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RLM in a Further Education Institution

CLA interviewed Julia Kirk, Learning Resources Manager of Blackpool and the Fylde College to see why this 4000 strong FEI chose to adopt a resource list software, and what Julia’s reflections are on the road to implementation and impact on student experience.

Blackpool and the Fylde College has been a KeyLinks customer since 2015, adopting rebus:list as it was then called, and migrating over to CLA and the KeyLinks product in 2018.  At present, the FEI has 1,293 active module resource lists, predominantly for its HE courses.

Student experience was at the root of the decision to use KeyLinks. In order to improve student success and retention, Julia notes that improved and easy access to resources across the institution is important. Degrees at Blackpool and the Fylde College are validated by Lancaster University, and so to be able to offer comparable provision, the decision was taken to adopt a resource list system.

Before adopting KeyLinks the institution worked with paper reading lists. Academics would submit these to the library as part of the validation process and to inform procurement. Julia and her team started to notice that tutors then updated their lists, and the link between the academic area and the library started to weaken. KeyLinks has helped to formalise this relationship.  All academics teaching HE courses now use KeyLinks to create their module resource lists. These are then maintained by the Learning Resource Centre, at the instruction of the academics, and especially orientating around an annual meeting in June with the Programme Leaders. The interplay between recommended resources and library provision has therefore been restored.

In rolling the system out across the FEI, the team at Blackpool and the Fylde College elected to approach everyone at once in the 6 months they had to implement the software – it was an all or nothing campaign. Firstly, the Learning Resource Centre built the existing lists in KeyLinks, to remove that pain point of migrating to a new system for academics. Departments were then approached for training and drip-fed messages in staff bulletins. Students were also briefed, with Learning Resource Advisors attending as many student workshops as possible. The result is a consistent and uniform presentation of materials to HE students, ensuring there is equity of access to learning resources.

The Learning Resource team has also had to evolve its procedures with the roll out of KeyLinks. Front line staff for example now monitor lists in relation to lost items on the library catalogue, and the Learning Resource Advisors manage procurement as appropriate. Julia mentions that it is of benefit that e-learning sits within the Learning Resource team so that they can have a holistic view of lists across the institution.

The reaction of academics has been favourable and indeed Julia notes, the Computing department loved KeyLinks so much, they’ve used it as an example of a user interface for students! The reaction of students is due to be measured shortly in an upcoming student forum. The team are going even further in their measures of success to look at the impact of the reading list software on student results and retention, with a clear focus on analytics. Julia wisely notes that correlation is not the same as cause, but preliminary findings show that the most popular lists in each subject, bar one case, led to a spike in e-book use. With some more findings under her belt, Julia may be in a position to say that KeyLinks is fulfilling the original aim – to enhance the student experience.

Even though she is shortly to leave the institution, Julia is ambitious for the future, looking forward to a point where KeyLinks doesn’t just integrate with the library management system, but also Moodle.  This functionality is available at present, and many HE customers link KeyLinks to their VLE, and so the team at Blackpool and the Fylde are working on the integration. Currently, learning resource staff embed the lists into the VLE, but an integration would, she thinks, automate the process and encourage more staff teaching FE modules to use the platform. The same is true for integration with Blackpool and the Fylde’s discovery system – the team are working on implementing the existing functionality. She’d also love KeyLinks to do the analytics for her – if there was one button she could click to see view rates and reading times, that would save her valuable time in assessing the success of the KeyLinks product. While unfortunately Julia won’t get to see it, this is currently being developed by the KeyLinks team with a beta launch fast approaching.

The interview with Julia highlights lessons for KeyLinks to bear in mind. Julia stresses the importance of training to embed a new procedure like this, and sessions timed to suit the needs of the particular institution would, she thinks, have been beneficial. There’s no one size fits all in education, let alone in FE, and so bespoke training solutions are appreciated.

But when asked of her view of the product overall Julia is convinced – if she had her time again, she’d definitely introduce KeyLinks. Even against the backdrop of the financial climate, the product has paid for itself in what it’s given the institution and its students.

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