Staff members and students in tertiary or higher education institutions have faced dramatic changes to their work and study routines since the beginning of the pandemic. Social distancing, the need to work from home, and the adoption of new ways of communication and technology have all had significant effects on how teachers operate, educate, and connect with their students. At NashTech, we held a recent event that looked at technology in educational institutions, and our panel of industry experts were asked to respond to the following question:
How are students, staff and educators coping with all the accelerated changes brought on by COVID-19? Are they working and, in your opinion, what improvements should we be focusing on?
They spoke about evolving work ecosystems, how the increase in online students has placed enormous pressure on teachers, and how being educated on digital learning platforms actually benefits educators to perform their jobs in a more streamlined, personalised manner.
The need to adopt certain technologies in an educational environment has forced teachers and students alike to accept new ways of learning at an accelerated rate. Steve Johnston, Chief IT Procurement Officer at CAUDIT, responded to the above question by talking about how technology has broken down the barriers for how teachers engage with their students, and how changing the interactivity with technology has had some positive effects on the learning experience.
One of the most interesting effects of accelerated technological and online adoption of educational institutes is the breaking down of barriers. As Johnston remarks, “every school and every area has got that academic that didn’t really want to move online and didn’t understand what they were talking about and some of them have now become the greatest advocates for online learning you’ve ever seen.”
Teaching staff at universities have come to realise the benefits of working from home, having a more controlled teaching environment, and the ability to change their course to focus solely on what’s relevant. This change has challenged them to rethink the way they teach and engage with their students. Meanwhile, traditional processes of having to arrange physical meetings with tutors have become obsolete, and have dramatically shifted to a more flexible, real time framework.
In relation to the evolving state of technological adoptions of university staff, Johnston remarks that “there was a time when you could do literally anything to go online without any resistance as it was so well understood. Now, there’s a little bit more focus on doing the right thing and moving the right things online in the right way.” Universities and further education colleges have now moved their resources so far into the digital spectrum, that it’s going to be practically impossible to revert back to the way things were pre-pandemic.
Most staff and educators are now satisfied with the changes to pedagogy adapting to digital learning technologies. There will always be areas of teaching that make more sense in-person, but technology has allowed for tertiary and higher education level educators to find creative and practical solutions to help make this accelerated transition more manageable, and in certain cases, even preferable to the old methods.
Helen Souness, CEO of RMIT Online stated that despite their systems being more prepared to handle the influx of online students created by the pandemic environment, was still amazed at how much COVID boosted the acceleration of online learning by students, which therefore placed an enormous workload on her and her team of educators. “We were seeing an acceleration, but they (the students) really embraced online in a big way.”
For the staff of RMIT Online, the doubling of portfolios across the institution meant that there was increased pressure on the teachers to cope with the surge in demand. However, as they were already set up to work online, and all the teachers and students had been coached and inducted virtually, it “wasn’t as big a disruption as it would normally be”, stated Souness.
The switch from working in an office environment to working online from home presented practical and communication challenges for staff members. However, the communication hurdles could easily be overcome through phones and digital messaging software, while most physical resources used by teachers – such as notes, project walls, and task management books – all had a digital alternative.
As Souness states, “we’re very lucky that we were already using cloud-based systems and were already on phones and Zoom with all of our teaching staff…my full respect to all of the staff that did change from on-campus to remote learning.” In general, staff across higher education institutions, whether they had online programs before or after the pandemic started, were able to adapt efficiently and quickly to meet the demands of a rapidly changing learning ecosystem – one that hasn’t stopped changing in the year since.
There is no doubt that the last year has meant that staff, students, and educators at tertiary institutions have had to rapidly adapt to the accelerated changes in technology brought about by the pandemic. These changes have brought about positive shifts in teaching strategies, student experience, and digital connectivity, and while there could always be improvements in scaling the faculty’s workload to meet the increase in demand more efficiently, and managing digital resources more effectively, overall, those involved with tertiary organisations have understood the necessity and benefits of these accelerated changes.
So, are people coping with all the accelerated changes? From the sound of things, universities and further education colleges across Australia have coped incredibly well. Change is always difficult to manage, especially when it’s thrust upon you and your only option is to sink or swim. Not only have Australian education institutions coped with the accelerated rate of change, but they also led the way from a global perspective, as lockdowns were instigated early in the term after the summer holiday period.
This just goes to show, that even when we’ve been institutionalised to operate in the same fashion for decades, when the need to pivot and positively react to changing circumstances arises, we put our best foot forward and make it happen – even if there are a few hiccups along the way.
If your organisation is happily swimming along but feel it’s time to take the plunge into deeper waters, the NashTech team can help you achieve your goals. They are experts in designing and orchestrating digital transformation strategies that will ensure you are fully equipped to whether future uncertainties. A great example is their partnership with DuluxGroup, who provides digital services to a large variety of business units that employ a diverse range of technologies. To meet such diverse needs, DuluxGroup required access to both broad and cutting-edge technical expertise, with the ability to rapidly scale up and down. They chose to partner with NashTech who could provide access to a flexible and wide-ranging team of experts, allowing them to run multiple projects at any time, maintain over 25 digital assets, as well as 24/7 monitoring. You can read more about this solution HERE.