In the current climate of change and uncertainty, as well as the emergency response to the coronavirus, universities are going to need think differently about how they deliver their courses and modules from September.
In what I suspect will be the start of a trend, the University of Manchester has decided to keep lectures online for the autumn.
The University of Manchester has confirmed it will keep all of its lectures online for at least one semester when the next academic year starts. In an email to students sent on 11 May, April McMahon, vice-president for teaching, learning and students, confirmed the university’s undergraduate teaching year would begin in late September “with little change to our start dates”, but it would “provide our lectures and some other aspects of learning online”.
The whole student experience is not going online though as the article continues.
However, students would be asked to return physically to campus in the autumn as Manchester was “keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials, as safely and as early as we can”, added Professor McMahon.
It’s one thing to rapidly respond to a crisis and teach remotely, however it’s another thing to deliver either wholly online or some kind of hybrid (should we say blended) programme due to the necessity of social distancing.
As a result we are going to see a lot of academic staff from September continuing to deliver online. At the current time, you could expect students to be forgiving, but recent announcements from the NUS, petitions to parliament, have suggested that many students are not happy with the “quality” of the emergency remote delivery of their learning. We know that you can say now that this wasn’t planned, it was a knee jerk response to what is an unprecedented situation. For the Autumn, though unprecedented, we do have a bit more time to reflect on practice and how we can a quality student experience. In addition we will need to put contingency plans in case another emergency response is required if there is a second spike in covid-19 infections resulting in a second lockdown. A big part of that future experience will be online delivery.
There is often an assumption that is made that because someone is excellent in face to face learning scenarios, they will be able to easily transfer these skills into an online environment, as the scenarios are very similar.
This is quite a risky assumption to make, as though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.
It was and can be challenging for radio personalities to move into television, even though both broadcast mediums, and there are similar programmes on both (think News Quiz and Have I Got News For You) the skills for the different media are quite different.
In a similar vein, many stars of the silent cinema were unable to make the move to the talkies. Those that did, certainly thrived, those that couldn’t, didn’t!
If we are to make the move a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning have the right capabilities and skills to deliver effectively online.
Having the digital confidence, capacity and capability is something that often needs to be built in those staff who may already have excellent skills in delivering learning in face to face scenarios.
Certainly there are many things which are transferable, but the skills in facilitating a classroom discussion are different to those in running a debate in an online forum.
So the question is, how do we build that digital capability? How are you building digital and online skills? What are you doing to ensure the successful transition to online delivery?
How will you do this remotely, at scale and at pace? Importantly how will you do this during an unprecedented crisis?
This blog post was inspired by and adapted from a post on digital capabilities that I published in 2016