Pioneering community-driven digital transformation

The award-winning digital transformation at Anglia Ruskin University was designed using a community-focused approach

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29 May 2024
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Speaking at a session held in partnership with Instructure during the 2024 THE Digital Universities UK event, James Trueman, academic lead for assessment at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), spoke about the university’s award-winning approach to digital transformation. Trueman leads the university’s digital transformation project, which involves upgrading digital learning systems and implementing new learning and assessment solutions.

In 2024, ARU was awarded gold in the 2023 Teaching Excellence Framework and won the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association’s transformation award for its end-to-end assessment programme – which was built with Instructure’s virtual learning environment (VLE), Canvas.

“It is about early and continuous engagement with our stakeholders,” Trueman said. Staff members and students were brought into the conversation through workshops to help shape the academic experience. This co-creation and co-construction approach resulted in efficient change management, said Trueman. “This agile approach requires you to be constantly feeding back to the stakeholders in your sprint processes to show them what you’ve done and ask them, ‘does that deliver what you are asking for?’” 

Any reported shortfalls in the new initiatives are addressed in the development processes. “This empowerment is important to what we do, whether it’s a pedagogic development process or a technical development process,” Trueman said. “Universities are learning organisations. If we don’t run our projects in that same methodology, we will not get the best out of the projects.”

Trueman’s role straddles pedagogy, academic regulations and IT, with oversight of strategic projects across Anglia Ruskin University’s four main campuses. He used his broad reach to combat the typically siloed academic culture. “I can work with a range of faculties and bring them to the table so we can come to an agreement about what we’re going to do,” Trueman said.

Throughout the process, ARU concentrated its efforts on integrating the organisational structure and culture, and assessing how they can influence change. “If both staff and students get what they need, we end up in a situation where people are empowered to innovate rather than simply manage processes,” Trueman said.

To aid this institution-wide transformation, the university maximised the opportunities that were presented by Canvas. The university used Canvas to develop the Ruskin Modules, which are online, interdisciplinary modules designed to address important social issues. The Ruskin Modules allow students to choose how they submit their evidence for assessment. Canvas’s features, such as its customisable assessment functionality, facilitate this flexibility, allowing students to choose how they demonstrate their understanding and skills.

“This has engendered a facilitative, interdisciplinary and collaborative mindset that students have taken on,” Trueman said. The Ruskin Modules project earned ARU two awards at the 2023 Green Gown Awards and contributed to ARU’s gold rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework in 2023.

Stephan Fortier, regional vice-president of EMEA at Instructure, said that ARU’s approach combines digital transformation and pedagogical change. “It fits into the idea of a human-centred student experience,” Fortier said. Canvas is also used in ARU’s wider digital transformation to integrate siloed user experiences and business processes. Fortier and Trueman said their collaboration will continue, with Canvas supporting ARU’s approach of continuous, iterative improvement.

The speakers:

  • Stephan Fortier, regional vice-president, EMEA, Instructure
  • James Trueman, academic lead for assessment, Anglia Ruskin University

Find out more about Canvas by Instructure.

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