Learning reconfigured for the 'new normal': Challenges and opportunities for Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training programs in a mixed sector institute.

Year: 2021

Author: Hughes, Mary, Wright, Julie

Type of paper: Individual Paper

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rethinking and reshaping of traditional delivery models of learning and teaching in education sectors worldwide. The transition from face-to-face instruction to remote learning through virtual classrooms and the use of online platforms has brought about rapid and significant changes for students and teaching staff. In this paper we report on a small scale, single case study that explored the adaptations made to face-to-face delivery in courses from Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Higher Education (HE) in a mixed sector institute in Victoria, Australia. The aim of the study was, firstly, to examine the online instructional approaches taken by teaching staff to replace face-to-face delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, we aimed to identify the factors that positively influenced student participation and engagement and the challenges that hindered student participation and engagement. Of significance is the unique context of the study, being a mixed-sector institute that offers VET and HE programs. An interpretivist approach was adopted for the study, with a qualitative single-case study chosen to examine the specific case in depth, enabling us to collect rich and detailed data through interviews and document collection. The data were coded using inductive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2013). Participants in the study were drawn from two faculties within the Institute. These participants had different roles in the setting and included students, teachers and lecturers. Findings from the study indicate that both HE and VET teaching staff encountered similar challenges regarding the design of learning experiences that prioritize key competencies and content while simultaneously ensuring participation and engagement of students. Adjustments to assessment tasks were required in VET and HE courses to ensure that they were appropriate for students to complete remotely. Students and staff reported that this was an area of concern, particularly for ‘hands-on’, practical assessments and closed book exams. Access and equity issues strongly impacted students’ ability to thrive in a remote learning environment. These issues (those that already existed and those created by the pandemic) included stable access to the internet on a digital device other than a mobile phone, and home/housing and family responsibilities that have been thrust upon students due to the pandemic. It is hoped that the findings from this study will contribute to discourse in the sector around disruptions to learning and the reconfiguring of delivery models for a ‘new normal’ world.