The rapid online migration of teaching and learning in higher education during Covid created massive turbulence in the sector, exposed some significant deficiencies and forced what some believed was a much-needed change.
Prior to the onset of Covid, teaching and learning in higher education had more or less been delivered in the same way for over 100 years, using a combination of in-person lectures for large groups of students, seminars and tutorials. As the pandemic tightened its hold and universities nationwide closed their doors in March 2020, enormous upheaval and re-adjustment ensued with HEIs struggling to deliver engaging online learning materials and lectures. Significant deficiencies came to the fore in relation to teaching, learning, inclusivity and accessibility.
Universities have long been viewed as huge beacons of research excellence in terms of the human progression of innovation, and rightly so, but they now need to take greater responsibility for delivering inclusive and equitable teaching and learning experiences to all undergraduate students from a wide range of backgrounds.
Invest in libraries and training for librarians – who have traditionally been responsible for the purchase of journals and academic content
Today, despite lockdowns being lifted, in-person lectures have still not been fully reinstated by some universities who claim it is for health and safety reasons. Students are also choosing to watch recorded lectures at a time that suits them, rather than filling the auditorium and engaging with faculty staff and their peers.
Hybrid learning, combining online educational materials and interaction with traditional in-person teaching, is definitely here to stay – so what can universities do to address the aforementioned issues and to support both students and faculty staff? I believe it is important to:
- Improve the visibility and accessibility of academic staff using digital tools to facilitate dialogue and maintain regular contact with students.
- Look to instructional designers skilled in the art of creating powerful and effective academic learning experiences to heighten student engagement, refresh content and curriculums and support staff, who, in a bid to deliver regular lectures have been gingerly navigating their way through unchartered territory.
- Train and encourage faculty staff to engage more actively with their learning management systems and encourage students to use content, assessment materials, tools, and audio-visual assets to better understand the concepts presented to them.
- Focus on undergraduate ‘learning’ experience, ensure that everyone has an equal chance to succeed and step up support for ‘all’ students by providing them with free access to subscription-based quality content and tools, rather than expecting them to fund such resources.
- Invest in libraries and training for librarians – who have traditionally been responsible for the purchase of journals and academic content – but who now need guidance on the acquisition of online teaching and learning materials.
- Furnish students with the 21st-century skills they need to improve their career options. Prepare them for employment by providing them with tutorials and resources to master competencies to excel at university, explore career options, develop employability skills and transition successfully into the hugely competitive global workplace.
Andrew Robinson is vice-president and general manager of international higher education at Cengage Group.