The Interactive Design Institute was a revelation when I visited. These guys deliver degree courses, accredited by an English University, to both UK and foreign students (full and part-time). The fact that you can deliver a real academic course with strong vocational ‘learn by doing’ components, online, is interesting, but the real story here is the fact that their students outperform the campus-based students doing the same course. Why?
I spent some time going through a learner journey and this, I think, is why they do so well.
1. Multiple intakes. IDI does three intakes a year, giving more flexibility to students and earnings to tutors in the academic ‘off-season’. This breaks the back of the archaic one intake a year model and makes teaching and learning a year-round activity. Not radical but necessary.
2. Superior feedback. Considered, detailed and constructive feedback is the pedagogic potion that makes them special. They really do follow the advice of Black and William through clear, point-by-point feedback designed to take the student forward. I’ve worked through their tutor feedback, which is brilliant and thorough. Nothing like the cursory, general, not written and recorded and therefore often forgotten advice in many face-to-face sessions.
3. Asynchronous feedback. ALL feedback is asynchronous. This is interesting. They have abandoned Skype, webcasts, videoconferencing and other synchronous, real-time forms of feedback in favour of asynchronous feedback, which they regard as superior. First, it takes away the awkwardness of academic/student face-to-face interactions. Second, it’s archived, giving the student and tutor a good audit trail to check, read, re-read and respond to. This is important, as the feedback si very detailed and needs a point-by-point detailed response. Verbal feedback is too transitory.
4. Exemplary content. Good course material, software tutorials, exemplars and other forms of useful content lie at the heart of the course, allowing the student to proceed at their own pace and get relevant teaching and help, whenever needed. Far too may University courses rely on thin, out of date content delivered in lecture series. The content is also kept bang up to date by dedicated ‘content update’ staff. Give the students access to good content, with strong tutor support and feedback, and they will learn.
5. Quality tutors. Given the quality of the content, the tutors can focus on what they do best – teach. Free from the constraints of lecturing, designing content and departmental politics, they can focus on feedback. It’s that simple.
6. Student support. Students need to be encouraged, helped and even rescued during a long course. IDI have a dedicated person, who really gets to know the students and cares about keeping them on track. She’s proactive, looking for signs and symptoms of fatigue or worry. It’s a vital safety net.
7. Lower costs. What’s surprising is how small their premises are, no sprawling campus, no lecture theatres, no monument building, just minimal administration and year round use. Given the low occupancy rates of most University buildings the savings are ENORMOUS.
What impressed me most about the IDI was the dedication of the staff to their students. This is a private sector organisation with the best of public sector values (they mostly came from that background). What they deliver is superior in many ways to the traditional campus degree, with real scalability, in several senses. First, it allows access to foreign students to complete courses with UK accreditation, free from VISA restrictions. Second, it copes with year round intakes. Third, it provides more flexibility for students. Fourth, it has much lower basic costs, where the money goes towards good teaching, not capital expenditure and the upkeep of expensive real-estate. Every University that has a design degree should consider using them. Given the demand and high costs of HE, this is surely the way forward.