College Tribune

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“Blended Learning” Could Spell Trouble For UCD | Letter to the Editor

Sir, – The College Tribune’s report on Jim Miley’s concerns regarding Teaching and Learning in the next academic year hints at wider problems that UCD (along with all other universities) now has to face. 

In March and April, lecturers transitioned material designed for face-to-face delivery to the virtual realm, yet this stopgap measure is not something that can be repeated for a full trimester. If this experience has taught me anything it is that I’m no expert in this area, and I still don’t know how to address basic problems of online delivery – for example, the techniques I use to get students to engage in discussions in class proved to be not applicable online, and seminars turned more or less entirely into one-way lecturing. 

If we were to design our autumn modules for blended learning (i.e. partly in class, partly online) or even for full online delivery, it would require significant training or input provided by educational technologists (that we only have in small numbers) and a broad range of software and templates to work with. The worst outcome would be if we were expected to teach the same module to some people in class (or “blended”) and to others entirely online. In that case the different modes of delivery would require different designs of many parameters (such as assessment strategies) for the two cohorts, as well as a different “packaging” of the classes (usually a larger number of smaller units – possibly of a different type – online). 

While the overall content would of course be similar, the planning of different structures and the separate deliveries would increase the workload significantly; one module delivered in this dual way may count for as much as 1.5 “normal modules” in terms of time commitment.

All of this only covers the teaching side, of course – we have no data about the learning experience in April and May: How many students experienced connectivity problems (for me this was even an issue in a not too densely populated area near UCD)? How serious was the lack of access to library resources that are not available online (this may differ from subject to subject)? How many people were affected by a lack of work space and consequently could not engage properly with virtual classes and uploaded material? How much stress and anxiety was created by the general situation in the middle of a pandemic, the worries about relatives and friends (and sometimes the need to care for them), the loss of jobs, and others? What kind of feedback can students give us about our efforts during this period so that we can tackle problems that we may sometimes not even be aware of? My School will shortly run a survey to gather some student feedback, but that will necessarily be a very local exercise.

I hope that UCD’s leadership fully engages with these issues and does not proceed on the basis that we already are in a position to deliver high-quality online teaching across the board. – Yours, etc, 

 

Wolfgang Marx

UCD School of Music

Elected Staff Representative, UCD Governing Authority

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