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Scenes from the Online Teaching and Learning Workshop Series

The Human Resources Division at UKZN organised a five-part teaching and learning workshop series for academic staff.

Hosted virtually, the workshop was held in November, providing staff with the tools and skills needed to actively engage with students during online lectures.

Director of Human Resources Development Mrs Busisiwe Ramabodu says the online teaching and learning series was a planned intervention by her division in response to COVID-19. ‘The pandemic demanded a new way of adapting and accelerated the way we look at technology that is why we have developed this series, trusting staff will use it as an opportunity to learn.’

With digital teaching and learning in Higher Education her primary area of research, the facilitator of the event and senior lecturer in the Discipline of Information Systems and Technology, Dr Upasana Singh, conducted all five workshops.

1. The first webinar in the series was titled: Navigating Online Teaching and Learning, which explored eight essential skillsets required by academics to transition into online learning.

The skillsets were: digital literacy, digital pedagogy, recognising diversity, digital identity, communication, emotional intelligence, sharing good practices and time management.

Using Slido (an online Q&A platform for live/virtual events) to engage with participants, Singh demonstrated the importance of digital literacy and knowing how to use certain tools in order to achieve the most effective results during lectures. 

She outlined the need for effective communication skills by creating personal interactions with students through virtual introductions, communicating regularly, listing methods of communication, developing a response time and giving comprehensive instructions.

2. The second webinar titled: Digital Pedagogy focused on various ways to teach using technology. Defining pedagogy as the act or approach of teaching, the webinar examined how academics can develop their own style of teaching by understanding their students’ needs, backgrounds, languages and interests.

Singh identified the two approaches to pedagogy as: teacher-centred involving direct instruction, and student-centred which examines inquiry-based and cooperative learning.

Considering the differences between Generation X, Y and Z, she discussed modified ways of delivering face-to-face pedagogy and listed them as follows: integrating social media platforms in online learning, using Moodle tutorials and Zoom breakout rooms for student interaction, making assessments available at night and lectures available for download for students who struggle with connectivity issues and adequate learning spaces during the day.

3. Recognition of Student Diversity and Learning Styles.  This workshop was facilitated by Singh and featured guest lecturers Professor Sophia Manning, an ethnographic researcher from the United States, and Dr Angela James, who operates in the Discipline of Science Education at UKZN.

Remarking on how online learning had provided academics with the opportunity to get to know students personally (they now register with their names instead of their student numbers when attending classes), Singh addressed the impact of technology on student diversity and how culture could affect the way in which students interact and interpret data.

Focusing on the seven different styles of learning identified as logical, visual, verbal, auditory, physical, social and solitary, Manning discussed the virtual assessment tools she uses to evaluate her students learning styles, including the VARK Questionnaire.  James and her students shared their personal experiences using Padlet, a free online learning tool.

4. Professionalising Virtual Lectures was the most interactive session, providing staff with the knowledge and insight needed to become proficient Zoom users.

Singh reviewed simple features on the platforms web interface, including uploading a picture on a profile, setting recurring meetings, creating waiting rooms before the start of a lesson (to engage with students), recording Zoom sessions, creating breakout rooms and more professional ways of sharing a PowerPoint screen.

Stressing the importance of virtual backgrounds in creating a more polished presentation, Singh shared interesting ways users with older computer models could enhance their virtual backgrounds by using green screens to provide solid backdrops and ring lights or natural lighting for better face visibility.

Senior Finance lecturer Dr Kerry McCullough shared her DIY tips which included using a green cloth layered over a cloth hanger as her green screen (rather than purchasing it) and making use of her side lamp as her front light.

5. Empowering Students for Effective Virtual Learning.  This final session focused on skillsets required by students to succeed in online learning.

Singh encouraged lecturers to engage students on the successes and failures of online learning. Listing the most common problems faced by students which include the lack of access to technology, internet services and adequate study environments, she reviewed her own student experiences and urged academics to exercise empathy and emotional intelligence as not all students ‘were the same’.

She also examined ways in which academics could assist students by helping them navigate online learning, directing them to online learning tools, encouraging them to read, helping them develop writing skills through engagement with others, and teaching them about being good digital citizens by making them aware of the consequences of negligent social media usage. Closing off the series, Ramabodu thanked Singh for always being thorough in her presentations. She noted the amount of digital dexterity required for online teaching and learning and also thanked UKZN staff for learning to adapt during a difficult year.

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela