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"Effective teaching is exceedingly difficult to deliver virtually"

Senior Lecturer at the Westminster School of Media and Communication at the University of Westminster, Aasiya Lodhi, talks about coping with COVID19.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   15-09-2020

Aasiya Lodhi

Teaching undergrad courses like Radio Production requires in-person interactions as a given especially when students are assigned to make documentaries as a part of their curriculum requirements. When Senior Lecturer at the Westminster School of Media and Communication at the University of Westminster, Aasiya Lodhi was posed with the reality of having to shift all her teaching online, she tweaked the requirements to enable her students to submit written work reflecting on what producing a documentary would consist of.

Read more about what this former BBC radio producer thinks lies ahead for higher education in the UK, the opportunities that virtual learning does offer and what she wants to see improved to ensure that a move to more digital formats of learning and teaching is inclusive.

 

How has the pandemic impacted your teaching and your students’ learning? 

Teaching had to be adapted very quickly in March to an online/virtual setting and it was a challenge for both staff and students. Some of the problems that staff and students encountered included technology issues (how to use the intranet system effectively as a live teaching environment); connectivity issues (not having strong, reliable WiFi); a lack of access to high-quality computer equipment; a lack of quiet space at home, and so on. I teach Media so many practical assessments had to be changed into paper-based ones.

For example, instead of making a radio documentary, which would be impossible to do without access to interviewees in person and location recording, students were asked to write an essay about how they would have made the documentary, and reflect on the challenges involved. Students were also given a blanket option to delay submission of assignments due to CV-19 and this meant deadlines rolled across all through this summer. As a result, staff have not really had a break and now it's time to teach again with the start of the new academic year (in September)!
 

Have there been any welcome outcomes that the shift out of a reliance on teaching in person has resulted in? What have these been? 

Effective teaching is exceedingly difficult to deliver virtually; effective vocational, or practical, teaching –e.g. Media Production—even more so. So, broadly, my feeling is that there have not been that many welcome outcomes. Most of my students would rather be in class, learning face-to-face and interacting with peers and lecturers in a relaxed, informal manner.

The challenges of technology mean the teaching environment becomes a little more formal when online: checking who is going to speak next, remembering to unmute your microphone, waiting for the internet connection to be stable etc. It makes it feel less fluent and 'real'. Having said that, students and staff have gained a lot of time by not commuting to campus and this has meant there is more time to study, write, make content or to have online conversations. Most of our students also work part-time to fund their studies, so a shift to online teaching again allows for more time to do this (as time is saved not commuting and also online teaching has to be compressed into fewer hours to avoid screen fatigue).
 

How do you think the changes that have taken place now will affect how higher education will be imagined/structured in the future? 

I think online teaching is here to stay. In the UK, until now there was only one institution that offered a comprehensive remote learning program: The Open University. I think UK universities will now borrow from a lot of the OU's techniques and strategies and add to them with the lessons learned from the CV-19 pandemic. Students are busier than ever before juggling financial and employability pressures, so a more tailored, bespoke education can be offered to them via online/virtual platforms—allowing universities to continue to appeal to students and to keep recruitment high.

Higher education in the future, at least in the UK, will likely have a much stronger mix of online and in-person delivery, and many traditional subjects, especially in the humanities (for example English Literature, History etc.,) may well shift to mostly online platforms.

Science subjects will find this harder, due to access to labs and so on, as will practical/vocational degrees which require access to facilities such as TV studios, for example. 
 

What changes would you like to see to the thinking/tools currently being deployed to enable online/remote learning? 

I think all the tools currently available are being deployed as best they can in the current circumstances. My sense is that there will need to be a conceptual shift. Academics have already begun to engage seriously with the pedagogical aspects of online/remote teaching. At my university, my department made us complete a course about the pedagogical and theoretical underpinnings of teaching online.

This was helpful in terms of thinking how the student-teacher relationship changes in the virtual context. We cannot, for example, do a standard one-hour lecture and then open up for questions. In an online setting information needs to be delivered in short 10-15-minute chunks, and a greater degree of interactivity has to be built in. I think once the shift to online teaching happens more decisively there will be a raft of academic research published about newer conceptualisations of remote teaching & learning, and this will shape our theoretical approaches to it. 
 

Assuming that we may never really go back to life as it was before the pandemic, what do you wish for yourself as a teacher/university faculty member and for your students in the coming years? 

My greatest worry is with regards to technology and inequality. Even in the UK, we cannot assume all students have access to high-quality technology, stable broadband and so on. Being on-site at university gives the student automatic access to these things: a quiet library, rooms full of computers, all the editing software they need, and so on. At the moment, public libraries are closed, and you cannot hire this equipment. Where possible, we have tried to identify those students from a disadvantaged socio-economic background and tried to prioritise their access to equipment, but in the interim, there are unfortunately inequalities at play. The university space -- a physical space where there is open access to the material objects of learning -- is an important one. I would like systemic inequities to be addressed if we are to move to a remote and technologically dominated learning environment.

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