Pandemic teaching: dispatches from the frontline

Hearing, first-hand, how the sector handled the rapid digital transition driven by COVID-19

This independent roundtable discussion is sponsored by: 

The panel:

  • Carl Morris, principal – Carfax College; head – Carfax Private Tutors
  • Craig Winstanley, senior tutor and course leader of sport – University Academy 92 (UA92)
  • Reegan Russell, second year sports and exercise science student – UA92


Host: Genna Ash-Brown
Editor

I’ve been covering the digital transformation of the education sector for 12 months now, and boy – it’s been one heck of a ride.

I feel like I’ve delved into every possible angle of the COVID learning experience; the digital divide, parent–teacher comms, personalisation, remote assessment, lecture capture, privacy issues, and everything in between. The reality is that in the coronavirus era, it’s impossible to talk about education without discussing online provision. I thought I had exhausted the subject, and that sure did make me empathise with the hero teachers and education leaders who have been delivering in this format since March 2020. While the sector is nothing but grateful for technology’s ability to minimise learning disruption, the context in which those on the frontline have been working has, at times, been incredibly draining, isolating and sometimes frightening. 

 

My remote learning ‘burnout’ (which, I’ll be the first to admit, is entirely different and nothing compared to the fatigue experienced by education professionals during this time) was nothing but a failure to think ‘outside the box’. Sound the cliché siren: I had a COVID-driven ‘writer’s block’. Or that was my justification anyway, as I buried the ghostly voice of a former lecturer from moons ago quietly whispering, “It doesn’t exist!”, under the weight of many other pandemic-fuelled anxieties. 

Calling on diverse perspectives

But then, planning  ET’s first virtual roundtable put things into perspective. It was the kick-start I needed to approach the subject with new eyes and a refreshed frame of mind. Given that our audience predominantly comprises IT staff and leadership, teachers, lecturers and general edtech buffs, we had been guilty of neglecting the student perspective. Students are the beating heart of education, and the events of the last 12 months have been just as tough – if not considerably tougher – as they have for sector staff. How have students dealt with the rapid transition to digital? How do they truly feel about the cancellation of exams? Do they prefer certain elements of online instruction over traditional face-to-face? To unravel these details and more, I had the pleasure of being joined by Reegan Russell – second year sports and exercise science student at UA92 – on a virtual roundtable discussion, as I was keen to explore his insights and experiences of what it’s really been like to study in the midst of a global pandemic.  

Echo360 Booth

“So in the initial lockdown in March, we did have a bit of a heads up almost. The university were obviously anticipating it…So we had the advantage there of periods where we could prepare for it. We had some IT support guys come in who actually worked full-time at the university, and they kind of did a little mock session of what an online class would look like” – Reegan Russell, UA92

But that’s not all; I wanted the roundtable to cover a vast scope of the sector, so I was chuffed when Reegan’s lecturer – Craig Winstanley, senior tutor and course leader – agreed to join the panel. This meant we had both the student and teacher perspective covered, and not only that, but it meant we could delve into insights from the very same course, and, interestingly, one that is fundamentally known for being practical in nature. How did the hands-on, lab-based or physical activity-based elements of the programme translate to the digital realm? Was there any noticeable change in student engagement or motivation following the shift? How has his practice evolved since March last year? These questions, and many more, were addressed in our conversation.

“We do have some challenges at the minute. What we have done is, for example, with physiology, where normally you’d spend a lot of times in the labs doing practicals, we’ve obviously had to change that. So…We’ve sent out teaching packs, where students have got lots of different materials to work from. So they can actually build bone structures, for example, build a spine – creative thinking like that” – Craig Winstanley, UA92

Managing education in a time of crisis 

Then, there was the matter of management. Experiencing and delivering remote education is one thing, but when it comes to moving an entire learning portfolio online at breakneck pace, not to mention maintaining high-quality provision for varied learning styles throughout a changing global health crisis, where do you even begin? And what about the differences between education levels? University students are, after all, older and far more autonomous, so how have younger and more vulnerable students fared amid the continuing pandemic uncertainty? Carl Morris, head of Carfax Private College in Cambridge, was kind enough to round-off the panel and bear all on the above.

“We’re always trying to be flexible and adaptable with our approach so we’ve learned as much from the students in this pandemic as as they have from us” – Carl Morris, Carfax College

I left this 40-minute discussion feeling far more upbeat than I did before it began – I hope it does the same for you. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the ‘doom and gloom’ when there is so much innovation and positivity to share. Thanks to Reegan, Craig and Carl for sharing your stories with me. 


U
ntil next time!

Roundtable Partner

Learning lessons from the pandemic, higher education institutions now need to deliver learning online, on-campus, and in a hybrid-blended mode. Luckily, with Echo360 the classroom can be anywhere from on-campus to on-site and everywhere in between. Students never even have to leave the LMS – you can embed Echo360 video, add interactive polls and give video feedback on student work. And of course, students can create and share videos themselves. Developed by educators, Echo360 supports all the video requirements of education in a single platform reaching more than two million learners across Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Asia Pacific with 99.999% reliability.
 
Find out more about Echo360’s exciting offerings at their virtual exhibition booth: https://universitybusiness.co.uk/booth/echo360/ 

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