Crisis and Technology Enhanced Learning: Responses from the ASCILITE Community

Hazel Jones (Griffith University), Wendy Taleo (Charles Darwin University), Henk Huijser (QUT), Audrea Warner (University of Auckland) and David Porter (University of Wollongong)

In early April we came together as a panel to discuss the different ways our institutions and the ASCILITE SIGs are responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Technology-enhanced learning is at the centre of many institutions’ business continuity plans, resulting in many of our ASCILITE colleagues being inherently involved  n institutional efforts to support academics and students in their transition to online learning.  This post builds on that presentation and the resulting discussions, offering insights on how we can all thrive in this current uncertain circumstances and how we can all work together to support academic staff, and ultimately students, navigate this “ new norm.”

The past few weeks have been a time of upskilling and transforming skillsets. Be this business educators developing their own skills and translating their current practice from the physical classroom into a digital environment or the TELedvisors SIG working and thinking outside the classroom ‘box’ to support academics. Learning Analytics can be applied to both groups to tap into the data to discover how students are faring and which aspects of modified teaching practice and course design are proving effective. There has been a lot more collaboration both nationally and internationally, to seek deeper insights into how our colleagues are handling and adapting to the new teaching needs and expectations of their institution and students. Specifically, the TELedvisors SIG are continuing with a busier, business as usual. This includes communications through a Moodle site and monthly webinars. TELedvisors are providing an additional layer of support beyond the immediate institutional level and allows members to gain an insight into how other Universities are responding to COVID19 challenges.

Challenges

For many business educators, and other academic staff, the move en masse to virtual classrooms has come with a sharp learning curve in terms of deciding what is going to work for their students as well as providing the best possible learning experience, all in a relatively short amount of time. Assumptions such as ‘all my students have access to the internet and have a laptop’ have also been added to the mix. While institutions are trying to get laptops out to students, this also has its challenges.  As such, Business educators also now need to think more broadly in terms of how will my students be accessing my lecture notes, will this be on the tiniest available screen (i.e their phones) trying to ensure that in this way our students get the best possible experience on their device rather than through their phone web browser.

For many business educators, there is also a sense of losing control and this can be unsettling. While we may have well designed teaching plans it has become more important than ever to have Plan A and Plan B, as well as realising that lots of things go wrong, no matter how well prepared you are.  The key here is being honest with your students and accept that things don’t have to be perfect in an online course.

TELedvisors and other Learning and Teaching staff are supporting academics to achieve these objectives through initial training in online tools under significant time pressures. However, the larger challenges relate to changing mind sets around what online learning and teaching looks like. This means shifting attitudes away from the idea that we need to ‘replicate’ classroom teaching into the online space. This relates to ‘staples’ such as invigilated exams, field trips and practicums, all of which need a considerable re-think in the current context. Huge amounts of effort are going into supporting academics teaching online and supporting management at all levels in their understanding of how tools and systems work. One of the challenges is to ‘creatively abandon’ some of the planned work, in order to provide content and connect with students in the short term. Having a short-term, medium-term and long-term strategy in place will provide a better solution for both staff and students.

Another challenge is the fast-changing rules or lack of rules. Some organisations have been able to quickly obtain licensing for products that were previously restricted. TELedvisors are quick adapters but are exhausted by implementation schedules of new products. At the same time, COVID-19 has created significant financial pressures for many institutions, which in some cases has affected their willingness to pay for new tools at a time when there is increased demand for such tools.

As we move past the first “tsunami” of getting all courses, staff and students online, it is time to try and take a deep breath and prepare for the second wave or medium-term solutions for the second half of 2020. Learning analytics specialists will play a role here as evidence of what worked, and what didn’t, can move everyone to a more pedagogically sound, and data informed, long-term strategy.

What can ASCILITE do to support practitioners in the response?

The best thing about ASCILITE at this uncertain time is that we bring together this ‘community of practice’ including our diverse SIGs, with the aim to encourage, empower and enable one another to get through this new uncharted terrain.  The SIGs serve as great sounding boards for issues that arise at the local level, and for experimentation, providing support in a holistic sense of both moral, and technical/professional support.

On a broader note the new TELAS Accreditation Framework developed by ASCILITE offers internationally benchmarked accreditation standards that will assess, assure, certify and recognize the quality of online learning.  These accreditation standards will give academics and institutions opportunities to benchmark their current efforts and gauge what the sector considers good practice in online learning.  ASCILITE will be offering TELAS online with peer review assessment in June.

Through partnerships, patience, persistence and perseverance – we got this!

Together we will thrive.

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