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MDX launches innovative Digital Buddies scheme to help academics with online teaching in pandemic

More than 60 students have signed up and are helping to ensure online education runs smoothly during COVID outbreak

An innovative scheme has been launched at Middlesex University amid the ongoing pandemic in which students provide support to academics during online lessons.

The project has been a resounding success with more than 60 students being employed as Digital Buddies since the launch in September.

The students are responsible for assisting academic colleagues with the arrangement and management of technical aspects of online teaching platforms such as Zoom and Kaltura NewRow.

They are tasked with welcoming students to the sessions, monitoring the chat function and assisting academic colleagues in highlighting questions and queries, while helping to build “belonging and connectedness among students”.

With recruitment via the student body, the role also provides a valuable opportunity for the Digital Buddies to learn new skills which they can use in future employment and earn money alongside their studies.

Digital Buddy Viktorie Kopecna, who graduated with an MA in Arts Management in December last year, said: “When I was starting as a student at MDX, the experience of lectures at the campus was amazing, always extremely inspiring, giving me the maximum, it could.

“In these current difficult times, I feel like I would do anything to help the students to receive as high-quality education experience as I had the chance to get.”

Viktorie said she has enjoyed meeting “diverse people online from many different fields” and she has loved being the “bridge between students and academics”, while helping to provide technical and friendly support.

She added: “I work with the Law, Business, or Education departments . I am curious about the content of the seminar, the teaching culture, and approaches of each, it is very inspiring, I learn a lot.”

Explaining why she became a Digital Buddy, Ariadna Camacho, a Biomedical Science BSc (Hons) graduate, said: “Considering the current situation, I thought that a position which involved helping others and could be carried out from home was a great opportunity.

“I believe the main benefits of being a Digital Buddy are the transferable skills that we are gaining such as training delivery, quick problem resolution or online learning, as well as the great feeling when you know you have helped someone.”

Ariadna said she has learned while working and enjoyed a “very interesting open debate” with Global Politics students on whether the lockdown was a threat to individual freedom.

Reza Marvi, (pictured left) an Associate Lecturer, said: “I found Digital Buddies useful in aiding students using the Zoom platform easily, answering their questions privately and contributing to making a very welcoming atmosphere at my online session.

“As there will be always unpredicted online problems, a Digital Buddy can solve these issues without wasting the class time.”

Debby Cozins, an academic in Health and Education, said her Digital Buddy has been “extremely helpful and supportive, not only in tech support”.

The Digital Buddies training was led by the Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement (CAPE) and involved familiarisation with different online education and communication platforms.

Emily McIntosh, the Director of Learning, Teaching and Student Experience for CAPE, said: “I’m really pleased with how the scheme has progressed.

“This the new disruption we are facing - students having tech issues online.

“If you’ve only got one person teaching and they have to support the students having such issues, then it stops everything.”

Matthew Lawson, the Director of Library & Student Support, said: “The principle purpose was to support people teach online under COVID.

“The environment is new and  the teaching role is different so we wanted something which helped ease the transition.

“We have a tradition at Middlesex of working with students in the form of ambassadors or the Student Learning Assistants: they all are very good established schemes so we wanted to use those principles and develop a new initiative tailored for specific needs of academics at this time.”

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