In an effort to extract and amplify the expansive wisdom of our Academic Advisory Board, we've been dialling in to their 'isolation stations' and asking these higher education oracles how they see the impact of COVID-19 playing out across the sector, and what advice they have for education leaders at this time.
Prof Judyth Sachs is not only the Chief Academic Officer of Studiosity and sits on our Advisory Board, but she was previously PVC Learning and Teaching at The University of Sydney, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost at Macquarie University, and was appointed as Special Advisor in Higher Education at KPMG. She is also a Director of Judyth Sachs Consulting. She describes herself as an educator and activist.
Studiosity: Given your experience, how do challenging times bring together the education sector and improve the student experience?
Judyth: I don't think we've had anything as challenging as we have at the moment with the coronavirus. But I think that from time to time, we have had moments where there's been great disruption. And I think if we can re-frame what's happening away from being 'catastrophic' and rather as disruption, it might help us come to different interpretations and different forms of analysis. So in the spirit of trying to do that, this form of disruption has really made us think very quickly about how to ensure that students continue to learn.
The word that's really important and should be underlined there is learn. We know that students learn in different ways - so some students learn best by themselves, some students learn best face to face with a teacher, some students learn well with a group. So we have to, in our response to this disruption, think -how can we ensure that we cater for the great diversity of student needs and students orientations to learning?
So what's happened here, is we have been reactive. We are having to think "let's put stuff online". And we're not focusing on the quality, because there's urgency. Urgency has been framing everything we've been doing.
Unsurprisingly, there hasn't been planning. Sometimes if you go ahead without planning, you can communicate about it, like "this is a work in progress". And what we're not doing very well right now is we're not communicating "this is a work in progress; we are responding to a disaster". And re-framing again around learning, how do we support students to learn? But also how do we learn and improve the context in which students learn in a completely different environment?
"What we're not doing very well right now, is we're not communicating 'this is a work in progress'"
Thinking more about learning, I think that we need to be able to engage students. And not only in the learning and the content. We have to engage them emotionally. We have to engage them socially. And we have to engage them intellectually.
Students at a recent Studiosity meetup, discussing the diverse student experience and university life
That's where the planning will be required for that form of engagement. In much of this discourse in education at the moment, we are talking about student engagement, we're talking about the student experience, we're talking about student success.
Looking ahead, the new sorts of questions we need to ask ourselves are: how do we ensure that in a temporary online environment, whether 6-12, or 18 months, but in that temporary online environment, how do we continue to engage students intellectually, emotionally and socially?
"How do we continue to engage students intellectually, emotionally and socially?"
Studiosity: What advice do you have now, then, for leaders who are charged with moving the student experience fully online? In the short term at least?
Judyth: I think that we have to collect data. We have to collect a lot of evidence. What is the student experience? How well are we engaging students? How effective is 'putting stuff online' to ensure that students get a quality education? How do we know that students are learning online? It could be just a purely procedural form of technical engagement. Will that be deep learning? I don't know.
We need to see this as a short term solution to a complex problem for the future. In order to respond to that, let's ask some different types of questions. Let's collect data and find out what patterns there are, what the data might be telling us, and then create these sorts of virtual communities. Let's continue the conversation about improving learning.
Studiosity: Finally, what do you see ahead for first year students in 2020? And in addition to staying calm and safe, where best they can, what advice would you have for them?
Judyth: Yes, stay calm, and remember that this was unexpected for everybody. But also see this as an opportunity to really be a pathfinder in exploring new kinds of learning, new kinds of delivery. We need to use the student voice much more.
"We need to use the student voice much more."
Students will have lots and lots of input around how to optimise this. Let's listen to the students. And 'students' aren't just necessarily 18 year olds - first year students can be 25, 35, 45. So let's also recognise there are a great diversity of needs, and listening to these diverse voices, let's have them in conversation.
What are some different questions we need to ask? What are some different approaches we can take, and how can we optimise what we've learned here to create a much more interesting education future?
To learn more about Judyth and our Academic Advisory Board, see their profiles here.