Remote Learning amidst COVID-19
The Covid-19 pandemic brought a whirlwind of change to the way in which we conduct our teaching and learning, how we interact with our students, our colleagues and adapting to what it is we do and how we do it. Education, socio-economic, political and personal crises are daily nomenclature and we can hope that the lessons we have gained during this extraordinary time serve the best interests in becoming responsible global citizens. In March the move to emergency remote learning was the response to our national lockdown measures where the difference between “well-planned online learning experiences are meaningfully different from courses offered online in response to a crisis or disaster” (Hodges et al. 2020). This measure caused a fair share of stress as we scrambled to find innovative ways to migrate onto the fully online Blackboard platform. As an immediate response to our emergency remote learning, CAT with Erica Pretorius and some faculty peer online champions facilitated themed collaborate sessions to ensure all staff had the opportunity to become Blackboard savvy.
At the start of the lockdown and continuing into semester one we had nine themed collaborate sessions with staff. The topics covered various functionalities available on Blackboard, looking at alternative online platforms for student engagement and several online authentic assessment strategies. Dr Jacqueline Batchelor from the Faculty of Education did a session on the lessons from lockdown and the effects of student engagement, which gave a different perspective on issues that we were facing regarding student participation, assessment integrity and getting students to take ownership and responsibility for their own learning.The aim of these sessions was to capacitate and empower staff in the move to online teaching, learning and assessment. Based on the results from semester one, I think we can proudly acknowledge the FHS lecturers’ determination and commitment as we smoothed the learning transition path for students migrating to the Blackboard online learning platform. These training sessions will continue and advance to even greater heights in the second semester to provide continual support for staff. The staff survey highlighted the following concerns during semester one; the integrity of assessments, dealing with nuances of the Blackboard learning platform, understanding the circumstances many of our students face that compromise their ability for optimal learning and dealing with working from home where it feels we are on call 24/7.
From our student’s perspective, access to devices and connectivity became immediate problems that the UJ addressed with expediency and investment in support for student learning. Now that we move into semester two with a great deal of confidence in offering remote learning experiences, we need to provide opportunities for our students to cultivate a true sense of responsibility and accountability for their learning. This comes with a deeper learning mentality and opportunities to our facilitation of student learning experiences, where we tap into our innovative, creative and problem-solving capacity as lecturers, to provide solutions to the challenges we faced during semester one and our new world of work.
Moving forward we can transition from emergency remote learning as a mitigation to a national and global disaster, to a carefully planned learning design strategy with well thought out technological, pedagogical and assessment practices. The aim will be to develop our students as global 4IR citizens who can respond to the progressive challenges required for the ever-changing world we live in.
Our version of business as usual is no longer relevant as we find ourselves digging deep into our innovative resources to ensure quality teaching, learning and assessment practices, whilst optimising the potential of the Blackboard online learning platform. This is our new reality for teaching and learning. We have the expertise and innovation within us to walk alongside our students into the magic that lies within each of our domains. Let’s embrace our new reality and have our faculty lead the way as champions for online innovative teaching, learning and assessment.
Good luck for semester two – let’s continue with our excellence.