Ronald Spruit from Avans University of Applied Sciences
Since the COVID-19 crisis, cold feet are a thing of the past when it comes to online education. Meanwhile, the emphasis has shifted to hybrid education, now that a part of the students is in the classroom and a part is at home. But, are the insights we have gained these past months in the field of online education utilised sufficiently? That is our challenge for the near future according to Ronald Spruit, team leader for the Professional development zone. Ronald is a senior policy advisor at the Learning and Innovation Center of Avans University of Applied Sciences. He is also coordinator of Avans’ IT and Education community.
The reports in the media did not paint a pretty picture. The areas where COVID-19 prevailed turned an increasingly deep shade of red. Since the beginning of March, the 30 IT and Education (ICTO) coaches from Avans University of Applied Sciences were already working on the darkest scenario possible: the national lockdown. Ronald recalls: “During one of their meetings they wondered how to anticipate this scenario.”
Integral learning network
“Our IT and Education coaches started an online magazine, to help lecturers to provide online education. They explained certain teaching methods, including instructional videos. When the lockdown came, we were able to transition from physical to digital education overnight.”
“The Executive Board of Avans gave our crisis team carte blanche, to do what was needed at the time.” Which was: support for lecturers, in terms of resources, advice, and hands-on guidance. But how do you fathom what lecturers really need during such a hectic time? An integral learning network was to become the thermometer of the organisation. “We found out through the support services that we had insufficient insight into the questions and needs of our lecturers. Because the corona virus, help for lecturers also had to be offered remotely. The informal contact had disappeared mostly, because none of us was allowed to actually be at the university anymore. Everyone was also extremely busy with themselves and their own curriculum.”
With this learning network, each academy within the university of applied sciences united an educational advisor, a quality advisor, and an ICTO coach. They met weekly to determine what was going on and what questions came up. This information was then shared with a select group of advisors and directors of the support services. “That is how we became much better equipped to help lecturers in the field of digital didactics, digital testing, and bonding with students.” Lecturers that seemed to disappear from view, were contacted by phone by the ICTO coaches. “It was striking to see that lecturers also helped each other a lot. Their willingness to do this was tremendous. The added value of the ICTO coaches was to make an extra contribution with specific knowledge and expertise.”
The major profit of this hectic and intense period was, according to Ronald, the great technological leap forward. “Now, everyone sees the possibilities IT can offer in education. And also what we don’t know yet. In the beginning, I thought: will we all go back to the old situation? But now that the corona crisis persists, online education is becoming more and more common. We have gotten used to it. I also expect students to ask for it in the future. If you need to be in a classroom for just one hour one day, you can just as well do it remotely. Ultimately, however, it’s not about online education. This period provides new knowledge and insights. This allows us to make designing blended education easier.”
If the situation allows it, Avans wants to achieve a balanced mix of online and physical education. Students who follow lab courses are now allowed to return to the laboratory in small groups. Just like physiotherapy students. In the meantime, a different type of education is on the rise within the university: hybrid education. Education for both students who are physically present as well as for students who join remotely.
Collection of documents
Hybrid education is really different from blended learning, says Ronald: “We think it is important to think about it from the perspective of the design of education, what you want to achieve with your students, your goals, and which activities are required for this. Only then do you start thinking about the use of IT. We don’t use technology as a starting point. And we have to keep on doing that, but that is difficult with hybrid education – where two forms of education are mixed. Hybrid education is more an extension of traditional classroom education.”
Many times, online education still only consists of a collection of digital documents, PowerPoints and videos, stored in an online learning environment, Ronald notices. He hopes that the most suitable form of education will always be considered critically while keeping the goals in mind. “Hybrid education can still be an option, as long as you use it in appropriate amounts and a thoughtful manner. Thinking it through: that is what designing education is all about. The experiences and insights of the past period are very valuable in making the right choices in this area.”
Interview: Hester Otter
This is the last part of a series of a total of 7 interviews with participants in the Professional development zone. In the interviews, they share practical experience and inspiration for supporting lecturers in educational innovation with IT.
Tip from Ronald:
Encourage lecturers to continue thinking about designing their education. Dare to choose other routes in supporting this. Lecturer development teams and communities of practice are more effective than workshops. Within these communities, lecturers exchange knowledge and experience and make their views explicit. Or as an ICTO coach said recently: “Put them together and they will learn.”