Twelve months ago I reviewed how TEL had navigated 2020, the strangest year I guess any of us have experienced. The TEL team, by implementing several new technologies and enhancing existing technologies, helped support the University’s pivot to what the literature now refers to as “emergency remote teaching” (ERT). Now, at the start of 2022, it is worth reflecting on what we learned during 2021 – a year in which Covid carried on posing problems.
The first point to make is that technology continued to be used heavily. As the University’s “blended and connected” approach to teaching and learning bedded in, and we experienced the welcome sight of students once again milling around on campus, I expected Moodle use to drop compared to last year. September 2021 did indeed see a drop in monthly users compared to September 2020. But almost the same number of users accessed Moodle in October 2021 as in October 2020. And 10% more users accessed in November 2021 compared to November 2020. In part this use pattern will have mirrored the waves of the epidemic, with online offering a safe environment for teaching and learning. But in part it shows, I believe, that technology has become embedded in teaching and learning, in a way that was not the case just two years ago.
The increasing use of Panopto provides another example. The last time I looked (which was six weeks ago; these figures will already be outdated!) staff had created 87,410 videos and recorded 35,442 hours of content. Students had racked up 2.23 million views and downloads. These are large numbers, and again they demonstrate that staff and students are engaging with technology in a way we could not have predicted two years ago.
Nevertheless, we need to ask: in 2021 did we fully embrace the opportunities offered by a blended and connected approach to teaching and learning?
I suspect the answer is “no”: to a large extent we were all still operating in ERT mode.
The reasons for this are understandable. It takes time to redesign a course or module so that students can get the most out of a blended and connected environment. Effective redesign takes the skills and experience of a mix of people. And the process requires support from professional services. That broad, team-based approach to the redesign of courses and modules has not been part of the culture at Portsmouth – so although it is possible to point to numerous individual examples of good, innovative practice, I believe the University as a whole has been unable to take full advantage of a blended and connected approach.
One of my hopes for 2022 is that we will see a much more considered use of technology in teaching and learning. In some cases that will mean more technology, in some cases different technology, and in some cases less technology. The key is to identify the best blend of activities to ensure students can learn and can demonstrate mastery of that learning. In other words, I hope in 2022 we will see much more emphasis on learning design.
In order to further this ambition TEL, AcDev, and Faculty colleagues, working under the leadership of Professor Ale Armellini, are developing enABLe – a framework based on well established and well researched principles, but one that is new to Portsmouth. The intention is to offer structured and collaborative workshops, at the course or module level, around learning design (and learning re-design). These collegiate, student-focused, needs-driven workshops are flexible: they can be used for new programme development, for programmes needing attention around learning and teaching as flagged in the EQUIP process, and for programmes simply requiring a refresh in a specific area such as feedback. In each case, the workshops are founded on the key principles of Active Blended Learning. If you would like to learn more, please contact Sarah Eaton.
At some point the pandemic will become endemic and, as politicians tell us, we will “learn to live with the virus”. But when that happens we should take care not to forget the lessons – both positive and negative – of 2020 and 2021. It would be foolish for us to try to return to our teaching practices of 2019. Amanda Gorman, the poet who read at President Biden’s inauguration, ends her latest poem, New Year’s Lyric, with the following lines:
“So let us not return to what was normal,
But reach toward what is next…”
I think that is a perfect sentiment for education in 2022.