Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Developing a Learning and Teaching Strategy

Along with many university staff, I have been invited to be part of developing a Learning and Teaching Strategy. This is an issue exercising the minds of people at many universities at present (or should be), as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. I have spent some of the last ten years studying, researching and presenting on these issues, so note that these are my views, not necessarily those of any particular institution.

An Approach

The approach I suggest is that universities design for a student who is remote, part time, and focused on practical vocational outcomes. Then add optional on-campus, and more academic activities. In terms of teacher development, require formal qualifications, but with training based on workplace experience.

It is much easier to start with a course designed for remote students, and add on-campus activities, than the reverse. Also, when another emergency forces some, or all, students online, this can be accomplished with no change in course design or delivery, the on campus components can be simply cancelled, leaving the remote component to continue. This approach was found to be effective in response to COVID-19 (Narayan, et al., p. 168, 2021).

Some issues:

1. Learning

Use of digital learning environments, on-campus learning, blended, flipped and flexible. As a result of the need to switch to online learning during the Pandemic, universities have well developed technical support for modern teaching approaches. The students are expecting these. The problem, up until 2020, was in convincing staff to do more than give the usual lectures. COVID-19 forced a crash program of online delivery. The problem is now how to make this more than just recorded lectures.

In part, the problem with learning is one of the self image of academics. When I joined the staff of a university decades ago, I assumed I would be researching, and teaching by giving an occasional lecture. As a computer professional, who had an award for helping getting the nation on the Internet, I assumed I could easily translate classroom teaching online. It took about ten years to realise I needed to swallow my pride and learn how to teach online without lectures. This is a process we need to take academic staff through, using dogfooding: teach them to teach by having them a student.

2 . Assessment

Also as a result of the pandemic, universities have technical support for flexible and advanced authentic forms of assessment (even if they don't use these). The ideal form of assessment is where the student does what they will need to do after graduation, in the workplace, and how they do it is checked. This can be in a real workplace, with an internship, or other Work Integrated Learning (WIL), or some form of simulation. Ideally the assessment is progressive, throughout the students courses, and accompanied by timely relevant feedback, so they pay attention. However, good assessment is much harder than end of semester examinations (which are bad assessment). This requires academics to be trained in how to assess, and time to set up. Once set up using the digital tools, the assessment takes more work. But academics will require the training and support to get to this point. 

As a student of assessment I did not believe much of what I was being told, until I had to experience it first hand (more dogfooding). As an example, I did not believe students did not read detailed feedback on assignments, until I got back my assignment on assessment and did not read the feedback. Only after this did I set about delivering feedback in smaller, more frequent chunks. Only after having to do group-work online, and reflective portfolio,  did I understand what these were about.

3. Teaching

How to ensure quality teaching is a dilemma for all university, but especially for research intensive ones. Whatever the marketing slogans might say, research is the priority, and researchers generally do not make good teachers. While vocationally focused, and not an elite researcher, I still did not volunteer to undertake teacher training, and had to be forced to do it. 

Universities will need to require staff to undergo teacher training, making recruitment and promotion conditional on achieving the required standard. I suggest this be done with formal courses, and AQF aligned qualifications. Voluntary schemes and ad hoc training courses are not sufficient. Universities have the opportunity to set up nested programs which can be a showcase for future offerings across the institution. As an example, micro-credentials which nest into a graduate certificate, diploma, and masters degree in university education, with WIL, & recognition of prior learning (RPL). Components of these programs can be offered to students, who are plan to be trainers in their discipline, as well as to staff. 

4. Job Ready Graduates

Internships, WIL, and career skills, as typically provided in computing, engineering and other closely vocationally linked disciplines, can be expanded to other fields. As an example, the ANU Computing School offers internships to individual students, and group projects for real clients (Awasthy, Flint, & Sankaranarayana, 2017). ANU Careers guides the group project students through the process of documenting the skills gained, considering careers, and applying for a job. Rather than this being extra-curricular, it is integrated into a course, with assessment (Worthington, 2019). Further digital support for these resource intensive programs can be developed. As with other forms of education and assessment, it would be valuable for teaching staff to have undergone such a program as a student.


Awasthy, R., Flint, S., & Sankaranarayana, R. (2017, April). Lifting the constraints—closing the skills gap with authentic student projects. In 2017 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON) (pp. 955-960). IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/EDUCON.2017.7942964

Narayan, V., Cochrane, T., Aiello, S., Birt, J. R., Alizadeh, M., Cowie, N., Goldacre, P., Sinfield, D., Stretton, T., Worthington, T., Deneen, C., & Cowling, M. A. (2021). Mobile learning and socially constructed blended learning through the lens of Activity Theory. In S. Gregory, S. Warburton, & M. Schier (Eds.), Back to the Future – ASCILITE ‘21. Proceedings of the 38th International Conference of Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education (pp. 166-171). Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education. https://2021conference.ascilite.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ASCILITE-2021-Proceedings-Narayan-Cochrane-Cowie-Goldacre-Birt-Sinfield-Mehrasa-Worthington-Aiello.pdf

Worthington, T. (2019, December). Blend and flip for teaching communication skills to final year international computer science students. In 2019 IEEE International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Education (TALE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/TALE48000.2019.9225921

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