We made it. We’re at the end of teaching in an Autumn session like no other, and it’s all over bar the marking. Not sure about you, but in the UTS LX.lab, we’ve noticed a few things have, uh, changed over the past few months.
One change we’ve loved is the greater openness amongst UTS academics to share their ideas and their struggles. This blog has been a beneficiary of that openness, enriched recently by a large number of academics generously and honestly talking about their experiences with remote teaching here, as well as in webinars and workshops. As Katherine Newton found as she adapted to the loss of face-to-face teaching, these opportunities to share experiences with others “were extremely useful in both learning the technology and functionality, and also connecting with teachers from various faculties and diverse backgrounds. We were sharing our fears and also our ideas. This expression of vulnerability, whilst also focusing on the opportunities, formed part of my thoughts on how to create connection and collaboration.”
A greater willingness to open up about wrong turns along with quick wins was reflected in a recent interview with Nina Smith. Nina talked about the surprising ways the innate detachment of the digital environment created a higher tolerance for less than perfect, for staff as well as students . A higher tolerance for mistake making and a cultural shift towards ‘figuring things out together’ was perhaps best expressed by the popularly of Amanda White and Camille Dickson-Deane’s failure festival (if you missed it you can watch the recording). The event clearly struck a chord as it garnered plenty of interest from other universities as well.
As a technology-enhanced learning support and development area, it’s been strikingly clear to our team in the LX.lab that UTS academics’ level of comfort with digital technologies has improved, and their appetite for pushing the boundaries has expanded. FASS academic Kate Delmo reflected on her own experience that she has ‘become more resilient in using technology’ and ‘the pace of how I manage issues has changed’. We saw how teaching staff were able to adapt and roll with the changes, even when they were challenging – for instance James Wakefield was rapidly off the mark to share some reasons for Zoom ghosting and tips for how to deal with the phantom menace in your online class.
No surprises that demand for synchronous online teaching has spiked. But it’s not just Zoomed lectures; academics are embracing interactive online classes with breakout rooms, group work, and drop-in sessions. We’ve been impressed with how well academics have adapted tricky things for online teaching, like large interactive classes, problem-solving, practical work and labs. We’re also seeing academics explore some new technology territory – the chief winner in this regard being Microsoft Teams. Amara Atif, Simone Faulkner and Jurgen Schulte all talked about how they’ve successfully utilised Microsoft Teams to manage large cohorts and enhance collaboration. Teams has been getting a good rap from students as well.
What has been perhaps more surprising – although given the creative UTS spirit, perhaps it shouldn’t be so – has been the ability of teaching staff to find the joy in what they are doing. Look no further than Scott Chadwick who has been teaching his classes via Zoom in the guise of a new persona every week.
I have had students emailing me saying they did not want to turn their mics on during class because their family members were fighting and they didn’t want their classmates to hear it, or a student had to leave a class for ten minutes to help make lunch for his younger sister because he was the only one home. So, if I can make the students’ day a bit brighter or the class a bit more enjoyable by dressing up and bringing a bit of fun to the class then it might make this whole situation a bit easier on the students.Scott Chadwick
Along with the tolerance for making mistakes, there’s more kindness and gratitude flowing than before. The LX.lab team has experienced that via many, many kind emails and tweets of support from academics and sincere thanks for our support. The fact that people took the time to do this in the midst of a crisis, with so much going on for everyone personally and professionally, means an awful lot to us!
Of course, kindness goes both ways. Amanda White developed an infographic template for students about to complete student feedback surveys, which along with social media can sometimes be an outlet for students’ understandable frustrations with their situation.
After seeing the aftermath on [a] friend, I wanted to do something to try and ensure none of my UTS friends and colleagues ended up in the same position – wondering whether they should put in any more effort when the feedback comments feel like a kick in the guts. I wanted to inspire kindness, understanding and empathy – while still helping us highlight what needs improvement.Amanda White
Looking back, we feel that over the past few months the importance of learning and teaching has been underlined and amplified. As one casual academic who doubles as an LX.labber, Kate Ayrton, noted “what has struck and moved me more than anything is understanding what a key presence we are and need to be in our students’ lives. While it may feel as though we’re learning to fly the plane whilst in the air, students are grateful and showing up.” As Monica Attard tweeted recently, it was some ride. Keep on showing up, UTS.