Coronavirus fallout means universities look to online delivery

Flexibility will be key as many college programmes shift to ‘blended’ delivery model

As restrictions aimed at curtailing the spread of Covid-19 are likely to continue for several months, life for many students starting third level is likely to be very different this year than previously.

Flexibility will be key in the coming months as most college settings don’t support spatial separation and will have adopted special measures to ensure syllabus delivery.

While many in-person classes will remain suspended, the syllabus will have to be taught using a different but no less effective approach to teaching.

Many academic programmes are increasingly utilising elements of remote learning as a central feature of curriculum delivery.

In this blend of traditional in-person teaching and online delivery, students will no longer have to be present for every lecture as they often were before. Instead, they will make use of “virtual learning platforms” to view lectures, participate in class discussions or engage in group work.

When news broke in March that restrictive measures were about to be introduced to curtail the pandemic, planning was already under way at the country’s third-level institutions as they considered how to deal with the disruption that would follow.

The end-of-year exams were fast approaching and college authorities had to rethink how they could help students achieve their educational goals in such a tight time frame.

Many third-level institutions already had the tools needed for remote learning. And work began almost immediately on the complex task of moving academic courses online as college authorities set about ensuring continuity for students without compromising the integrity of academic programmes.

This meant assuaging student concerns. Course materials had to be made available, clear guidance provided about what would be expected of students for the remainder of the academic year, the curriculum had to be delivered in a way that would be accessible to all and instructors would have to encourage feedback, provide analysis of ongoing work as well as devising suitable end-of-year assessments.

Fair assessment

Lecturers quickly scrambled to master the multiple tools needed to deliver classes remotely. Classes, lectures and tutorials were streamed from home and new methods adopted that would allow for fair assessment of students in the absence of the traditional end-of-year exams.

Thanks to the creativity and expertise of staff who helped deliver academic programmes in a way that would minimise disruption, but would still ensure the desired outcome for students, the sector has undergone seismic change.

Third-level institutions will plan for the day they can increase student presence on campus again. But even in the event of a return in the short term, chances are that virtual learning platforms are here to stay and will continue to feature as a key delivery mechanism for third-level education.

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