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Cave Hill Campus activates Emergency Remote Teaching

For Release Upon Receipt - Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Cave Hill Campus activities Emergency Remote Teaching

The UWI, Cave Hill Campus, April 14, 2020.When classes at Cave Hill campus were suspended in March by the coronavirus lockdown, many students pondered an uncertain future. With face-to-face teaching suspended while a National Preparedness Plan was rolled out to combat the emergence of COVID-19 in Barbados, few could predict with any certainty how effective the virtual classroom would be which was being implemented to conclude the semester and academic year.

Yet, it took fewer than three weeks for the campus’s predominantly face to face and blended learning model of teaching to be supplanted by an online mode that many across higher education globally would have to adopt – emergency remote teaching.

It was a mammoth undertaking for an institution with over 1,000 staff members, many of whom had been making limited use of the universal eLearning platform, Moodle, that the institution made available years ago.

The transition was coordinated by a 21-member Campus Continuation Committee for Online Learning chaired by Head of Department in the Department of Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics, Dr. Janak Sodha. The committee comprised deans, heads of departments and information technology specialists among others.

The Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), which offers a graduate certificate in teaching and learning, took the lead in the training of staff while the Campus Information Technology Services (CITS) facilitated a smooth transition for students. Ahead of the resumption of Semester 2 on April 6th, two pilot initiatives were undertaken targeting students and lecturers who were not au fait with the technology.

Committee member Dr. Glenda Gay, who lectures in Management Studies at the campus and who holds a doctorate in assessing online instructors said the entire process was not without challenges.

“CETL, with its graduate certificate in teaching and learning, would have set the tone by assisting a number of colleagues in preparing for what is happening now. However, there were others like the part-time staff and the adjunct staff who may not have had that experience and we needed to bring them up to speed. Some were only using emails to communicate with students,” she said.

“The learning curve was good for many of them and, of course, it took us longer to assist those who were not technologically savvy. The lag was more about what do we do with assessments in the various departments than telling staff what we need to do and when we need to do it.”

Dr. Gay was referencing formative assessments such as tests and essays that are undertaken during the semester while summative assessments are done during the examination period.

“We had about three weeks left in the semester. This meant that assessments were outstanding for courses. Then, we had to determine how we were going to work for the final exam since we couldn’t meet students face to face. The priority was getting the semester finished. The staff members, part-time lecturers and so on had to get on to the learning platform so that the students could finish in as smooth a process as possible.”

There were numerous considerations for the practical application of the eLearning platform.

For instance, our IT support specialists now had to take into account face-to-face presentations for some courses or, in the case of the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, the technicalities involved in the teaching of dance and film production, which are more hands-on.

Offering further examples, she noted: “In an accounting course you’d have to write these long income statements. Now we had to look at how students could do that in an online environment, including those who only had access to a mobile phone and not a laptop. They would have been dependant on the university’s computer labs to do their work. Those were the kinds of considerations that came into play when we did the conversion.”

“Another example was economics, where some persons were saying, ‘I have a lot of mathematical equations and I want to see how the student thinks through every stage’. Some lecturers believed this could not be converted to an online environment. The answer was ‘yes, it could’. The university has provided the eLearning platform, which has a number of tools that met all of those needs. Even with quizzes, questions can be randomised.

“The other thing that stood out for me was the issue of cheating. The items that are online can be randomised and we have the facilities to check the logs on eLearning and can see how long a student took to answer a question if, for example, they’re completing a quiz online. We can also see if they’re looking back at course material while answering the question.”

To make the make the process easier, Dr. Gay created over 20 ‘how to’ videos, each less than five minutes long that covered areas such as how to create an assignment, ‘how to upload my grades’, ‘how to check attendance’ and ‘how to grade my students’. The videos were shared widely among staff.

While the country looks towards overcoming COVID-19 and a return to normalcy, the IT expert anticipates the eLearning platform will remain an integral part of teaching.

“Now that lecturers are more aware, they can be creative with how they assess students. Yes, the traditional essays and so on will stay but we can now encourage students more with the ways in which we can assess their level of learning. For the final assessment, maybe some of the courses may go 100 per cent coursework. There’s a lot to rethink as we go forward.

“However, not everyone can ride a bicycle and, therefore, not everyone can be savvy in the online environment. That is why I maintain that a blended approach is good because it caters to those who can work online and supplement with those who need the face to face environment to understand the topic.”

Unquestionably, the situation has increased Cave Hill’s capacity to accommodate students in far flung territories, a matter which Dr Gay acknowledges was being actively explored.

Listing some of the lessons learnt, she suggested that “all staff members (should) complete the graduate certificate in teaching and learning. It is an excellent programme and it certainly helps with having a plan b, c and d in place with regards to the online environment.

“Another thing I’ve learnt is since we’ve moved to the online environment and we’re all home, staff may want to work from morning to night. We could suffer from what could be adrenaline fatigue where we can become so exhausted because you don’t have that down time, or you’ve forgotten to take that down time to eat and so on.

“This has also taught us that we need to flip the classroom. You can record the lecture content, put it online for the students, release every week as necessary and update your content accordingly. Use your lecture time to bring out the creativity to help students learn instead of teaching new content every week,” she added.


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