OU drop-in session – long term vs short term

Last Wednesday I held the last of (for now) the OU drop-in sessions for the sector. We looked at immediate solutions versus longer term ones, and issues of care and avoiding burnout. The video of the session is below. We looked at questions such as:

  • What is acceptable now? – Students and institutions will accept a more rough and ready offering now, given the immediacy of the crisis. Now the emphasis is on doing whatever it takes, helping students complete, and offering support and care.
  • What is acceptable in September? – Come the new semester however, course offerings, particularly for first year undergrads, will need to be more substantial and planned. However, this is still an impossibly short time frame to develop good quality online courses.
  • What about 2021? – If the pandemic flares up again, or there is a decline in on campus demand, then the sort of courses and infrastructure required for 2021 will be more akin to a distance ed establishment.
  • What are the short-term priorities? – at the moment it is help and causing the least harm.
  • What are the medium term approaches? – we talked about learning design, and multi-disciplinary teams to develop courses. This kind of infrastructure is expensive, and particularly so if an institution is running a dual mode of campus and extensive online.
  • How to promote care for students? – We revisited some of the issues around student support, and exams. The need to be clear and avoid ambiguity for students at a distance is often underestimated.
  • Who is liable to burn out? – Not just teaching staff, but also the instructional design/ed tech team, or those with any expertise in this area, library staff, student admin and support. While some elements of work may decline there will be unexpected peaks in new areas.

What I learnt from these sessions is that I was surprised how much we had to offer from an Open University perspective. That may sound odd, of course we would have a lot to offer, but as I stressed in every session, it’s a very different exercise taking a course online in a matter of weeks without the requisite infrastructure, compared to carefully crafted course developed over a couple of years. But there’s a lot we take for granted in distance ed courses that is novel to anyone accustomed solely to a face to face teaching context. That is no judgement, lecturers are busy enough with so many demands, there’s no reason why they should have developed expertise in delivering courses in a manner which is never required of them.

The types of things I mean include use of asynchronous communications, structuring activity around third party content, explicitly foregrounding social interactions, sensitivity to student’s home arrangements, online forms of assessment, and establishing care and rapport with students at a distance. None of these are rocket science, but they are different in the online context. While I think there are some solutions out there (for example, formalised learning design approaches) a lot of what is needed is ‘just’ helping educators to appreciate these differences and getting them to ask the right questions of their own courses.

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