As we approach the start of the main teaching term I wanted to thank everyone across the university for the enormous efforts you’ve put into designing and creating online and blended teaching for our students. When we made support for the digital and physical learning environment one of our BILT priorities for last year, I had no idea just how significant, and how different, those environments would become during the course of the year.
Inevitably, supporting digital and blended learning remains a key priority for BILT this year, and we’ll be providing opportunities for you to discuss your issues and challenges, and share approaches which work, once you’ve started teaching. We’ve got some suggestions for how to support interaction and discussion in Covid-secure rooms on our website, and would like to gather examples from staff of approaches which are working for you.
We’ll also be working with students to understand and co-design improvements to their experiences of blended learning, both through this year’s BILT student fellows and with a new group of Student Digital Champions who will be collaborating with the Digital Education Office.
Of course it’s not the start of term for everyone – some schools have been teaching since early in September. Sheena Warman from the Vet school has provided this glimpse of what to expect:
I think it’s fair to say that this has been one of the more unusual, and definitely the busiest, summer periods as we prepared to welcome students back in this new world of blended learning. Staff have had to upskill at speed – an experience which has been both exhilarating and terrifying. We’ve learnt from the experiences of our students in weeks 21-24 of the last academic year, and have been able to develop resources that engage the students online, and allow our amazing teachers to show off some of their creativity in new ways.
There is a new-found freedom to teaching and learning, within the newly adapted “stories” that thread together different aspects of our curricula. Padlet (as a discussion board) has become a firm favourite and can become strangely addictive for lurking on when your students are completing asynchronous tasks. Our technical teams have gone above and beyond to create safe teaching spaces in our clinical skills and other laboratories, finding course-appropriate ways of reminding everyone what 2m looks like (2 Great Danes or 18 Chihuahuas!)
Welcoming students back into clinical workplaces has been particularly challenging – it looks very different, but our staff and students are showing remarkable ingenuity and patience as we all adapt to, for example, remote consultations and the wearing of PPE for the most basic of clinical care tasks. We are working closely with students so that we can adapt and tweak teaching to optimise the opportunities that we are able to offer. We are so proud of our students, for their resilience, patience, kindness and commitment to their learning.
The partially online, partially socially distanced teaching world we find ourselves in is new to all of us, both staff and students, so kindness and patience, with others but also with ourselves, are going to be really important as we find our feet in the changed environment.