COVID 19 and the national lockdown in particular with social distancing regulations provided HELTASA’s Collaborative Learning Communities (CLCs) an opportunity to engage members as well as interested and concerned higher education and educational stakeholders in dialogues at a time of loss, confusion and anxiety. Various modes of engagements were planned to support academics in their quest to make the unforeseen and rapid leap from face-to-face teaching and learning contexts to emergency remote platforms.
The HELTASA CLC convenors, Dr Nicola Pallitt (RU), Alanna Riley (Fort Hare), Neil Kramm (RU), Dr Rosaline Govender (DUT), Dr Subethra Pather (UWC), Dr Xena Cupido (CPUT), Dr Danny Fontaine (UCT), Mrs Thaiurie Govender (Varsity College, Sandton), Mr Francois Marais (UFS), Dr Nelia Frade (UJ) and Ms Arthi Ramrung (MUT) hosted 4 different interactive webinars. These events attracted, in total, about a thousand participants locally and internationally who are affiliated with or interested in higher education, academic development, curriculum development, assessment and teaching and learning matters particularly during these uncertain times.
In April, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) CLC shared their reflections on the potential dilemmas behind technological choices for remote teaching in their thought piece SASASA (short and sharp and socially aware) think-piece entitled ‘Thinking beyond technology when teaching remotely.’ A webinar was the platform provided for a response and discussions around the reading. Numerous concerns were raised: students’ and academics’ access issues, technological limitations in relation to students and academics and the well-being again of both, academic and student in the midst of an ongoing crisis. Participants shared valuable suggestions and practices.
In response to higher education’s concerns about how to enact the intended curriculum, amidst institutional calls to save the academic year, the Professional Development CLC hosted a panel discussion on key curriculum considerations during remote teaching. The guest speakers, Prof Owence Chabaya, Kibbie Naidoo and Dorian Love respectively drew on theories of course design, curriculum development and teaching and learning to share institutional and practice insights, choices and challenges in relation to the changes to be considered in the shift from face to face to online and remote modalities.
At a time that felt the silent concerns and worries of our students, the 3 Student Learning CLCs (First Year Experience (FYE); Tutor, Mentor and Supplementary Instruction; Foundation) collaborated on a SASASA think-piece: Care and Connection: Understanding the lived experiences during COVID-19. A webinar focussing on the holistic well-being of students (and academics) followed. Student voice from various national universities were creatively presented through an Ethics of Care approach and participant discussions emphasised the need to approach teaching and learning in a more humanising, caring, compassionate and relationship-building manner, particularly for students and academics whose home environments reflect societal inequalities and are fraught with uncertainty, tension and trauma.
With the tensions around exams, no exams or take home exams, the webinar on Assessment for Emergency Remote Teaching was jointly hosted by the Professional Development and the Technology Enhanced Learning CLC. The webinar reminded us that assessment is an integral aspect of curriculum practice and a copy paste from face to face mode to remote ways may not yield the desired results, requiring academics to redesign their planned assessments. Guests Dr Raymond Emekako, Prof Daniela Gachago, Prof Oupa Mashile, Shanali Govender and Dr Upasana Singh reflected on how their institutions have transitioned in terms of assessment for remote teaching, the lessons learned, their challenges and offered practical suggestions on this vital shift.
The feedback from both the participants as well as the CLCs have been very positive and encouraging and was experienced as a timely space to not only share but care, to not only network and connect but build relational collaborations, to not only hear and engage but to feel comforted collectively even in moments of discomfort and uncertainty.
We are eager to engage in this and other modes in the coming weeks and beyond a crisis that has brought us closer to the voices in the HE sector.
Rieta Ganas (CLC convenor) and Anthea Adams (co-convenor)
Thinking beyond technology when teaching remotely
Remote teaching: Curriculum considerations
Care and Connection: Understanding the lived experiences during COVID-19.
Assessment for Emergency Remote Teaching