Semester one 2020 was like no other. On 16 March, La Trobe announced a week’s pause in face-to-face classes, with online teaching slated for the rest of semester one. At that time, the College of Science, Health and Engineering had around 200 courses and 1000 subjects, and only 10% were online.
Over 630 blended and face-to-face subjects transitioned to online within a week. “Under normal conditions, we might spend 300 hours getting one subject ready for online delivery,” explains Acting Provost, Professor Birgit Loch. “Instead, staff had 35 working hours to come up with a workable solution for their subject, for delivery in the next week.”
Far from a disaster, semester one produced the best Student Feedback Survey Results in the College’s history. On a 5-point Likert scale, with five representing “outstanding”, the College mean was above four. The La Trobe Rural Health School increased by 10% and the School of Nursing and Midwifery by 14%.
Professor Birgit Loch explains why the SHE College is leading in Learning and Teaching.
Tech reset. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the SHE College supported its academic staff to move teaching online. Technical resources – including Surface Gos and Pros, GoPro Fusion 360 cameras, tripods, headsets and radio mics – were made available to staff. Multi-function studios in Bundoora and Bendigo were used to produce lectures, with around 40 visits per week in semester one. “Digital literacy skyrocketed as our staff made this incredible, voluntary leap,” says Loch. “Throughout the semester, staff shared ideas with their colleagues. They shared clips of their own online teaching setup. It’s inspiring to see people get excited about the possibilities.”
Sharing practice. Communities of Practice in tablet teaching and online exams provided support, and how-to videos were rolled out, covering teaching challenges from synchronous sessions and formative quizzes, to teacher presence in student forums. The College Learning and Teaching blog led the way with a comprehensive range of resources. From March-June 2020, it received 5400+ views from staff. “We have a culture of sharing and supporting one another in the College,” notes Loch, “and it’s proven to be very effective in getting staff up-to-speed with online delivery.”
Student support. The SHE College support hubs (Maths, Science and Coding) moved online and, remarkably, student visits and student satisfaction increased. There were 2077 visits to the online Maths Hub in semester one, compared to 2045 on-campus visits for the same time last year. At semester’s end, 97% of student survey respondents rated the Maths Hub as excellent, very good or good. “The Maths Hub has meant that I have been able to get through my assessments without feeling overwhelmed and it has given me the confidence to succeed,” said one student. “I am extremely grateful.”
Mentoring. The SHE College’s student peer mentoring program also moved online. The program provides opportunities for first-year students to connect with second- and third-year students in the same course. In January, 100 mentors welcomed more than 1150 commencing students. And while studying from home, 65 mentors held 32 virtual sessions in five disciplines. New parents and postgraduate e-mentoring groups have also been established.
“It has been a challenging year, but it’s also been rewarding to see how our efforts have translated into outstanding Student Feedback Survey results,” says Loch. “I am looking forward to seeing how our new online innovations will further enhance our face-to-face offerings when we return to campus.”