Lunelle Pienaar: Lecturer, Department of Health Sciences Education, University of Cape Town
Dr Busayo Ige: Senior Lecturer and Head of Division Education Development Unit, Department of Health Sciences Education, University of Cape Town
Dr Nadia Hartman: Senior Lecturer, MPhil and PhD Programmes Convenor, Department of Health Sciences Eduction, University of Cape Town

It is not an easy task to consider anything else at this moment of crisis but the pressure to convert relevant parts of the standard curriculum for online learning. This context cannot be ignored and may be an all-consuming task for many educators at traditional face to face universities. Alongside the demand to transition at short notice to remote teaching the current circumstances provide valuable opportunity to think through what we do currently to be educationally inclusive and fair to all students. 

What does this imply for practice? What questions could we ask that make us more aware?

  1. Let’s be reflexive: 
    1. What educational choices in teaching, assessment and design of learning material are we making for remote TLA and why?
      1. What is the most critical information and skills that needs to be dealt with now? 
      2. What can be left for later? How do we record what is not done now?
      3. Are the content and assessment questions presented in a way that students from all backgrounds can access it, for example, do the examples or case scenarios take account of students’ differing cultural familiarity with my illustrations, explanations or requirements for assessment?
      4. Is the material presented in accessible formats? For example, subtitles or sign language interpretation for deaf students, audio for blind students, voice activated writing software for students with motor limitations?
      5. Do the content and assessment questions contain implicit prejudices and biases; who can I obtain assistance from to review my materials or what framework can I utilise to reflect on unconscious bias in my assessment of materials and responses to student perspectives?
      6. What different content may I need to add to address the lived realities of people experiencing social inequality and ongoing colonialities of power, knowledge and being?
      7. What are the ways that the discipline and profession need to respond to the context of social inequality in an effort to prevent the spread and impact of COVID-19?
    2. How can I modify course materials, activities, assignments, and/or exams to be more accessible to all students in the class irrespective of their remote locations?
      1. What assessments will not be possible until face-to-face content
    3. For transparency, how can the outcome of an assessment be shared with a student as well as why their achievement of the learning outcome is assessed that way? A clear articulation of the rationale for the change (in remote learning) may lead students engage different and be successful learning and completion of task
    4. How might online learning be framed to best encourage, engage and motivate students to bring their backgrounds and experiences into their learning experience?
      1. How can I create the opportunity that allows and recognise students own identities, knowledge, backgrounds and experiences as part of their learning?
  2. Let’s be proactive:
    1. Does the educational plans recognise and build in support to address financial and health stresses emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic for students while completing academic activities?
    2. What accommodation is made in teaching and learning for students with psychosocial problems to enable students to achieve the desired level of learning versus thinking that reflects accommodation as a dropping of standard? 
      1. What support does the plan put in place for students with psychosocial distress or disabilities.
      2. How can we rethink assessment to allow students to demonstrate knowledge through low stake assessment opportunities, which could facilitate learning disciplinary fluency and self-reflection of their learning (improve metacognition)?
      3. How do we keep in touch with the class?
        • Is there a communication strategy at the level of the course and programme in place to interact and communicate with students online, so we can recognize when they are struggling not only academically but from mental health point of view?
        • How will we recognise struggling students and staff as some may not indicate that they are struggling? 
  1. Let’s think flexibly: 
    1. What are the current ideas about teaching that is dominant in courses and programme? Ideas about learning that is dominant for in person teaching may be replicated in the online format. Thus, continuation of didactic teaching may be reproducing a colonial curriculum online. 
    2. Would flexible timing accommodate students who perform at different speeds, or those juggling multiple house chores – especially those who may uncomfortable to ask or don’t know how to ask? 
    3. How will plans accommodate students who have Covid-19, are recovering from it or whose families have COVID-19 be accommodated in the remote teaching?
    4. Is there opportunity that the current short term plans could be useful in the longer term in the design of the courses and programme?
  1. Is there opportunity to create alternative ways of accessing knowledge? Consider the development of or using open educational resources: (The case for using open textbooks in HE is growing by Kirk Perris and Mpine Makoe  09 April 2020) https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20200406074143993
  2. Awareness of stigma: WHO message for psychosocial consideration during COVID 19 outbreak: – Do not refer to people with the disease as “COVID-19 cases”, “victims” “COVID-19 families” or “the diseased”. They are “people who have COVID-19”, “people who are being treated for COVID-19”, or “people who are recovering from COVID-19”, and after recovering from COVID-19 their life will go on with their jobs, families and loved ones. It is important to separate a person from having an identity defined by COVID-19, in order to reduce stigma (see page 1 item 2 of WHO document for detail). 

By asking questions like 1) what knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviour needs to be engendered that is important for the discipline to respond to in  the South African context of social and economic inequality and essential to remain in the curriculum now? 2) how best to support all students to enable them to learn and achieve the learning outcomes which are accessible, relevant and engaging for all but demonstrates awareness of individual challenges? Allowing students the academic manoeuvrability to achieve the learning outcomes may be a starting point. This requires shifting from teaching emphasis as being separate from learning but recognising that effective teaching has to bring the student as learner’s strengths and ability to contribute to the fore and to build on this. So academic manoeuvrability is about setting outcomes that reflect the realities of the marginalised and what seems to be seen as the minority of vulnerable students statistically. 

References 

Kathard, H., Galvaan, R. & Kleintjes, S. (2020) COVID-19 Higher Education response: How are we being equitable and inclusive? HELTASA accessed 13 April 2020 http://heltasa.org.za/covid-19-higher-education-response-how-are-we-being-equitable-and-inclusive/

World Health Organization. (2020). Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak, 18 March 2020 (No. WHO/2019-nCoV/MentalHealth/2020.1). World Health Organization.