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What does 2021 hold for student #learningexperience at my university

"Handwriting Text E-Learning Loading. Concept meaning Forecasting the future event" by is licensed under CC BY 2.0
"Handwriting Text E-Learning Loading. Concept meaning Forecasting the future event" by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This year we have a unique opportunity to capitalise on what was 2020 and all the impacts it had on learning and teaching. 

Staff ICT literacy levels and confidence increased because they had to use digital tools for teaching, there was no choice. This situation was complicated, academics of all levels of ICT literacy had to adapt. Some staff had zero experience with digital tools and were using online tools for the first time, while others are always pushing boundaries and looking for alternative tools available from central support areas. As with staff, some students have very low ICT literacy, while others blaze ahead of the curve, using the tools like pros and needing much instruction. They just work it out. Shifting this cohort of students and staff to fully online was a massive undertaking and a huge shock for everyone. 

Going into 2020 in response to move to remote teaching due to COVID my team and I trained over 200 staff in 4 weeks in tools such as the virtual classroom (Blackboard Ultra) like remote lecture content creation (Echo360 Personal Capture). The use of these two tools exploded. From under 10,000 virtual classroom attendances in 2019 we went to over 470,000 in 2020. From zero online classes over 50 to over a 100 such classes, and there were many classes with over 100 participants.

What we have now is a community now familiar with online tools, with new skills and strategies, online is no longer unknown and scary it is known and doable. More than doable it has advantages in some situations and now everybody knows what those advantages are and how to exploit them. Lets takes this new confidence, skills and knowledge and go further in 2021. 

What do we now know about online delivery that we didn't before (or rather, what does everyone now know that only a comparatively few knew before) and were still question marks for many not involved in or supporting online delivery;

  • it costs (IE it is NOT free and NOT cheaper than F2F as some had thought or hoped in the past)
  • the time investment required (we are still teaching, there is preparation (including new challenges like retaking and editing video), delivery, follow up, marking, moderation, etc) plus all the extra effort you might expend to nudge, reach out, and engage online cohorts and try to build a sense of learning community.
  • the tools that work for particular pedagogical methods, the gaps in tools that exist where you can't do what you want to do as a teacher, and when face-to-face is preferable/essential for things like placements, labs and hand's on pracs and you'll go back to that as soon as you can. 
  • It has advantages, it always has had, but now everyone knows it.
  • Online tools have come a LONG way and are more engaging and capable of creating a sense of community than ever before.
  • There is a long way to go, and technology is advancing, rapidly.
  • We still have a long way to go with regard to enabling blended synchronous learning with large classes.

The upshot of all this is we have an extraordinary opportunity to use this position to launch into a future that is truly flexible for students. There is a shift back to pre-covid, but not all the way, not by a long shot. We collectively now know what is possible, staff know they can use the tools and see the benefits. Students now know that used well, online tools can offer the engagement and social learning experience they need. 

We know enough now to offer flexibility. We see the place for face-to-face, we see what can be done online, and we see each modes limitations as well.

Face-to-face and online compliment each other, and in a pinch both can handle the full load of learning and teaching for a while, but they really are best off being used together to offer the comnination of flexibility, convenience, engagement, immersive and authentic learning students are looking for and need.

This year my university will be focusing on what it takes to do blended well in all contexts and disciplines and the thought of that journey and what we will find is very exciting. How to do asynchronous blended learning is already quite well understood, not so much blended synchronous. That is relatively unexplored territory.

Check out this paper by Barney Dalgarno, our Dean in the Faculty of Education, it's a wonderful vision.

Thought bubble: Years ago e-Learning meant online, yet as we enable physical spaces with technology that brings online and face-t-face together this distinction is blurring. Now e-Learning could refer to any learning that is technology enabled. Though, my colleague Dr Alan Arnold once said why bother putting the e, it's all learning. I agree.


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