Navigating Online Teaching and Learning

The shift from classroom to online teaching necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has required that academics adjust to change, calling for new sets of skills and capabilities, compounded by working from home, which comes with its own challenges.

With this in mind, UKZN’s Human Resources Division hosted a workshop to explore new skills and capabilities for successful online teaching and learning.

Facilitated by Dr Upasana Singh, a senior lecturer in the Discipline of Information Systems and Technology, the workshop aimed to provide academics with tools to professionalise lectures and discussed the skillset for actively engaging students in virtual classrooms.

Singh outlined UKZN’s experience at the start of the lockdown. After conducting a needs analysis of staff, students and infrastructure, measures were adopted to provide increased training, course material and support for both staff and students.

According to Singh, in educating online, where lecturers no longer have immediate engagement with their students, the academic skillset required includes recognising diversity; communication skills; a digital identity; emotional intelligence; digital literacy; digital pedagogy; sharing good practices and time management.

In return, more than ever, students need to harness persistence; independence; technical skills; reading and writing skills; motivation; time management; communication skills and empathy. They also need to maintain a good study environment.

‘We need to recognise that we are not operating as before; we are teaching from our personal spaces, and this will have its challenges – there may be a baby crying in the background during a lecture, or disruption if technology lets us down. We must be kinder and more patient with each other,’ said Singh.

She encouraged academics to manage their digital identity and master useful tools to navigate online teaching cautiously but in an exploratory manner. ‘Even if you’ve learnt one useful thing, try and share your knowledge with someone else.’

UKZN’s HR Development Director Busisiwe Ramabodu, said, ‘As HR we noted that the shift to online teaching and learning requires new sets of skills and capabilities other than just learning how to use the technology available. Due to the urgency of the transition, we wanted to zoom in on the sets skills and capabilities required for high impact and professional online teaching and learning. These are different to the skills required in the physical classroom. Hence, the session highlighted skills beyond just knowing and learning the technology.’

Singh noted that, ‘Higher Education will eventually find its balance with blended learning post COVID-19. ?While Moodle and Zoom are the prescribed tools at the University, since the workshop was open to attendees outside UKZN with 277 attendees from 18 countries, the session also catered for those who may not have access to these platforms. The aim was to demonstrate live engagement options for academics, teachers and facilitators to adopt in the classroom, using free software available on the Internet as alternatives.’

Ramabodu noted that although the transition has provided an opportunity to intensify the University’s online teaching and learning models, the speed of the response that was required from all academics and the increased administration may have put a lot of pressure on all.

‘We do not want to assume that everyone is stressed but we want to ensure that support is available for those experiencing stress. The commitment and resilience shown by academics and all employees at this time is commendable.’ she said.

Upcoming initiatives by the HR Division include virtual webinars on managing disruptive change through resilience and agility; work-life balance in the time of COVID-19; managing stress; and the impact of COVID-19 on women in leadership and academia. More will be rolled out in the coming weeks. The HR Division will continue providing training on navigating online teaching and learning.

The UKZN-ICAS e|Care Programme is an online health and wellness service that makes use of email and Internet technologies to deliver a high-impact personalised service to staff and their immediate families living in the same household.

The service includes telephonic counselling with a qualified counsellor; guidance on legal, financial and family care matters; and telephonic health and medical support services.

The service is available 24/7 on phone: 0800-254-255 (toll-free).

Words: Rakshika Sibran
Photograph: Supplied