Opinion: The role of a Teaching and Learning specialist in a university faculty, in the context of a post Covid-19 world.

I was recently confronted by the question outlined in the title. In reflecting on it, I outline my personal vision. I structure my vision around three goals which I believe are important for any teaching and learning (T&L) context. These are (1) The Student Experience; (2) Teaching and Learning; and (3) Research and Innovation. The golden thread for my vision for all three of these goal areas is ‘Through the lens of humanity…’

For ‘The Student Experience’ my vision is locked up in a humanistic perspective and my message is ‘Through the lens of humanity: You Matter’. I back it up with the following quotation:

“It is not about the ability to be tech savvy and relying on systems and structures, but it is about the ability to understand how our students learn and striking up relationships with our students built on trust. It is about humanity” – Richard Gerver, EDULARN 19

For ‘Teaching and Learning’ my vision is encapsulated by a paradigm shift and my message is ‘Through the lens of humanity: Our Students First’. The following quotation applies:

“If faculty try to assess their students the same way they did for many years, they will most likely find themselves frustrated, as well as frustrating their students” (Eaton, 2020).

For ‘Research and Innovation’ my vision speaks to ‘Through the lens of humanity: Our Communities Matter’, paying consideration to the following quotation:

“Creating a public higher education system that is characterised by a vibrant research and innovation system and is responsive to local… challenges.” – Professors Wangenge-Ouma & Kupe, USAf Board 2020

In further unpacking my vision, I focus on each one of the goal areas indicated in the Introduction.

1. The Student Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us about the issues of social justice and access to higher education (HE) which remain part of the national discourse in South Africa (SA). Added to that, I concur with the school of thought who argues that we really want our diverse student bodies to succeed because they all have the potential to do so. This justifies a focus on creating opportunities for access to HE for all school leavers, including those from educationally disadvantaged environments, by helping them overcome educational barriers to success, such as managing their own learning (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that the historic challenges faced by SA prior to the pandemic, including socio-economic inequality and great disparity in life chances, have been exacerbated. In HE, with all the focus on online teaching, learning and assessment (TLA) and trying to support lecturers to migrate to the online space, what about the student experience?

My vision for helping students to manage their own learning in the online teaching and learning context starts with considering the question of how lecturers could create learning opportunities to support and grow students’ ability to manage their learning and be successful in their studies. An important aim would be to get to understand the process of learning from the student perspective by engaging with questions such as How do students learn?; How do we create learning opportunities that facilitate learning?; and (3) How do we get students to prepare? This, I believe, could impact on contributing to our students’ success.

2. Teaching and Learning

The urgent transformation of face-to-face online TLA has been driven by urgency and not by prior planning to teach via an online methodology, which is t problematic. I have recently been involved in a survey of the experiences of e-assessment during emergency remote teaching (ERT) by lecturers. It clearly showed that there is wide-spread criticality around the issue of online assessment. This is no doubt fuelled by not only how online assessment is practiced, but also by physical constraints such as access to electronic devices, data and internet, as well as home environments. Not forgetting that students’ need to fit into a rapidly-changing world is increasing exponentially. In the process of migrating to online TLA we should not lose sight of the importance of the development of students for lifelong learning. All of these challenges call for a focus on transformative or sustainable assessment, also in the online environment.

My vision therefore begs for a paradigm shift from traditional to more formative and sustainable assessments and ultimately transformative learning. The criticality around online assessment has inadvertently turned to the notion of proctoring (or online invigilation) for online assessments. I think that proctoring is a two-edged sword that might be needed in certain contexts, but it should be considered carefully as such systems can create immense pressure on institutional systems, admin support, lecturers and most importantly students. What I would really like to see happening is a move away from the point of departure that students are dishonest in online assessments. Returning to my earlier humanistic perspective: should we not be more intentional about getting to know our students and building relationships of trust with them?

3. Research and Innovation

With the great focus on online TLA, there has been a natural inclination towards a focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). This has increased the tension between SoTL and disciplinary research, which has always been the “elephant in the (T&L) room”. How do we navigate this tension?

I support the solution to this conundrum proposed by Krause (2009: 422) for the employment of the term “public scholarship”, which carries reference to higher education institutions (HEIs) being “responsible” and relevant” in relation to the needs of communities. Public scholarship includes scholarly work jointly planned and carried out by a university and community partners to produce work for the good of the community or public. Rather than being another dimension of academic work, public scholarship should be regarded as academic work.

Where would be an appropriate place to start working on promoting the vision of public scholarship? Reflecting on this question necessarily takes me to the traditional three roles of an academic: T&L, research and community interaction. Firstly, I think it is important that these three roles of academics are acknowledged, supported and given institutional prominence. Secondly, the value of integrating the three roles under the umbrella of public scholarship should be unpacked and courageously discussed and debated on various institutional forums, hopefully making clear how public scholarship could be conducive to transformative learning. Such deliberations should include a focus on the affordances of public scholarship for HEIs, namely: an opportunity to restore and strengthen public trust in research and expertise; an opportunity to demonstrate that HEIs are responsive to the contexts in which they are embedded and are alive to their critical role of contributing to the wellbeing and advancement of society.

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested the resilience of HEIs in the process of migrating TLA to the online space. Those experiences and lessons should not be discarded. I believe the next phase for HE in a post-COVID-19 world is to harness what worked well during ERT and use those experiences to improve TLA. Whatever strategy HEIs choose to follow, we should not lose sight of putting our students first in all of our TLA endeavours.

Dr Anthea Jacobs


Eaton, S. E. 2020. Academic Integrity During COVID-19: Reflections from the University of Calgary. International Studies in Educational Administration (Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration & Management (CCEAM)), 48(1), 80–85.

Gerver, R. 2019. Education: A Manifesto for Change. EDULEARN19 11th annual International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies Conference Proceedings, Palma de Mallorca (Spain): 1 – 3 July 2019.

Krause, K. 2009. Interpreting changing academic roles and identities in higher education. In M. Tight, K. Mok, J. Huisman and C. Morphew (eds) The Routledge International Handbook of Higher Education 413 – 425. Routledge, New York.

Pascarella, E. T. & Terenzini, P. T. 2005. How college affects students: A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey – Bass.

Wangenge-Ouma, G. & Kupe, T. 2020. Uncertain Times: Re-imagining universities for new, sustainable futures. Paper presented at a Special Meeting of the USAf Board on 24 July 2020.