Treat online teaching improvement ‘like a research project’

THE forum told that global collaboration between academics on online pedagogy is key

October 23, 2020

Academics may need to take a more “exploratory” and collaborative approach to improving online teaching, akin to the way they conduct research, if higher education is to find the best way of using learning technology, a Times Higher Education forum has heard.

Diana Laurillard, professor of learning with digital technology at the UCL Institute of Education, told THE’s Digital Transformation Forum that although online teaching technology had been around for several years, “we don’t understand how to use it well” and having the academic community educate itself about this could be a key way to improve.

“One of the things that I think is going to be an important aspect of our shift towards using technology is to take a more exploratory, developmental approach to the way in which we tackle teaching so we’re learning together,” Professor Laurillard told a panel discussion at the forum on “higher education beyond the pandemic”.

She suggested that massive open online courses (Moocs) in online teaching could be at the “core” of this approach – pointing to the global popularity of a FutureLearn Mooc on the topic launched in March in response to the pandemic.

A Mooc is not just a massive open online course, Professor Laurillard said, “it can be a massive open online collaboration because it is a social learning process, and you bring teachers together to share their ideas and do peer review of each other’s ideas”.

“It is almost like taking the teaching profession into being more like academics generally, where we all learn from each other,” she said.

“Teaching has become such an important area of knowledge development and experimentation that we have to behave more like that.”

Once this approach became embedded in the academic community, it would naturally then be passed on to students learning online, she said, so they turn into “a body of people who are doing that same kind of thing, learning together, collaborating and so on”.

However, she stressed that making this widespread in academia “takes some organisation: you’re going to need more learning technologies around to support this process and a sense for every academic that they can do this”.

Meanwhile, David Ouchterlonie, associate director of global engagement at the University of Nottingham, told the forum – held in partnership with Kazan Federal University – that universities had surprised themselves with their ability to move online during the pandemic.

Despite universities liking a “resource- and time-intensive decision-making process”, the pandemic had shown that “we can actually be nimble and we can make quick decisions and we can implement significant changes without a year of papers and committees and hesitation and risk-aversion”.

However, he said, higher education now needed support from governments and the media around the move to teaching online.

“I think our governments could do more in terms of regulation and flexibility, [such as the] recognition of degrees that are delivered partly or fully online. And more support for institutions who are embracing this new world of digital higher education,” Mr Ouchterlonie said.

“And I think we have a role to play in helping our media and communities to understand that the education experience is being enhanced by this new way of delivering, not impaired.”

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