Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Lecturers - we are no longer in charge of the classroom?

The transition from classroom to on-line lectures has been smooth for some lecturers, and difficult for others. Not all subjects lend themselves to the on-line environment, and as Éanna Ó Caollaí writes about "Coronavirus and the ‘new norm’ at third level" in today's Irish Times: "shoe-horning course content online in response to a crisis might work as a stop-gap but it is not considered to be best practice when it comes to online education". Ó Caollaí also wonders about the "degree to which academic programmes will be redesigned to place online at the core of curriculum delivery still remains to be seen". But the central point of a class/lecture has always been that the treacher/lecturer is in control of what happens - but is this changing?

Kate Roll (Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at UCL) and Marc Ventresca (Said Business School, Oxford) writing in The Guardian this week tell us that "Lecturer and student relationships matter even more online than on campus", and that due to the Pandemic that we have an "unparalleled opportunity to rethink teaching and to refocus on relationships with students". Roll and Ventresca tell us that "lecturers aren’t feeling so in charge anymore" due to the "destabilising" nature of on-line teaching compared to the traditional lecture theatre approach. I firmly agree with them that "standard lecture approaches often fare poorly online" and that both students and lecturers will feel disconnected and demotivated.

The Roll and Ventresca message is that relationships with students matter more than ever. Lecturers are no longer in control of the classroom on-line. I have been teaching on-line as well as in the classroom for the past two years, and there is no doubting that it is a much different experience. While I am in control of the software (I have used the Adobe Connect Virtual Classroom), I cannot see the students, I don't know if they are attending to the class (unless they pop a message into the chat pod), I can't hear them, I cannot read body language to tell if something is not being understood, I have no control over what happens in break-out sessions with Teaching Assistants, and if a students wished to attend a class by watching the recording later - I am not even there.

Building relationships with anyone is not easy, especially when the centuries old tradition of the lecturer as the sage-on-the-stage is being tested like never before. In addition to modifying or even completely changing course resources such as lecture and tutorial notes in response to moving on-line, us lecturers now need to learn how to build virtual relationships. Everything will be different for our students, but it is different for us too.

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