Tag Archives: digital skills

So what of the future?

University campus
Image by Quinn Kampschroer from Pixabay

We are living through a period of unprecedented disruption, it isn’t over, so what do we need to do in the short term, the medium term and how will this impact the long term?

Last week I delivered two presentations, one was a planned presentation for a QAA workshop, the other, well it wasn’t supposed to be a presentation, but due to a lack of response from the audience in the networking session I was in, I quickly cobbled together a presentation based on the slides I had used for the QAA.

This post is a combination and an expansion of the presentations I delivered about my thoughts of what happened, what then happened, what we need to think about and what we could do.

lecture theatre
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I initially reminded ourselves of what we had experienced back in March.

We know people talk about a pivot to online learning, but we know this isn’t what happened. As others have written about, this wasn’t some planned gradual shift to a blended online approach to teaching and learning. It was a abrupt radical emergency response to physical campus closures in the midst of a national crisis.

shattered glass
Image by Republica from Pixabay

As universities closed their campuses to staff and students, they were forced to isolate and start to teach and learn remotely. Staff who previously had offices and desks to work from suddenly found themselves in lockdown, working from home amidst all the other stuff which was happening. They may have been lucky and had a working space they could use, but many would have found themselves in a busy household with partners working from home, children being home schooled with all the pressures that brings to space, time, devices and connectivity.

Likewise students were suddenly faced with stark choices, should they stay on campus or go home, for some home meant a flight home. They too would find themselves in strange environments in which they had to learn. They would be isolated, in potentially busy households, potentially without the devices and connectivity they could have used on campus.

In addition to all this the landscape and environment was changing rapidly. Lockdown forced us to stay at home, only allowed out for essential supplies and exercise once per day. There was the threat of infection and with the death rates rising exponentially, it was a frightening time.

The emergency shift to remote delivery also was challenging, without the time and resources, or even the support, to design, develop and delivery effective and engaging online courses. We saw many academic staff quickly translate their curriculum design from physical face to face sessions to virtual replacements using Zoom and Teams. What we would see is that this simple translation would lose the nuances that you have with live physical sessions in learning spaces without taking account of the positive affordances that online delivery can potentially have. Without the necessary digital skills and capabilities staff would have found it challenging in the time available to transform their teaching.

I still think as I was quoted in a recent article that this rapid emergency response and shift to remote delivery by academic staff across the UK was an amazing achievement.

In the presentations I gave an overview of some of the support Jisc had been providing the sector, from providing a community site, various webinars, blogs, advice and guidance as well as direct help to individual members of Jisc.

online meeting
Image by Lynette Coulston from Pixabay

Over the last few months I have been publishing various blog posts about aspects of delivery translation and transformation. I have also reflected on the many conversations I have had with people from the sector about what was happening, what they are doing and what they were thinking about going forward. I’ve also had a fair few articles published in the press on various subjects.

So as we approach the end of term, the planning for September has been in play for some time as universities start to think about how they will design, develop and deliver academic programmes for the next year.

Journey
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

We know that virtually all universities are planning to undertake some teaching on campus in the next academic year, but will combine that with elements of the course delivered online.

Though in the past we may have talked about these being blended courses, though they may consist of a blend on face to face physical sessions and online sessions, they were planned to be blended and not changed over the course. They didn’t need to take into account social distancing, so could combine physical lectures with online seminars. In the current climate, we are expecting to see large gatherings forced online and smaller group activities happening physically face to face.

Blended programme are generally designed not be changed over the time of the programme, so I think we might see more hybrid programmes that combine physical and online elements, but will flex and change as the landscape changes.

writing and planning
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

I published a blog post about hybrid courses back in May, my definition was very much about a programme of study which would react  and respond to the changing environment.

With a hybrid course, some sessions are physical face to face sessions. There are live online sessions and there are asynchronous online sessions. In addition there could be asynchronous offline sessions as well. You may not want to be online all the time! 

Some sessions could be easily switched from one format to another. So if there is a change in lockdown restrictions (tightening or easing) then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location.

Listening to a conversation someone was talking about hybrid courses as a mix between online and face to face, but didn’t mention the responsiveness or the potential flexibility. Without a shared understanding we know that this can result in confusion, mixed messaging, with the differences in course design and delivery, as well as problems with student expectations. I wrote about this last week on a blog post on a common language.

Some courses do lend themselves to an online format, whereas others may not. As a result I don’t think we will see similar formats for different subjects. Lab and practical courses may have more physical face to face sessions, compared to those that are easier to deliver online. As a result different cohorts in different subjects will have different experiences. Some universities may find that due to nature of social distancing that classes may have to be spread across a longer day and these has been talk of spreading over seven days as well, to fit in all the required classes and students.

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

Designing, developing and delivering online courses, or even just components of online courses doesn’t just happen, it takes time and time is something we don’t have. In a conversation about the issues of planning, one senior manager said to me that what she needed was six months and more money.

We have seen that some universities in response to this kind of challenge are recruiting learning technologists and online instructional designers to “fill” the gap and support academic staff in creating engaging and effective online components of their courses.

Maintaining the quality of such components will be critical, and merely translatingexisting models to a simple online format using tools such as Zoom will lose the nuances of physical face to face teaching without gaining any of the affordances that well designed online learning can bring to the student experience.

Building and developing staff skills and capabilities in these areas is been seen as a priority for many universities, but how you do this remotely, quickly and effectively is proving to be a challenge and a headache for many.

clock
Image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay

Normally when I mention time, I would have talked about how I don’t have a dog, but in this case this is not the case, the development of new designs for the next academic year is not just the main priority, but as we don’t have the time and the skills in place to make it happen.

We are not merely adding online elements to existing courses. We are not going to be able to deliver the physical face to face sessions in the same way as we have done. Everything has to change, everything is going to change.

So what of the future? Well we know for sure it’s going to be different.

tree trunk
Image by Picography from Pixabay