Reflections of an Educational Developer on 2020

Posted on: 8 December 2020 by Ceridwen Coulby in General

Bubble Reflection of Man and Tree
(Bubble Reflection of Man and Tree)

I started 2020 as a curriculum developer with curriculum design and assessment as my specialty areas. I am ending it with a whole host of other skills that I never imagined I would develop.

In terms of technology-enhanced learning, I started this year with an ability to pedagogically design e-portfolios and use Padlet, Kahoot and Polling software in my teaching. I am ending it having significantly contributed to the build of three extremely large Canvas courses, created Powtoons, MS Forms, recorded and edited videos and audio files, run live webinars, contributed to the development of a fully online conference, picked up a tiny amount of knowledge that allows me to clean up simple code (!) and been part of a team employed by the Peruvian Government to help public Universities across the country pivot to online education.

When COVID hit and Campus closed our centre (the Centre for Innovation in Education), and all the others like it across the globe, had to leap into action and support academics to deliver the Semester’s remaining teaching and alter end of year assessments within a matter of days. Looking back, I am astonished at the sheer amount of support we provided in terms of guides, webinars, drop in sessions, bespoke individual support and strategic guidance on a daily basis.

The quick response by the educational development sector as a whole was staggering, and enormously helpful. The word documents on alternatives to traditional exams and important assessment considerations from David Boud, Kay Sambell and Sally Brown were available within a couple of weeks of Campus closure and proved a lifeline to many an educational leader, and Virna Rossi’s short video guides for teaching online were shared and re-shared across the world.

As time has progressed we have learned the importance of avoiding zoom fatigue, of packing synchronous sessions too full of content, of making activities overambitious and the danger of breakout rooms as an “easy” solution to interactivity; many of us the hard way! We have appreciated the gap in our lives that a lack of physical social interaction brings, the strain of days spent with no change of scene and no light conversation to break up the working hours.

We have also found ways to think differently, develop different assessments, try out new pedagogical techniques and different technologies for learning and teaching. The great thing is, because of the situation, we have had to be brave. To try and fail and try again. Giving up and returning to more comfortable teaching techniques is simply not an option. I have had educators of 30 years exclaiming over the engagement from students online being far superior to that in lectures, all because they are now using a flipped classroom approach.

Some things are obvious as we approach the start of a new year; hybrid and online learning is here to stay. Face-to-face teaching is unlikely to be used for passive teaching approaches anytime soon and hopefully never will be again. Other things are more ephemeral. To what extent are educational institutions and their staff responsible for supporting the social side of learning for students? Other than group work, how can we foster connection between learners, and between learners and teachers? Will we see a new model of higher education where students only attend physically in time-bound blocks for experiential learning? What would a virtual placement look like? How far can simulation go in preparing students skills for practical courses? Would full time courses with only part time campus attendance support more young people from a wider range of backgrounds to attend University? By limiting time on Campus accommodation and living costs would be lower which could widen participation. At the same time, how would that impact on the local economy? As educational developers what is our next challenge likely to be Hy-flex?

Whilst we may not know what the future will hold, one thing is for sure, educational practice has experienced development almost akin to that of the industrial revolution this year, and as educational developers we must ensure we capitalise and build on that movement going forward. A return to sleeping at the back of the lecture hall must be avoided at all costs!