Point-of-View: Nalini Chitanand (DUT)
Coordinator: Staff Development
Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT)
Durban University of Technology
COVID-19’s impact is unprecedented and has changed all facets of our lives in ways that we could never have imagined. As we encounter a national lockdown with literally nowhere else to go, social media abounds with inspirational videos and images with calls to go inside and get in touch with our inner selves, to acknowledge our complicity for our actions in our world. As we rush to get our learning and teaching online, let us pause awhile and spiral inwards as a higher education community and engage critically and reflexively with what we are trying to achieve.
Are we in the situation (again) where those who can, can and those who can’t, well, get left behind? What are our ethical responsibilities – to the 70% (or 90%) of our students that do have access to online learning? Surely, ethically we have an obligation to them, to not leave them behind and provide whatever education possible online. What are our ethical responsibilities to the rest of our students that do not have access (or the resources)? What is socially just at this point in time?
It is critical to consider and examine how we are balancing (or not) our ethical responsibilities to ALL our students. And to ALL our staff too. While eLearning may have taken off in some universities, has it equitably in others? We often hear of the challenges staff face which make them unable to engage in professional learning opportunities for e-learning in universities. We hear of many reasons for this: work- load, research, large classes, or minimal resources. Yes, some staff are still without laptops or desktops and some even share devices. But staff are now forced to take online learning on board. Are we thinking about the teachers, the e-learning, technical and ITSS specialists and the academic developers who are also called on to provide critical ‘just in time’ support/ professional learning as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic?
Are students prepared for online learning?
Are staff prepared for online learning and teaching?
Are we being overly ambitious?
Equally important is how staff and students are dealing (or not) with the immense personal and mental stress of CoVID-19 as we care for our families, selves and others. There are huge ethical, moral, social and epistemic implications. Are we all as university role-players engaging with these (sufficiently) in our rush to go online?
It is apparant that ONLINE LTA in H.ED. has not been sufficiently thought through. The unholy haste to not ‘waste an academic year’ demonstrates tunnel vision & low EQ…in a context of great anxiety & deprivation of the majority of students, their families & society at large in SA, during Covid 19 Lockdown. It is that same low EQ that is causing Staff great stress.. bombarded as they are with daily Online… Meetings, Training & Communication…over weekends & at all hours of the day & night. It is vital for ALL Institutions to have ‘Online Communication Policy Guidelines’..so as to respect the necessary PRIVATE time & space of Staff and Students. Some Staff.. at more privileged Institutions.. might just have the technical skills for conducting online LTA.. but are not..as yet..trained as Materials Developers & Assessors..in terms of QUALITY. MOST Students of colour do not have the Training nor the Technology.. as yet..to benefit from what would currently count as a ‘socially unjust’ approach.. that would surely not be in keeping with the Student & Staff Centred VMV’s of SA Institutions. So there is much to do. In 2010 adjustments were made to all Academic Progammes to accommodate the World Cup. Now.. similar has to happen. It cannot just be business as usual in challenging times. There really needs to be much more discussion on Online LTA amongst ALL Stakeholders.. in order for all stakeholders to be accommodated in this process. And it is a processing .
Haj Vahed-Greer (Retired AD Practitioner at DUT & Executive Director of AWC Staff Development).
Correction: And it is a process. Haj VG
Nalini, relevant and reflexive.considering our context. Suggestions of how to work with the issues have to include students as well.