Ms Arthi Ramrung: Lecturer in the Teaching and Learning Development Centre at Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT)
Dr Nelia Frade: Senior Coordinator: Tutor Development at the Centre for Academic Staff Development at the University of Johannesburg (UJ)
Mr. Francois Marais: Manager, Extended Curriculum Programmes at the Univeristy of the Free State (UFS)
Mrs Thaiurie Govender: Educational Technologist at Varsity College, Sandton (Varsity College)
Dr Xena Cupido: Acting Head of Department Student Learning Unit at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)
Dr Subethra Pather: Acting Director of Learning, Teaching & Student Success at University of the Western Cape (UWC)
Dr Danny Fontaine-Rainen: Director of the First Year Experience Project at the University of Cape Town (UCT)
We are living through truly extraordinary times; a period of time defined by tremendous uncertainty, change and anxiety. Higher education has had to – quite literally – flip a switch and move to online teaching or, rather, emergency remote teaching (ERT), in an effort to continue and hopefully complete the 2020 academic year. This move to ERT, whilst terrifying, is perhaps an attempt to ensure some level of routine and “normalcy” is maintained when focusing on teaching and learning.
But, in all honesty, what does this move to ERT look like and mean for staff and students? Is what university executives are trying to push for (the completion of the 2020 academic year in 2020) at complete odds with what the reality on the ground is for many of our students and staff? What does the current moment in higher education mean for the lived experiences of students and staff? The discourse of access has once again become questionable during this time as there are many students coming from communities that cannot afford devices or the amount of data needed to continue their academic work remotely. Or they live in home environments that are simply not conducive for focused learning. The Minister of Higher Education has said that there are plans in place to support students and to ensure that no one is left behind. The reality however, is that some institutions have gone ahead with their academic programme whilst other institutions are lagging behind, which clearly shows that there is national inequity among institutions of Higher Education. In light of this, how can we overcome these challenges and work together to ensure that all students are successful in 2020?
We cannot deny that the COVID-19 pandemic has forcefully transformed the higher education landscape. In an effort to save the academic year and to continue with teaching and learning practices, have we lost sight of the need to show care and compassion towards our students and staff? Have we chosen to focus on getting through the content at the expense of humanising this experience? Interpersonal relationships are fostered through communication and connection, which are the necessary links to holding the scattered pieces of teaching and learning together in a holistic manner.
The COVID-19 pandemic gives us this opportunity to rethink our approach to teaching and learning in a more caring and compassionate manner. According to Seppala et al (2013) compassion begins with an emotional response that has an authentic desire to help another person. Gilbert (2014) adds, being compassionate is about being sensitive to suffering in one’s self and other but also having the willingness to try and alleviate the suffering. The Ethics of Care (Gilligan, 1982) demands that morally, we must be steered by interpersonal relationships and demonstrate care and compassion for each other – and particularly those who are most vulnerable and in need. If we extend this notion to our online classrooms and interactions with staff, it means that intentional teaching and learning can only take place through relationships. Ravitch (2020) developed the idea of Flux Pedagogy, a transformative teaching approach which integrates relational and critical pedagogy for these disruptive times. Flux Pedagogy is a constructivist approach which places students at the heart of teaching and learning, and focuses on the relational aspects and being reflexive. This requires an inquiry-based mindset, a build-as-we-go, emergent design that is adaptive and compassionate. If we are to prioritise care and compassion in our transition to ERT, we would need to explore ways to minimise and alleviate the suffering of self and others (Gilbert, 2014). Searles (2020) suggests that being compassionate requires teaching and learning practices that creates a space in which staff and students are seen as a community which fosters connection, safety, self-efficacy and resilience. When we feel united this may minimise the individual and collective stress. As students and teachers we are all experiencing the anxiety and trauma that has accompanied this current health crisis. However, Ravitch (2020) reminds us that while this may be a shared trauma, not all of us will experience this trauma in the same way. Given the inequitable higher education space, the current health crisis will render some staff and students more vulnerable than others. Many students are dealing with current and past trauma apart from COVID-19, this should be given consideration and thought. Now is the time to create a brave space pedagogy as described by Ravitch (2020) as there is never a guarantee of a safe space. Brave spaces on the other hand acknowledge that the current lived experiences of staff and students are painful and cannot be avoided or ignored. Instead, brave spaces create an opportunity to communicate and “focuses our attention on the active engagement and agency required of participants in spaces intended to support learning. In other words, using “brave” rather “safe” not only sets a tone for engagement but also proposes a mode of engagement (Cook-Sather, 2016: 1).
It is then vital that we create environments where all stakeholders can contribute to the ongoing dialogue around what care entails and how to meet each other’s care needs. COVID-19 has forced many institutions to shift their pedagogy to asynchronous ERT. By its very definition can this form of teaching still be considered a relationship if students and lecturers do not meet? How do we show care and connection through ERT to students and staff at this most extraordinary time? We learn from the words of bell hooks, “As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence” (2014; 8).
hooks, b. (2014). Teaching to transgress. Routledge.
Cook-Sather, Alison “Creating Brave Spaces within and through Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnerships,” Teaching and Learning. Together in Higher Education: Iss. 18 (2016), http://repository.brynmawr.edu/tlthe/vol1/iss18/1
Gilbert, P. (2014). The origins and nature of compassion focused therapy. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53(1), 6-41. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjc.12043
Gilligan, C. (1982). In A Different Voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ravitch, S. (2020). FLUX Pedagogy: Transforming Teaching & Learning during Coronavirus. Sage Methods. https://www.methodspace.com/flux-pedagogy-transforming-teaching-learning-during-coronavirus/
Seppala, E., Rossomando, T., and Doty, J.R. (2013) Social connection and compassion: Important predictors of health and well-being. Social Research, 80, 411-430.
Searles, A. (2020). Prioritising care and compassion in learning and teaching during the covid-19 crisis. https://blogs.griffith.edu.au/learning-futures/prioritising-care-and-compassion-in-learning-and-teaching-during-the-covid-19-crisis/
Well done, this is a very insightful and thought-provoking article! You’re right, it can’t be all about academics because if students are not well (physically, emotionally and spiritually) then learning becomes almost impossible. An ethics of care approach also applies to our relationships with our colleagues and our communities.