Since February 2020, UTS academics have been engaged in an intensive journey as part of the shift from blended teaching to fully online delivery. Initial course modifications made for students impacted by the COVID-19 travel restrictions, quickly shifted to a radical conversion to complete remote delivery. The LX.lab’s Wenes Gunawan and Olivia Rajit made contact with three academics, Dr Kate M. Delmo (lecturer in Public Communication), Dr Alana Piper (lecturer at Australian Centre for Public History) and Dr Timothy Laurie (lecturer in the School of Communication) to reflect on the transition.

Initial uncertainties around how COVID-19 would affect university life was one of the biggest initial challenges faced by academics. Dr Alana Piper recalls “developing two subjects at once; one for face-to-face delivery and the other for online delivery”. However, as teaching shifted to a fully online mode, academics were able to put all their energy into one single approach and focus on maximising the online student experience with the tools available. Though, as Dr Piper explains, fully remote delivery during a pandemic has complexities of its own.

students need high levels of reassurance and pastoral care as they experience anxieties about their studies, as well as other issues in their lives

Dr Alana Piper

In addition to providing performance feedback to students as a way of relieving student uncertainty, Dr Piper seeks to “provide a sense of structure and connection” by ensuring she maintains regular contact with students via group emails, where she outlines activities for the week and how students can best prepare for assessment tasks.

The changed experience of teaching in the COVID-19 era

Alongside the multitude of changes to teaching and learning in 2020 have come the raft of new tech skills for academics. The rapid uptake of learning technologies such as MS Teams, Zoom and Kaltura Capture during this period (as newly instrumental platforms for course and content delivery) has pushed academics into new spheres of pedagogy.

A shift in expectations on behalf of academics and students has allowed this new teaching and learning landscape to evolve as everyone becomes more familiar with the developing processes. Dr Delmo relates how she has “become more resilient in using technology” and adds that “the pace of how I manage issues has changed”. The immediacy commanded to troubleshoot tech issues in real time creates its own inherent anxiety and Dr Delmo stresses the importance of always having a contingency, in case the technology fails.

Difficulties in assessing students’ engagement with content has also been an issue in the online teaching space.

It’s much harder to gauge the number of students interacting with the lecture videos than, say, face-to-face lecture attendance.

Dr Timothy Laurie

Core teaching principles remain the same

Dr Delmo reflects that through the teaching process, she is “more aware now of the possibilities and limitations of online teaching” and is “more convinced that a mix of both is the best teaching and learning approach”. Through this turbulent time though, the essential ingredients of successful teaching remain the same. Dr Delmo highlights the importance of prioritising “functionality, access, relevance to subject learning outcomes and yes, fun”.

Social interaction is still key in the online classroom

As the teaching and learning journey continues to transform and grow, academics are tirelessly finding new and exciting ways of engaging students. And the journey is not over.

Integrating social events in MS Teams and Breakout room group discussions into courses are some of the ways academics have responded to the new university environment. Dr Delmo is offering individual student support consultations via Zoom and Dr Piper has introduced optional Weekly Assessment chats via live video on MS Teams. And in an attempt to reduce social isolation, Dr Piper has also initiated an online social film club based around the class’ weekly topic, where students can watch a film and simultaneously live chat together.

Providing opportunities for rapport-building between students through their shared experience of COVID-19 has been another effective tool for facilitating social engagement.

We asked them to post photos on the MS Teams channel of distinctive or memorable features of the lock down in China, and this generated a lot of good discussion and sometimes humour.

Dr Timothy Laurie

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