Predicted challenges ahead for educators that lecturers at South African Higher Education Institutions could face in 2022
The outbreak of Covid 19 worldwide placed the education sector in unfamiliar and uncertain times. Lecturers did not know what to expect and how they would continue with the academic year among hard lockdown periods and restrictions on accessing campuses. Change in higher education institutions happened fast, with lecturers being left underprepared and overwhelmed. The focus was placed on moving teaching and learning online rapidly, in an attempt to continue the academic year with as little disruption as possible. Making teaching and learning accessible in uncertain times was a challenge.
Higher education institutions adopted a variety of strategies, some applied low-tech teaching and learning strategies, others offered all their courses fully online, and others combined fully online course delivery with sending instructional materials to students via courier services. A variety of factors influenced the success of students. Factors such as access to devices and data have been an overwhelming focus when designing and delivering programmes. During this time the role of the lecturer quickly increased to being, not only the subject matter expert but also becoming a support structure for their students.
Now, almost 2 years after the first global lockdown students and lecturers have had time to adapt to this ‘new normal’ and have learned lessons that they can now incorporate into teaching and learning in 2022. However, there are still some challenges faced by lecturers in standing at the beginning of a new academic year. Institutions are still uncertain of what this academic year of 2022 entails.
Some of the challenges (with possible solutions) lecturers will face in 2022, as predicted by various national and international sources and bodies like the Council for Higher Education in South Africa are:
- Engaging students during synchronous (live virtual) sessions
Many lecturers tried to mimic the normal face-to-face class time by presenting synchronous classes. Most of these lecturers would use these sessions to present a lecturer like they would have done in class. The challenge voiced by many lecturers is that these synchronous sessions are either not well attended, or students won’t engage in discussion prompts. However, there are lecturers that have been very successful in utilizing synchronous sessions in their courses. These lecturers changed their perception of a synchronous session from using it as a replacement for the face-to-face lecture to now using it to engage with the students through critical discussions, breakout rooms, and polling tools. The lecture would still be done, but through a lecture recording and readings that the students then work through on their own in preparation for the synchronous session. This gives the students an opportunity to engage with the content, their peers, and their lecturer in the synchronous sessions. These sessions are recorded for those that have issues with accessibility and for those that want to revisit the discussions afterward for deeper learning and to clarify concepts that they struggle with.
- Online assessments remain an issue
Although many people have used different types of online assessments like quizzes, assignments, discussions, journals, etc. many aspects around conducting assessments online remain a challenge. Lecturers feel anxious about online assessments because in some cases they might not know what the possibilities are on the online platform, or they’ve had online assessments running on the system previously but the student queries were overwhelming. Academic integrity and accessibility are also still some of the factors that cause anxiety around conducting online assessments. Some of the ways in which lecturers have dealt with these challenges are through rethinking their assessment strategy and including assessment methodologies like authentic assessments and open-book tests and exams, redesigning summative assessments to include different parts that students complete that count as a whole. For example, having the summative assessment be one part multiple choice and one part open-book exam. Or in some cases, people do away with exams and make use of portfolios of evidence or a project as a summative assessment. Multiple-choice questions can be used to test higher-order thinking skills. Making use of objective assessment methods / Socratic questioning methods as well as case studies are all assessment strategies that have been successfully implemented by lecturers during the emergency remote teaching circumstances the past 2 years.
- Delving deeper into the opportunities that the online environment offers
Lecturers have indicated that although they had to move their courses rapidly to the online platform, they made use of more tools than they previously had when they taught their courses in a blended learning modality. They do admit that the variety of tools available on the learning platform makes them excited about what online learning can offer and that they want to use the tools more and better in future course designs. Some of them indicated that they learned a lot of lessons while using the tools and therefore want to utilize them better to enhance teaching and learning.
- Using reporting to track students’ progress and identifying at-risk students early
Online platforms have a variety of reporting functionalities built into the systems however they are not being fully utilized yet. Some reporting through grade centers are used to see when students accessed the course, and what assessments they’ve done. But there are reporting tools available that can help lecturers identify at-risk students early and offer support to them. Lecturers should explore the built-in reporting tools on their online platforms.
- Creating quality evaluation frameworks
Quality assurance measures and policies at institutions help lecturers have a set of standards that they work towards when designing and developing courses. However even though some institutions have them in place, these aren’t always written for all modes of delivery, depending on what the traditional course delivery method is of the specific institution. During the last 2 years courses were moved online rapidly and a lot of the quality assurance couldn’t take place. This is now a good time to make sure the policies are updated for similar circumstances and are easily useable for the lecturers. Having a quality course evaluation process in place, together with frameworks like the Quality Matters rubric or the 4Cs checklist is a good place to start.
The global pandemic shed light on training and support needs for lecturers and students at institutions. Helping lecturers understand the different modes of delivery and how to design for them is an important skill needed. As well as supporting them in using online tools to enhance the teaching and learning and not disrupt it. Making training available to lecturers in digital skills is much needed.
There are a vast majority of open and free resources available in the higher education sector that has been shared by lecturers at national and international institutions. Lecturers share their experiences on how they used certain tools and practices in their courses. They share what worked, what didn’t work and how they overcome many teaching and learning challenges during the last 2 years. The way in which people are willing to openly share their ideas and their stories is definitely a practice that has grown significantly due to the global pandemic and we hope it continues for years to come.