Copenhagen Business Academy’s Search for a Better Learning Experience in Post-Pandemic Higher Education
We recently met with Liselotte Strarup Nielsen, self-appointed Moodle™ expert at Copenhagen Business Academy to discuss its transitions from in-person learning to online, to a bit of both over the last few years.
Copenhagen Business Academy (Cphbusiness) was formed in 2012, to provide more focused business, sales, and marketing learning opportunities to undergraduate-level students in Denmark. The institution began working with Open LMS in 2016, a decision that paid off in a big way when the pandemic arrived.
Currently, Copenhagen Business Academy is home to 5,800 full-time students, 1,400 part-time, and 430 members of staff, so managing the overnight changes to the way higher education was run was no small feat.
Now, as higher ed institutions in many countries return to in-person teaching, Liselotte talks us through the challenges they have faced and the difference Open LMS has made to those transitions.
Q: So Copenhagen Business Academy started working with Open LMS in 2016, but what drove that choice?
Open LMS (which works with the Moodle™ core) was chosen as part of an EU Public Procurement process, which was won against two other vendors. The process was very collaborative. A group of teachers tested the system and approved it together.
What was important was that it was a real LMS (learning management system), and not just some adapted piece of tech, in the way that Microsoft Teams has been adapted during the pandemic, with people trying to use it as an LMS when it doesn’t have the right structure or features we need.
There’s something about the type of system we’re using. It’s made by educators for educators, so the pedagogy behind it is really important.
Q: What’s your role in CBA’s partnership with Open LMS? Do you work closely with them?
Yes. I’m known around CBA as “the Moodle™ guy”. Have a problem uploading a course? Ask Lis. Need help accessing something? Ask Lis. I work very closely with the platform and with the Open LMS team. I focus on the operations and project side of things, so I act as a kind of go-between for our staff and the team there.
Q: How do you find working with the Open LMS team?
I work with them a lot on the support side of things. Things on our side are always changing but they’re really quick with support, which is great. My questions aren’t always the smartest but I always get the help I need.
Version changes of the system can be a challenge because we have so many staff to manage through the process. We’re going to need a lot of support through the next one.
Q: As you’re on the operations side, do you get to work with the students much?
Not really, no. I love having the students around on-site though. I used to be a high school teacher and I really liked the students. It gives you some kind of youth and life to be around young people.
I do some system and usability testing with students sometimes, if we’re looking to roll out some changes or start using a new feature. I’ll take prototypes to them to see what they think. Or if there’s a new design for the system, we’ll test that with the students. They have good ideas about what works for them. But I’m not a teacher, so I don’t work with them often.
Q: How much of the teaching at CBA is delivered through Open LMS? And how has that shifted over the last couple of years?
We have a few different systems—one for file storage, one for exams, etc. But it’s all integrated into Open LMS so the students have one place they go. It’s like one entrance to go through to get to everything.
Before COVID-19, different teachers used Open LMS differently. Before the pandemic, all the teaching was on-site and resources and exams were managed through the system. Then we had almost two years completely online, where the students were online all of the time. Now we’re back to business with the physical teaching, in attendance. But now we’re adding to the online experience of it.
The students expect flexibility now, so we’re experimenting with the hybrid learning setup a bit, which isn’t easy. We have a lot of experience with physical, in-person education, but we’ve been learning online since 2008 so we have some good experience there too.
Q: Are you looking to move towards hybrid learning at Copenhagen Business Academy?
Well, we don’t have the same experience with a hybrid setup. It’s very easy to make a parallel, where one group is at home and the other is in the class, but how do you make an equivalent experience at the same time? I don’t think we’ve quite found out how yet but we’re experimenting and we’re figuring it out. It’s not easy. I think everyone in higher education is still figuring it out.
Q: Have you found that having Open LMS in place before the pandemic has helped with the transitions from in-person, to online, to a bit of both?
Oh absolutely! The pandemic pulled everyone online, so the teachers who didn’t use the system much before now had to use it. The students always used it but now use it a lot more. There was a push and pull going on, especially early on in lockdown. I think the teachers who used Open LMS before the pandemic found the transition to online a lot easier, and they communicated more with their students because of it. It’s also been useful for them because they have all now used this whole environment online, which helps them make better hybrid and blended learning experiences for our students.
Q: What sort of learning materials and parts of your learning programs live on the system?
Years ago, you had a book and everything was in the book. Now, there are so many parts to learning and it’s so good to have it in one place. You don’t just have books now; you have videos, texts, online forums, PDFs, your assignments, etc. Everything is together. And personally, I find that learning experience much more engaging. I also like how you can have open online discussions through Open LMS with your teachers and fellow students. It becomes this one place where you can find everything.
Q: Were you able to integrate all the additional tools and tech you suddenly needed over the pandemic into the LMS?
It’s not for your average person on the street to do, but when you’re doing my job, the API is quite easy to work with. And a lot of things were easily sorted over the phone with the support team.
Q: How have your students and, perhaps more importantly, your teachers found adapting to all of the additional tools and tech throughout lockdown?
For the teachers who were using it more frequently before the pandemic, it’s not been too bad for them. But for the ones who weren’t, it was really hard. If you haven’t used it before the pandemic, maybe because you’re a bit afraid of technology, then it’s a steep learning curve.
And I don’t think teachers were alone in that! Some of our teachers went from being scared of the tech to being very good with it very quickly. Those teachers still make a lot of use of Open LMS today. I don’t think it’s been difficult for students really. The main thing has been the fact that different teachers use it differently.
That’s why we’re now working on a “Better Use of Moodle” program. The teachers are working together to find the best way to use the system.
Q: Now that we’re back to in-person learning, what does the future of learning at Copenhagen Business Academy look like?
The “Better Use of Moodle” program is our main focus. Our teachers are coming together to find the way we want to do things. We want to create standard practices and best practices across the Academy to make it better for students, and make it so they can find their files, forums, and everything else in the same way. We are also looking forward to the new version 4.0 of OpenLMS, especially the new and better user interface.
We need to create a better experience for the students, whether we’re teaching in-person, blended, or testing out these hybrid classes. The teachers are learning from each other in the process and that’s awesome.
The teachers and leaders in the academy are discussing key pedagogical issues, and putting pedagogy at the center of teaching strategies as well as how we use Open LMS. Technology has got to support the teaching. Education comes first.
The teacher’s interest is in creating the best learning experience. We have to support that with the tech.