Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Learning & Teaching This Year

Professor Abby Cathcart
Greetings from the ANU Learning & Teaching Day: Connect & Inspire. Professor Abby Cathcart, QUT Director Student Success & Teaching Advancement, addressed putting joy back into university study. She pointed out the difficulties with online learning during the pandemic. As she pointed out this was made worse by it being used as an emergency measure, and provided a vision for a path out of this conundrum. One off the wall idea was to shut down the learning management system for six months, but a more practical one was to require senior academics to teach. 

What resonated with me in Professor  Cathcart's presentation was communicating to new academics that teaching is a scholarly endeavor. This doesn't require every academic to become an educational specialist, but they need to learn a little. Another point I liked was that we need to do less as teachers. Teachers, and students can become overwhelmed by the online engagement required. When learning course design one of the approaches I took was to estimate the time required by the teacher, and the student, for each activity, and ensuring this fitted in a time budget for the course.

However, I was not convinced by Professor Cathcart call for joy in teaching. Rather I suggest academics should act professionally. They need to ensure they are competent to teach, and in doing so be able to do it efficiently, without overwhelming themselves, or their students. The average academic should not innovate in their teaching, instead they should learn researched, proven methods. I was bemused and frustrated during COVID-19 by academics proudly reporting how they were inventing ways to teach online, which actually had been known and used for at least a decade.

Professor Cathcart then addressed the issue of unngaged studnts. She [pointed out that just under half of studnts said they preferred blended learning, but most did not collaborate online. As an international online student for three years I experienced a deep sense of loneliness. What helped were group projects, where I was required to collaborate with other students. 

Professor Cathcart mentioned clubs and societies at university which help with engagement. However, a student has only a limited amount of time for study, squeezed in between work, family, and other responsibilities. Any time spent in extra curricular actives will therefore come from study time. As a graduate student I did not participate in any social activities, as I was there to get through the program as quickly as possible. My view was that social activity risked distraction from study, and failure. This is a reasonable, and ration approach for students. As a result, I suggest collaborative activities have to be built into the formal compulsory, assessed program. 

Professor Cathcart cited Taylor et al 2022 relating emergency online teaching to the stages of grieving. She pointed out that learning how to teach online can make the teacher's view of teaching online more positive. As someone how spent seven years being trained to teach, and particularly online, I can understand this point of view. However, for those for whom research is the priority, it is very difficult to convince them to do a whole lot of study and await enlightenment. 

A lighted point came in the presentation when Professor Cathcart discussed how teaching could bring joy for the teacher. She quipped that discussion of joy was always illustrated with a middle aged woman doing yoga, but that was not her. 

In her introduction, Grady Venviolle mentioned hat it was great to see parents with the new students on campus. I found this a little odd, as I was escorted to primary school for the first day, but the idea a parent would accompany me to university seems weird. Also I did not set foot on the campus of the last two universities I studied at. One was more than 1,000 km away, the on the other side of the planet. Having a campus is useful for a university, but not something every student can access. The challenge is how do we provide students with options, wherever they are.

1 comment:

  1. After that I was most impressed by the initiatives presented for experiential learning, study skills for preparation for learning, & reflection on learning. However, Australian universities need to do more work on how to integrate these into university programs, so that they can be well funded, & count towards the student's qualification.

    As a student I can recall making a very deliberate choice not to be distracted by extra curricular activities. I was there to get my qualification, & anything else risked that being delayed, or not happening. So I did not partake in anything which was not part of the curriculum. As the student panel reminded us at the end of the day, this is a necessity for many students, who have work & family commitments. The challenge then is to build the joy Professor Cathcart called for into the curriculum.