As we try to adjust to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, it’s quite clear that every part of our lives has undergone far-reaching changes. However, this profound adjustment has been particularly felt by educators and their students. Just under a year ago, over a third (38%) of teachers admitted to relying on a mix of blended or hybrid formats when teaching. Yet, in March 2020, every higher education institution was faced with a scramble to transition to a near-complete remote learning environment – no easy task to say the least. Overnight, video conferencing tools, including Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, became an intrinsic part of the educator’s toolbox, with the initial assumption being that this would be a temporary measure.
Many months later, however, there is a distinct realisation that one of the central effects of the pandemic is that it has sped up an immediate and permanent shift in favour of remote learning, creating a new educational experience. Lecturers have had to challenge themselves to reconsider fundamental aspects of how their students learn best. This presents serious technology issues as, in reality, the university classroom has changed little since the first secular colleges were introduced into England in the early nineteenth century. In fact, I would argue that technology has helped to facilitate a ‘re-imagination’ of just about every sector – except education.
But these challenging times represent why universities and colleges must embrace the immense opportunity offered by technology. There are some key areas in which technology is helping to change the entire learning experience for the better:
The ‘parity’ of audio and video
When educating a class over video conferencing software, everyone can see and hear the same thing which creates a consistent learning experience with parity at the heart. There’s also a general sense that a lecturer is speaking directly to each and every student, instead of a packed room of faces. The central challenge of remote learning is that it requires note-taking alongside engagement with an ongoing lesson. Yet, technology has now advanced to the stage where everything a lecturer says can be transcribed in real-time, creating an invaluable resource for students both during and after a class. Not only this, it also enhances class collaboration as students can view a live interactive transcript and raise questions during an ongoing virtual lesson – boosting participation and engagement. Critically, this content can also be enriched even further as photos of slides, hyperlinks to additional relevant content, as well as demos, can be added and shared with students.
There’s much ongoing debate about the attention span of teens and adults, however, it’s estimated to be between 10-20 minutes. This makes reinforcement of key learning matter essential in the remote classroom, yet technology now plays a central role in recording lectures and creating highly accurate transcriptions, which are, in reality, live notes – especially useful when the topic is highly technical or complex. In addition, with students learning from home, they’re likely trying to incorporate their studies into other life responsibilities. With technology recording lectures, this content becomes much like podcasts and can easily be part and parcel of their busy lives. Meanwhile, transcripts effectively transform into course textbooks and engage students to study without distractions.
Students from overseas
Education is now a truly global business, with universities competing for international students year in, year out. Speaking from my own experience as a PhD student at Stanford, it’s quite hard to follow lessons fully when English is not your native language. Remote learning technology is a game-changer in this regard; overseas students whose first language is not English can refer to detailed lecture transcripts for each class, meaning they can learn at a pace that suits them best, while also using the content as a way to better understand the nuances of the English language.
Having a live, ongoing transcript really does help students to concentrate more fully during a lecture, removing the burden of taking copious amounts of notes that offer little learning value. This means educators have total peace of mind to deliver their lesson at their own pace, knowing students have an invaluable transcript resource that can be referenced at any stage, during or after a lecture.
Technology tipping point
Many higher education institutions are now rightly prioritising how best to deliver an impactful and quality remote learning experience, relying on both established technology, on top of exploring newer innovations. This will likely be an ongoing challenge even post-pandemic, yet if deployed correctly, the right technology already exists to create newer and richer approaches to education that benefit not only educators but also their students in a highly collaborative way.
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