Modes, moments and teaching online

Nicola has been presenting online, offline and in between – here’s what she’s been up to and some of her reflections.

Sakai Virtual Conference, 14 November 

I presented a webinar with Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) colleagues Shanali Govender and Sam Lee Pan for this year’s Sakai Virtual Conference. entitled Under pressure: Supporting staff teaching online in uncertain times.

We discussed initiatives we’d been involved in since the 2015 student protests to support UCT staff teaching online. This includes CILT’s OER teaching resources and How-to guide video series which provides tools and ways of thinking about learning and teaching using blended and online approaches. We shared some of the things UCT staff did to teach and engage with their students online. Reflecting on staff development activities during the 2017 student protests (that happened a bit later than previous years, 2 weeks before exams at UCT) Shanali encouraged us to think about the relationship between online modes and ‘the moment’. South African Higher Education has been described as experiencing a ‘decolonial moment’ or ‘decolonial turn’. How lecturers and students are making sense of blended and online learning and teaching during this moment is particularly interesting.

I found planning and presenting about this particular topic online to be quite difficult – it’s been a tough time for staff and students and I felt the online may come across as cold and technicist which is so not how I am. I was careful to script my bit about the context so that all was factual and potentially neutral, but the uneasiness was not just because I was nervous but because of the risk of being perceived as insensitive. So I wrote and rewrote after sharing and getting feedback from my co-presenters. I think I’m still not quite comfortable with it for various reasons.

I am very at home with teaching online. I am supervising a Masters student I have never met face-to-face and co-convene Facilitating Online, a fully online course as part of my work for the e/merge Africa network. As someone who teaches in fully online and blended courses (Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Technology courses in second semester) I’m quite attuned to the importance of connectedness, creating and maintaining social relationships online. However, I’m also aware of the unforgiving nature of online, once it’s online, recorded and shared to a broader public there is no ‘Take 2’. I realised this is unfamiliar to many colleagues, while it is part of my everyday work. But despite this I felt uncomfortable so I felt I gained a deeper insight into how colleagues may be feeling about going online through my experience of presenting about this particular topic. Often the question lecturer’s ask first has not been ‘how’ but ‘should we’.  It’s not just about a technological response to a range of educational challenges associated with the student protests, but also a moral/ethical response.

I’ve been thinking about how we write about and represent staff and students during the decolonial moment, what is ethical, what is responsible and how might we do research about our practice in ways that can lead to change. I’ve also been giving serious thought to peer-reviewed journal articles as an epitome of research success. It simply takes too long to have an impact – can we share research productively in other formats?

HELTASA,  21-24 November

I attended our national learning and teaching conference hosted by DUT in Durban this year, the HELTASA conference.  I presented on work I’ve been working on with Shanali Govender and Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams. The conference presentation was entitled Using voice recordings for formative feedback in a blended, block-release course on online learning design. The abstract is available here (p. 122) and a video of my presentation can be viewed here. There were quite a few presentations where lecturers did ‘show and tell’ presentations about using particular alternative modes such as podcasts and student generated videos and multimodal learning and teaching interventions. However, nobody used the word ‘multimodal’. Being a more academic development orientated conference presenters spoke about their practice, some referring to Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) literature but few offered theorised perspectives from other fields. I also co-facilitated a critical dialogue with colleagues from fellow institutions about STEM pedagogical competencies and teaching portfolios (p. 43 here). The teaching excellence award winners presented about their teaching which I found very inspiring. All of them included some interesting use of media or approach to learning and teaching which I think really highlighted the value of the need for additional modes to create good learning experiences for their students. Particularly inspiring was CPUT Geomatics lecturer Saddique Motala (watch video here, news piece here). If anyone is using edtech in a ‘decolonial’ way I’d say he is. But a common discussion point at the conference was when can we say learning and teaching is decolonial VS good teaching. One of the assumptions I found is that decolonial is being equated with good teaching and often both of these as being supported through a range of modes. That’s my take anyway:)


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