This blog was co-written by Natalie Krikowa and Kate Delmo (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences)
During the Autumn 2020 session, we found ourselves asking two simple but critical questions at the end of every week:
- What worked and did not work this week?
- What adjustments do we have to make for next week to improve the student learning experience?
Pre-COVID-19, reflexivity was considered going the extra mile. The EFS (Early Feedback Survey) and the SFS (Student Feedback Survey) were the two main points where most teachers would reflect on their teaching practice and consider improvements. Often teachers were teaching the same subjects for years and therefore changes were often minimal as the subjects were typically in good shape and working well for the face-to-face environment.
Many of the impacts of COVID-19 were unprecedented and created significant challenges for academics and students alike. Many aspects of our teaching and learning strategies had to change, however it was imperative that we remained reflexive and took a student-centred learning approach to our teaching practice. We needed to be agile, adaptive and organic. As a result, changes became instantaneous.
Suddenly, we required frequent and urgent response to solve problems that arose in the areas of technology use, class and content design, and care for students and colleagues. The informal, anecdotal feedback provided by students was critical to the reflexive process that ultimately led to a collaborative, student-centred learning approach during the pandemic.
The three pillars: Structure, strategy and sensibility
When reflecting on our experiences, we developed a teaching practice framework: ‘Structure, strategy and sensibility: Pillars of transformative teaching practice’.
The framework enables teachers to:
- Reflect on the structures of their teaching and learning (technologies, tools and platforms)
- Devise and revise strategies around pedagogy, class design and content delivery
- Embrace a student-centred learning approach where empathy, care and humanity are at the core of teaching practice
Structure Pillar: Technology
When maintaining reflexivity in teaching practice, the easiest place to start is often the learning environment itself. The initial shift to online learning that occurred in the pause week emphasised subject and assessment redesign and the quick adoption of online platforms including Canvas, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Engaging the students in the reflexive process and gaining their insights through regular feedback loops, meant that changes to the learning environment could be swifter and often more innovative. Students clearly appreciated being involved in the construction of their learning environment and by the end of the session were able to articulate the benefits and shortfalls of particular technology platforms.
Strategy Pillar: Class and Content Design
Although subject descriptions were revised to reflect the online teaching environment, we observed that our teaching strategy and tactics changed frequently based on constant feedback from students and our teaching staff. Teaching in a fully online environment resulted in consistent, ongoing re-designing of subject content and its delivery.
As the teaching session progressed, we learned that the decisions we made regarding class and content design during the pause week did not work for the succeeding weeks as initially planned. The reflexive approach allowed us to explore ways of retaining student engagement, often adapting class activities in ways we never before conceived possible. By continuing to place students at the centre of the learning design process we also ensured that their perspectives, feelings and circumstances were taken into consideration.
Sensibility Pillar: Empathy for Students and Staff
The final area within which we focused our reflexive practice was in the care of those we were ultimately responsible for — our students and fellow teaching team staff. Being a reflexive teacher meant securing the perspectives of others, including students and fellow teachers. If we did not consider and understand the unique circumstances that our students and teaching team were now experiencing, it did not matter what technologies we utilised or how we designed our classes, it would be all for naught. What we found, through our weekly virtual face-to-face classes, was that students ultimately wanted someone to care about them and empathise with what they were going through.
It is important as COVID-19 continues to impact our lives, workplaces and educational experiences, that teachers maintain a reflexive, transformative approach to student learning. City and state-wide lockdowns have once again moved learning online in 2021, and with this uncertain future, online and hybrid will remain to some degree. Whilst many of the approaches made during the first response to COVID-19 teaching and learning in 2020 can be adopted again, having a reflexive approach to learning means that teachers can respond to new challenges quickly, and remain agile.
Adopting a transformative teaching framework enables teachers to reflect on the structures of their teaching and learning (technologies, tools and platforms used), devise and revise strategies around pedagogy, class design and content delivery, and embrace a student-centred learning approach where empathy, care and humanity are at the core of teaching practice.
Kate Delmo teaches both undergraduate and post-graduate subjects across public relations, strategic communication, organisational communication and crisis communication.
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Kate and Natalie received a FASS Remote Teaching Award for this reflexive approach to teaching and learning during COVID-19 and would like to again thank their brilliant teaching teams for their important role in this successful endeavour.
This blog post is adapted from an article written for the Journal of Public Relations Education where the authors addressed the impact that COVID-19 had on the teaching and learning experience.