Revisiting Higher Education in Isolation
The EDTL team got in touch with academics from across our member universities in order to gain an insight into how they are faring with the shift to online learning earlier this year as part of our Higher Education in Isolation Vlog Series. Here, we revisit some of our contributors to see how they are adapting their teaching strategies this time.
Professor Theo Lynn, Digital Marketing and Strategy, DCU
Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about antifragility, a property of systems that increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures. As we approach the new academic year, I feel we are entering into another major test of the higher education system. Whereas during the immediate COVID-19 lockdown we demonstrated our resilience, I feel we are now seeing whether we can deliver an improved learning experience, or at least a different one, for our students moving forward that can flex with the slings and arrows that COVID-19 throws at us.
On the MSc in Digital Marketing at DCU, we have made a number of strategic changes to ensure we can deliver an optimum experience for our students wherever, whenever and however they wish. This means re-imagining our programme so that learning can be delivered in a mixed reality, not offline or online, virtual or physical, but both. Similarly, we have had to not only disconnect learning and teaching from us as lecturers but to some extent from a fixed timetable to cater for potential faculty unavailability at short notice and students who may be located outside of Ireland and our time zone, or may be uncomfortable coming to campus. The net result has required team teaching, atomising our content into smaller more consumable units to combat ‘Zoom fatigue’, and building in more frequent interactive activities that can be done individually or in a team, synchronously or asynchronously, online or offline. We have a lot of real world client projects where historically students really got to benefit from the experience of meeting clients and working on site with them. Again, this has to be reimagined to accommodate our international students and more virtual work.
We are training the digital marketers of the future. They will be working at the digital coalface. Our responsibility is to ensure, as much as possible, that they are not only resilient to the challenges posed by COVID-19 but are better for having lived and learnt through this time, that they are antifragile.
Dr Jeneen Naji, Digital Media, Maynooth University
Classes start in Maynooth University next week beginning 28th September to a campus of mixed feelings. I will be using new software called Panopto to live stream lectures and make them available online on our course management system, Moodle, but I will be keeping my lectures short and supplementing with online content such as readings, videos and online tutorials.
My labs in the Macintosh computer lab on campus will have 15-20 students and I will be wearing a faceshield, students have been asked to wear masks and are asked to wipe down their computer, keyboard and mouse before use. If a student has a problem in the Mac lab they will hopefully be able to share their screen with me using Microsoft Teams so I can help resolve their problem. Before the pandemic I used to be able to reach over their shoulder and help resolve the issue on their machine, this isn’t possible anymore. This is the plan, but I keep reminding myself that none of us have ever done this before, we have never taught during a pandemic so we are all on a very steep learning curve.
Dr Síle Ní Mhurchú, Roinn na Nua-Ghaeilge, UCC
Beidh formhór na léachtaí á dtabhairt agam ar líne i mbliana. An dúshlán is mó a bhaineann leis seo ná go mbeidh sé deacair aithne a chur ar na mic léinn agus aiseolas a fháil uathu. Tá slite éagsúla ann chun teacht timpeall air seo – quizeanna, ceisteanna le plé ar chlár fógraí an mhodúil, uaireanta oifige beo ar líne, ceachtanna gearra roghnacha, obair ghrúpa le cáipéisí ar líne. Táim chun rudaí difriúla a thriail – is dócha go n-éireoidh níos fearr le cuid acu ná a chéile. Déarfainn go mbeidh an-tábhacht ag baint leis an soiléire agus leis an solúbthacht sna míonna amach romhainn.
Dr Síle Ní Mhurchú, Department of Modern Irish, UCC
Most of my lectures will be given online this year. The biggest challenge is that it’s hard to get to know the students and get feedback from them. There are different ways to get around this – quizzes, questions for discussion on the module bulletin board, live office hours, optional short assessments, group work with online documents. I’m going to try different approaches – some will probably work better than others. I think that both clarity and flexibility will be vital in the coming months.
Prof Tomás Ward, School of Computing, DCU
Since the last teaching semester, I’ve used the time to reflect upon what has worked what doesn’t work (for me) and what is likely to be the teaching environment in the short to medium term. My own contingency planning involves the possibility that I may have to teach completely online if necessary but I am also accommodating flexibility to deliver face to face teaching as opportunities might arise. I have a new course to develop this semester for undergraduates. It’s a small, advanced class in machine learning. The students involved are final year students therefore they already know each other pretty well and given the online situation I’ve decided to take a Project Based Learning (PBL) approach to this class. Consequently, I plan to meet the students each week for a number of hours during which we will have a very open discussion of the problems they are facing in their projects and opportunities for guidance from myself, my research team and of course each other.
Peer-based learning through peer assessment, presentation, join projects, etc will I believe be an important means of retaining a classroom camaraderie. I am embracing Zoom again as I find it is a wonderful tool for delivering such experience because it allows me to instantly share my screen with my students, it allows students to share theirs and for us to link in with our slack channel that we’re using to share information, share code, share results, share papers, share ideas and share feedback and encouragement. I would struggle without it. I even use the recording feature of Zoom to completely record the session so that students with inadequate internet or who don’t feel like participating on a particular day can experience the delivery later.