How do you support teachers in quickly switching to online education?
On March 12, it suddenly happened. All colleges and universities decided to close their physical doors, but their online doors remain open. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands and The Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences support the decision to give lectures online as much as possible. A huge challenge for institutions, students, IT departments, educational support staff, and not to mention lecturers. There are about 50,000 of them in higher education. Of course, all of this is supposed to be temporary, but an extension of the Corona measures is not inconceivable. How do institutions switch to online education so quickly? And how do you include lecturers in this?
Put support in position
Many institutions now have ‘supporters’ of education. The quotes are deliberate, because the word supporters suggests a hierarchical relationship that is not there, or in my view shouldn’t be. These are instructional designers, ICTO coaches, i-coaches, educationalists, employees of Teaching & Learning centers and others who assist lecturers in (the digitisation of) their education. In the recent Horizon report from EDUCAUSE those supporters are called ‘learning designers’, so I wil now use this term to indicate these roles.
Learning designers bridge the gap between education (expertise) and digitisation. They can help to determine the learning objectives and success criteria of lessons, lectures, or meetings, in choosing the right application, in setting it up and also in providing support (remotely). At my own institution, the learning designers, called ICTO coaches, are freed up as much as possible to fulfill this role. Together they have rapidly developed an informative online magazine (Dutch) to help lecturers on their way with distance teaching. However, each ICTO coach needs to help many lecturers. Organising webinars, recording instructional videos and sharing experiences online or on a collaborative platform (for example, Avans uses MS Teams) is therefore essential. Just like learning from and with each other.
Online education is more than putting a lecture online
It is too easy to think that you can give a lecture, a lesson, a training in an online setting from one moment to the next. High-quality online education involves more than just doing a voice-over on a PowerPoint presentation or organising a Skype session with a class. See, for example, this reflection from TU Delft. For the short term, moving physical education to an online setting is a great solution. If you look further ahead (and it is not inconceivable that you will have to), you have to think about your course design as well: how is your education structured, which route does a student take and how do you support it remotely? This can be done, for example, by defining a learning path in your LMS, in which a student takes a mandatory route with lessons, assignments, and interaction. As a lecturer, you might need some help with this, and that is what learning designers are good at.
Learning with and from each other
What we experiencing now as a sector is not routine for anyone. Not for institutions (even for a distance learning institution like the Open University), not for lecturers and not for students. It is more important than ever to share experiences. Fortunately, the internet is already bursting with online learning blogs and hashtags and you don’t have to come up with everything yourself. However, it is important to share your own experiences (as a lecturer, as a learning designer, as an ICT specialist, as a student) within your institution and to take note of the experiences of others. In this way, we collectively learn how to deal with a crisis like this.
For the longer-term: choose a strategy for professionalisation
The Acceleration Plan for Educational Innovation with ICT, as the name suggests, aims to create opportunities to take substantial steps in the field of digitalisation in higher education. The zone ‘Facilitating professional development of lecturers’ focuses on the support and professionalisation of the lecturer: what does he/she need to work on educational quality with the use of ICT? Nobody could have foreseen that the demand for digitalisation would increase as it does right now. It is very fast, even for the Acceleration Plan. In the coming weeks, a lot will be improvised and gradually learned as well. It is all hands on deck just now in all institutions.
But for the slightly longer term, it is good to have a strategy to support lecturers and provide professionalisation. When it comes to providing good quality online education, there is a lot to consider that lecturers will not master overnight. Therefore, there will soon be an urgent need for professionalisation. In the Acceleration Plan, we are working on instruments to help institutions with this. Such as the development of an evidence-based set of building blocks for proven effective professionalisation. And a motion sensor to check whether an institution is enabling lecturers to renew their teaching with the help of ICT. We are looking for a good way to share good examples of lecturers more widely (an initial selection of three testimonials can be found on the Acceleration Plan website) and we are trying out different approaches in testing grounds to learn from them collectively. The theme of the first testing ground is digital peer feedback (we have also made supporting material for this). More information can be found at www.versnellingsplan.nl.
Time will tell how long this situation will continue. For now, I would like to say good luck, and wish you all the wisdom, health, and good connections.
Marian Kat-de Jong is Programme Manager for Education and ICT at the Academy for the Technology of Health and Environment at Avans University of Applied Sciences and the connector of the acceleration zone Facilitating professional development for lecturers.