It is hard to believe that I wrote this blog piece, “Through the lens of humanity: (Y)our teaching matters!” only nineteen days ago. So much has changed since then. The human race is under threat of COVID-19. Right now, in South Africa, we find ourselves in lockdown, in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. I think it is safe to say that Lockdown South Africa has affected us all, whether at work and/or educational institution, home or play. This pandemic has disrupted our routines. It has also forced us to think creatively, innovatively and collaboratively about what measures we can put in place to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our normality.
At the Stellenbosch University (SU) Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) where I work as academic developer, we have been working frantically, almost twenty-four-seven, to put comprehensive contingency plans and support measures in place to ensure that quality teaching and learning at the University continues. One of the main support measures has been the establishment of a Lecturer Support for Teaching Online site. Further CTL efforts address, amongst others, preparing lecturers for online assessment and offering suggestions for planning online assessment. Thus far the CTL has presented four online webinars and there are more to follow. We are also working on an assessment resource for lecturers, which will be placed on the SU online learning management system, called SUNLearn, as well as a set of frequently asked questions and answers. All the CTL efforts have been well received, especially the online webinars. I quote the following message of feedback from one of the participants: “Ek hoop dat die universiteitsgemeenskap in hierdie krisis SOL se personeel se waarde… opnuut sal besef. Verder is dit verrykend om so ‘n klomp US-kollegas op een slag bymekaar te hê om na te dink oor die regverdigheid en redelikheid van ons assesserings, en die werklikhede van ons studente se omstandighede.” The last part of this message ignited the following question in my mind: What is the nature of our consideration of our students? Are we honouring the call for humanity mentioned in my blog piece, referred to earlier? In it, I questioned our raison d’être as university educators. I suggested we try and improve our students’ lives by forming trustworthy, mutually affirming relationships with them where they feel safe.
As I explore the nature of our response to a call for humanity, I do so on (1) a meso, SU divisional level, of which the CTL forms part, as well as a macro, SU institutional level. At the CTL, we are serious about encouraging academics to keep communicating with students, to keep students informed and to assure them that every effort will be made to make online assessment opportunities accessible and fair. At an institutional level, there is the SU latest COVID-19 update to students. I quote, “Online learning is a joint responsibility between the University and each student. We will ensure that the relevant platforms and learning materials are available, and will engage with mobile service providers for zero-rated data to give our students access to higher education domains. It is the responsibility of each student to arrange access to a suitable device, at least a smart phone, by 20 April.” The reference to the notion of ‘zero-rated data’ for students, even though business-like (which is understandable), is hugely encouraging. Lest we forget that it brings with it its own underlying complexities, which needs further exploration. What counts is that, in my opinion, it does something to make students feel safe and re-assured, because it addresses the challenge of access to data for online learning, which could easily be the biggest challenge for most students right now. In my opinion, there is of course room for improvement for making students feel even more re-assured. We need to apply ourselves more fully in the space of engaging with students in this context, in the interest of humanity, and by implication, social justice. Our teaching matters.
I conclude with the following reminder/call from my blog piece, because I think it now rings truer than ever before:
It is not about the ability to be tech savvy and relying on systems and structures, but it is about the ability to strike up relationships with our students built on trust. It is about humanity” – Richard Gerver, EDULEARN 19
The SU CTL is answering the call for humanity in a unique way, and I am therefore a proud CTL’er.
Dr Anthea H M Jacobs | PhD
Academic Developer / Advisor: HE T&L Centre for Teaching and Learning Division of Learning and Teaching Enhancement