New Year, New Perspectives
Andreas Boldt, the EDTL Digital Skills Officer at Maynooth University, shares his thoughts on teaching and learning in the digital sphere and provides some advice for the upcoming academic year as face-to-face learning returns.
As the country continues to open more doors, we have a hope for a populated campus once again. However, our way of teaching and learning has changed through this unexpected time of Covid-19; educators have embraced online classes and novel teaching methods to create a teaching space that is conducive to learning remotely, and learners have risen to the challenge in adapting to a remote teaching environment that has been created for them. While we may, in some form, return to campus, we will likely return to a “hybrid teaching” model. Many educators are unsure how to prepare for the coming Academic Year; will we see all our students again in the same room? How far are students willing to return to campus? What level of flexibility should I maintain in my course preparation?
Since March 2020, I have prepared my classes to be fully online. At the beginning of the Academic Year 2020/21 we were encouraged to prepare for the unknown; plan for full on-campus teaching, plan for full online teaching and plan for a hybrid model, as the future at that time was still very unclear. However, I have planned my classes in such a way, that the content would be the same in either mode of teaching – I just had to vary how to teach. For October/November 2020 I taught for about six weeks on campus before classes were completely switched over to online teaching. As I had amended my teaching materials to allow for this scenario, I was immediately able to take up the reins of remote teaching once again. The same approach – if possible – I can only advise for any other educators.
In this process I have learned to view students as partners and to work with them in the physical and virtual classroom. Suggestions are taken on board, and I try to improve the materials accordingly but also keep academic integrity in place. I have learned that for online classes I need to keep in my mind that not all students know everything about computing and that a third of students have internet connectivity problems at home. Online exercises had to be kept simple as online technical support could prove to be difficult if there were technical issues with the students PC or laptop. For online teaching, my communication needs to be clear, and I need to give students options to contact me. The classes I plan are very flexible – so that I can allow longer online discussions but also in such a way that I could cut materials from a live-session class if required. Different and alternative continuous assessments need to be offered and the contents need to be accessible to the students.
As I have always kept the students informed on how and why we dealt with topics and undertook exercises they appreciated the fact that I was very fair, equal, and open to the students. All students appreciated my efforts to provide the best possible teaching methods and assessments for each single student. I have told the students that if they have a network problem to let me know and together, we found a solution. This full flexibility was appreciated by the students, and they were completely honest if problems occurred.
For this coming Academic Year educators need to be aware of the last year’s online teaching and the absence of an on-campus experience. This means that some additional time needs to be planned into the teaching schedule for explanations, questions, and answers. For example, last year’s first year students had no on-campus experience, so they are not aware of on-campus procedures, such as essay collection boxes in departments, for example. These aspects need to be also considered when educators are planning their time schedules for classes. But as always, we will continue to make the learners our focus, continue to learn and adapt and plan for the unexpected.
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