“You need to be flexible normally, and here, even more flexible”: Teaching academics’ experiences and perceptions of Covid-19 disruptions to teaching and learning.

Year: 2021

Author: Thomas, Melissah

Type of paper: Individual Paper

The rapid worldwide shift into digitally supported remote delivery due to the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the work, study, and personal lives of those in the higher education sector. Universities were compelled to make changes to their usual programs to remain operating and redesign programs to fit the new delivery medium. Consequently, there was significant disruption to teaching and learning practices, and adaptations to usual practice towards digitally supported remote delivery. As the higher education sector looks towards a post-COVID reality, it is timely to reflect on the nature of the epic transformation that took place, and the elements of digitally supported remote delivery that need to be enhanced if retained into the future. This paper reveals some teaching and learning shifts during the change into remote delivery by exploring experiences and perceptions of 15 teaching academics from five universities in Victoria through semi-structured interviews. The experience and perspectives of teaching academics during this time provides a portrait of the challenges for educators, and opportunities that can be prioritised as important features of future online delivery programs moving forward.The research was conducted during the months of September, October and early December of 2020, as the second wave of Covid-19 cases in Victoria was easing, social restrictions were beginning to relax, and higher education remained remote. The inductive thematic analysis of the qualitative data showed that while the remote delivery environment enhanced many aspects of teaching and learning, there were challenges. The emergent themes of perceived constraints found those related to professional, relational, and workload facets. The professional challenge for teaching academics came from redesigning programs and upskilling to navigate and manage the required technologies, all within the ‘eleventh hour’. The academics’ sophisticated teaching skills and experience, that were intuitively relied upon in the face-to-face setting, did not always translate to the online environment. In particular, this was noticed in terms of the relational approach to teaching and learning, including relationships, rapport, and connectedness within classes, and the absence of social formative assessment cues to evaluate learners’ understandings. Students were not asking questions in class and required additional support from academics, which subsequently increased already overburdened workloads. This paper presents a discussion of the technology-mediated environment and associated pedagogies that were circumnavigated and provides recommendations to improve future digitally supported remote teaching and learning.