Practical teaching adapts to fit an online world
Structural testing in the engineering laboratory, fish sampling at Lake Ainsworth, group singing lessons and on-campus residential schools are par for the course in Southern Cross University degrees, but in a world under lockdown, teachers are getting extra creative and students are embracing the adaptation.
Some courses posed more challenges than others. The Coastal Marine Ecosystems unit for example is a fieldwork-heavy unit offered in the science, environmental and marine science degrees. Unit Coordinator, Associate Professor Daniel Bucher, brought the ocean to our students’ living rooms by taking them on a virtual biological treasure hunt.
“Usually there are five half-day trips to rocky shores and estuarine habitats, sampling species on the boat, as well as a visit to the Australian Seabird Rescue,” said Associate Professor Bucher.
“With some technical help, we filmed a staff member and a local student conducting some surveys and a treasure hunt to demonstrate quadrant counting from home.”
“All 2020 students have been invited to join me next year to experience the excursions face-to-face, but for now the video resources have been a great way to bring the coastlines into our students’ homes. It’s also a new set of resources we can use in future years in case of bad weather or if a student can’t attend due to sickness,” he said.
Bachelor of Science (major in Regenerative Agriculture) student Jen Ringbauer said that an 'online residential school' seemed like an oxymoron when she first heard it mentioned. “There was little chance of holding the residential school as it was planned. To keep the momentum going, the Regenerative Agriculture crew jumped like the complex adaptive system they are. Adaptive? I have never seen such a great program pulled together so quickly.
“Charlie Massy, Damon Gameau, Lorraine Gordon and some excellent local emergent practitioners were able to run sessions online by prerecording videos and then all coming together for Q&A sessions. More than 70 students from Farming Systems and Science in Society units were able to connect and explore topics such as the problems and solutions around farming, climate, food crisis, soil, marketing, certification and costs involved in transitioning to Regenerative Systems. And that was just the first day!”
On the second day Jen’s fellow students presented case studies in preparation for their major assignment – looking at different farms and how they manage soil, water, landscape, animals, capital, energy and labour. “We heard of some amazing farms and farmers in the Regenerative Agriculture Space - regenerating community, systems, soil and the climate. Shae Brown then treated us to a lecture on complexity thinking. It was absolutely fantastic!”
Course coordinators Hanabeth Luke and Peter Ampt guided the two-day residential seamlessly, said Jen. “The oxymoron-ality of online residential school was completely wiped away. Computer screens became a conduit of great learning and connections, rather than blockages to face-to-face meetings and on-the-ground experiences,” she said.
The Bachelor of Contemporary Music has also made the transition from face-to-face delivery to completely online, making it one of Australia’s first online music degrees.
Lecturer in Contemporary Music Dr Barry Hill said that chorale singing classes had been a success online.
"I conduct a class that examines the evolution of vocal harmony and in one workshop students usually sing a medieval Gregorian choir arrangement together, to experience the uplifting feeling of singing contrapuntal harmonies.
"Due to COVID-19, we adapted the exercise to an online environment by instructing students to choose a vocal harmony part and record it at home on whatever technology they had access to. We then compiled all of the recordings and added a church ambience audio effect to reproduce the sound of a medieval choir singing in a monastery. The impact was amazing.
"By doing this project in this way students have gained more knowledge of the art of studio recording than they normally would have done. Even if we can’t physically sing together, 21st Century audio technology is enabling students to understand the power of music-making together even while in isolation.”
See the result here.
Associate Professor Bucher said pre-recorded video lessons could be almost as good as the real thing, especially when music and humour were added.
"I kept small errors because that’s how it would have been in real life. The mood of the video should be as close to real life as possible.
At the end of the estuarine habitats video for example I point to a dead tree stump 100m off the beach as an example of the pace of beach erosion and say how I had a picnic under that tree 20 years ago when it was alive. Laura pans the camera back to me and you hear her say “nostalgic look” at which I start laughing – end of video”.
Students access classes and teaching resources on MySCU Blackboard, where leading technology is used to bolster online learning. Lectures are mostly taught live using Collaborate Ultra, which simulates a real classroom and students can ask questions, participate in polls and break off into smaller groups for teamwork.
Livin Joy, a Master of Social Work (Professional Qualifying) student living almost 8,000 kilometres away, would normally have made the journey from Kerala in India to the Gold Coast campus for a week-long compulsory residential. Instead, accrediting organisation the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) supported Southern Cross in its pivot to online delivery.
"The online residential was a fantastic learning experience for me,” he said. “The distance was shortened with the aid of technology and the learning experience was similar to that of face-to-face residential. I could attend the learning sessions from my home in India and could avoid travel to Australia during this COVID-19 pandemic situation.”
Course coordinator Dr Louise Whitaker and her team modified the Masters course to ensure students’ direct practice skills weren’t jeopardised, while meeting AASW’s accreditation requirements.
“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. A seven-day online residential is a marathon effort and some tired on the way, but most students loved it,” said Dr Whitaker.
Social work staff used Collaborate Ultra for course delivery then transferred into Zoom for students to record social work interviews for assessment purposes.
“Students filled virtual whiteboards with comments, questions and lots of positive feedback. We felt connected to one another. Students were delighted to save on the costs and inconvenience of travel.”