The Future Classroom
IUA EDTL Student Intern Ruairi O’Gallchoir discusses what they think the classroom could (and possibly should) look like as the opportunity to go back to the pre-Covid world looms.
There is both a sense of optimism and trepidation as we freewheel towards normality, even though it probably is a bit farther away than many of us would care to admit. Regardless, there is a hope that by the time September has arrived this year that the idea of being fully-remote by necessity will be a thing of the past. That considered, I think that it would be a shame were we to cast aside everything we had learned over the past year. Certainly, there are aspects of campus life that I do not think remote learning will ever be able to replace, but going forward there are also several that could actually be enhanced by a touch of the digital realm.
Before remote learning, recorded lectures were largely a novelty for most; utilised during exceptional circumstances only. Throughout my four years of study in UCC I can only recall one lecturer ever recording their lectures and making them available online, despite the fact that every lecture theatre in our building was equipped with a recording setup.
The inability to deliver in-person lectures during lockdown meant that online lectures quickly became a necessity. There were the initial debates over asynchronous or synchronous, but that has settled down now and I think most people have reached a happy medium.
For many including myself, the major advantage of lectures being online is the autonomy they provide. A lecture penciled in for midday no longer means that my entire day revolves around that lecture, as I know that it will be recorded and I can watch it whenever I want. Alternatively, if I want to structure my day or ask my lecturer a question, I can attend the live lecture – but the choice is mine.
The other aspect is of course accessibility. We have heard many stories of how students with additional needs have benefited from online lectures. There is oftentimes closed-captioning available, they can rewind and fast-forward at will and revisit the lecture if they feel the need. It would be a real shame going forward if online lectures were viewed as a blip rather than an innovation, and I really hope they can remain a part of the college offering.
VLE at the Core
Every college in Ireland now utilises the VLE in some shape or form. I still remember my first year in college and how scattered the online presence was for my course. We were split between lecturers’ personal websites, Moodle and Blackboard. Good luck trying to remember where your course notes were uploaded, and keeping tabs of assignments and feedback across these three platforms was time-consuming to say the least.
Since then, there has been a gradual shift towards a unified VLE experience for students, in my case, Canvas. But the past year has really emphasised the importance of the VLE and the role it plays in keeping students engaged remotely. This year it has become a one-stop-shop for feedback, course materials, assignment submission and communication with classmates and lecturers – and I hope it stays this way.
The ability to log into my VLE and see all of my upcoming assignments at a glance is a great way to put my mind at ease and see my workload at a glance, and the fact that all of my course materials are there means I don’t have to go hunting across the World Wide Web. The discussion boards on Canvas have also been an acceptable substitute for asking classmates questions during the year, and it at least provides a way to ask a question to my classmates without having to cold-email them.
The VLE is as far as I am concerned a core part of the college experience now. With most VLEs having mobile apps as well, it means that students can stay up to date and engaged on the go as well, and it is my hope that going forward we can work further to integrate the VLE at the core of the learning experience.
One of the most difficult parts of college to transition to fully-remote has without a doubt been assessment. Unless you are implementing highly-invasive proctoring (as discussed in our November issue), you will not be able to recreate the closed-book, invigilated atmosphere of before. Some of my modules have decided that this doesn’t really matter, and continued with closed-book exams, but there are others which have used this change to chart new territory.
My course is based around Computer Science, and so apart from a selection of math modules, there is also a variety of development work. Traditionally assessment in these modules would involve sit-down exams where we would be asked to regurgitate code that we learned off – not exactly effective, but it worked in a way I suppose. This year with that being infeasible, we instead for one of our modules were assigned into teams and asked to develop a software project from start to finish.
Not only did this mean we learned real world skills, but it was also an incredibly engaging form of assessment. There was no need for our lecturer to try and explain the learning outcomes for this assessment because they were clear as day – this is what happens in the real world. This year has been a great opportunity to rethink assessment from the ground-up. Certainly, some courses do not have the flexibility that others would have to try new forms of assessing students. But if a course has the chance to engage students more fully when being assessed, then it would be a shame not to try something different.
In conclusion, the past year has brought with it many challenges and opportunities. There are times when I think back to how much easier college was before the pandemic struck – but I know there is almost certainly an element of rose-tinted glasses here. The past way of doing things was not perfect, and the way things are now certainly is not perfect. But there is definitely something to be taken from both as we look to the future way of doing things.
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