, Education and Technology through the University of Nottingham.

In 2015, I joined UCEM halfway through my Master’s which I completed in 2017. The degree covered all the learning pedagogies, how to apply them to the online environment and the types of technology which can be used. It was very much about the work I was doing at UCEM. Through my experiences, I know what our students go through. It isn’t easy. Each step, I pushed myself further.

At UCEM, I started in the Content Development Team which involved uploading the content to the VLE and also working on VLE administration before moving into my current role.

Sharvari: I did a Bachelor’s in Information Science and Engineering. I didn’t want to pursue the technical side of it though. I used to organise workshops for school students and that made me interested in a career in education. I started working as a lecturer then I got into a start-up where I trained students in applied science and Robotics. I used to design and develop curriculum and workshop activities.

I found instructional design work as a promising career for me. I thought most of the things I was doing in the start-up was relevant to the job role in terms of designing the course and learning the activities. It is very creative. I did this work with organisations which offer professional courses on an online platform. I have also worked in a Learning and Development Department and used to manage learning management systems.

I got married and moved to the UK. My role with UCEM is my first job in the UK. I always dreamed of working at a higher education institution and UCEM gave me that opportunity.


A creative role

Damien: I enjoy being creative and helping make our learning resources more stimulating for our students. It’s great to see how their learning impacts what they do in the workplace. I like working closely with Tutors and other colleagues to bring different experiences to the team.

Sandra: I agree with Damien. I also like the flexibility UCEM provides as a workplace for us to do our jobs. Also, how we can help Tutors by using our expertise or points of view to improve learning resources. We can make things more interactive for our students.

Damien: It’s particularly rewarding when you can break down difficult concepts into smaller, more palatable chunks of information to help students to understand.

Sandra: It’s great we can make resources accessible and interesting for the students.

Sharvari: An integral part of this role is creativity. I really enjoy being part of making enjoyable learning content. Learning design is difficult to sum up in one sentence. It involves design, project management, collaborating with different teams. We also do risk management. I enjoy all aspects of the role.

Sharvari Balagatte Ramesh

Sharvari Balagatte Ramesh


What’s next?

Damien: Bringing all modules to Baseline and then bringing all modules to Baseline Plus. We really want to make sure we put our students at the centre of every module so that they can succeed on each module they take with UCEM.

Sharvari: Making all our learning content accessible.

Sandra: We have goals to reach for every single module. Over the next 3-5 years, all our modules will be Baseline Plus as per the quality standard. We will get there step-by-step.

Sharvari: Being Baseline Plus aligns to the institution’s vision ‘to be the centre of excellence for Built Environment education’.

Damien: We will collaborate with the Learning Technology Team to try out different technologies and bring in more diverse types of assessment, making assessment tasks more authentic and interesting.