November 2020 Newsletter

November 2020 Newsletter
November 2020 Newsletter
November 2020 Newsletter

The Good, The Bad and The Future of Online Learning

Featuring contributions from our EDTL Student Interns along with Jennifer Keenahan and Stephen Redmond of UCD.

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

Featuring contributions from EDTL student interns and academic staff from our member universities.

It’s hard to believe that the first semester of this academic year like no other is nearly finished, and there is no doubt that what we have learned from this pivot to online learning is something that will stay with us for quite some time. Academics and students alike have had different experiences with online learning; from the good to the bad. But even as things gradually return to normal, it would be a shame to leave what we learned from this experience behind. Below, some of our EDTL Student Interns and academics from our member universities give a good and a bad point from their online learning experience so far, along with a tidbit they hope can be taken from this whole experience even when campuses are full of life again!

Aoibhinn Nic Giolla Mhartain – UCD

The Good
I love having pre-recorded lectures which I can watch in my own time and pace. Although the lecture takes longer to do as I pause and rewind as I go through, I no longer have to spend time sorting out my notes after a lecture and I can be sure my notes aren’t missing any content. It also means I can redo the lectures if I am struggling with certain material coming up to exams or want to hear the concepts explained again. 

The Bad
I have found that the worst part of online learning is my workload has increased. This is due to a combination of factors.  Firstly, the fact that the semester is shorter and there is no study week has had massive implications as I have the same amount to do, with less time to do it. Furthermore, modules which were traditionally examined in the traditional two hour written exam format have changed this year. In some modules, this has resulted in lecturers splitting the assessment into multiple gradable components. This means there is always something due which has added constant stress to the semester. 

The Future
In the future, when life has (hopefully) returned to normal, I hope lecturers keep recording their lecturers and posting them on the VLE even when they are being delivered face to face so students can continue to derive the benefits of pre-recorded lectures. 

Lauren Muldowney – NUIG

The Good
Online learning has provided opportunities to reflect on how and why we learn. I’ve found that this new learning environment has required achieving learning outcomes, rather than passing assessments, to become a priority. It has also made me reflect on my learning style, given me greater flexibility to plan my life and increased my participation in classroom discussion.

The Bad
While I find the online classroom to be great for learning, sometimes you can’t help but miss the unexpected conversations you would have waiting for a class to begin or as we shuffled out of a tutorial room. I have come to appreciate the value of these seemingly unimportant daily occurrences in getting to know my classmates and enhancing the social aspect of university life.

The Future
As we hopefully approach a university life closer to ‘normal’, I’d like to see us combine the best of both worlds. The days of hour-long didactic teaching in a lecture hall are becoming less practical. Students are a heterogeneous group with a multitude of backgrounds, external commitments and learning styles. A flexible mix of interactive sessions, be it online or in person, combined with self-directed elements feels like the way forward. 

Katharina Kurz – MU

The Good
As a fulltime MA student who has ‘zero’ to ‘hardly any’ free-time, attending University from home has allowed me to save about an hour of walk to, and back from college. I have many evening classes, sometimes even until 21:00. Joining from home allowed me to re-allocate this hour of free time.

The Bad
At the same time, the walk to college required me to move and leave my home, which also had benefits. Spending this hour outside definitely refreshed my brain. It has become more challenging for me to make sure I go for enough walks and I sometimes feel like I lack a ‘good enough’ purpose for leaving my house.

The Future
Attending University from home has taught me that time spent outside (either walking to university, or just strolling around) is time well spent! I learned how important it is for my mental and physical health to consciously make time to leave my house. In the future, I will be more attentive and appreciative of activities that require me to go outside, even if it is only walking to, and back from university.

Robyn Meyler – MU

The Good
I think the collectivist attitude that has been fostered due to the pandemic is very special. We are all making the transition to online learning together, everyone adapting and discovering new things along the way. As we are brought into each-others homes virtually, the professional side of academic teaching has almost gone out the window, fostering more personal student-teacher relationships. I find myself asking questions and contributing through the chat function much more often than I ever would have in a non-virtual classroom with hundreds of students.

The Bad
Nothing can replace the personal, face to face interactions of classroom learning. Staring for hours at a computer screen will never trump the advantages of attending a lecture where you can benefit from auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learning. Students need social interactions to motivate learning and develop communication skills.

The Future
One thing I hope that colleges will continue to emphasize in the post-pandemic future is the importance of student mental health. I think online learning has highlighted some of the issues facing students both relating to online learning and college life in general. Never before have students been encouraged to mind their mental health as often and it is key that the supports that are being implemented are advertised to students a lot more. 

Jennifer Keenahan – Head of T&L Civil Engineering, UCD

The Good
There is no doubt that flexibility is one of the greatest positives that has come from the pivot to online teaching and learning. Lecturers can pre-record content, and students can choose to engage with such content at a time that is most convenient for them. Furthermore, the move to online learning has also necessitated a modernisation in terms of the use of digital technologies which is seen as great progress from a pedagogical perspective. 

The Bad
Student engagement is certainly one of the greatest challenges posed in the move to online learning. Without careful design, development and curation of an online module, it can be quite flat, quite boring, and very challenging for students to engage with. It can best very difficult to learn in what can be a very mono-directional form of communication. 

The Future
I see the future of online learning as retaining all of the benefits harnessed from the pivot to online learning, such as flexibility and the use of digital technologies while reverting to a form of in-person teaching that best supports student engagement. 

Stephen Redmond – Head of T&L Electrical & Electronic Engineering, UCD

The Good
Academic staff are engaging with online delivery of content, and we are getting good at it! I’ll be disappointed if we go back to the traditional lecture as we knew it.

The Bad
Assessment is a challenge. Replacing end of term exams with continuous assessment, as the pandemic rolls on, is resulting in an over-assessment of students. We also have unsolved issues with respect to the integrity of assessment – how do we know who is doing the work? Finally, there is a risk that students are getting a bad impression of online blended learning, because we cannot balance their time spent online with valuable time spent on campus (working in labs; talking with staff face-to-face; supporting each other in peer learning groups; socialising). 

The Future
When we return to campus, we are in a position to substantially improve the student learning experience, with high-quality online content (recorded once, and saved for posterity) that can be consumed on-demand, and a richer on-campus interaction between educators and students.

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