Post pandemic education futures

Lectures and events
Publication Date
Professor Keith Smyth
Dr Alice König
Dr Janet Brown FRSE
Dr Louise Drumm
Alex Walker

This event was part of the RSE’s summer events programme, Curious.
Find out more on the Curious website.

Rethinking precarity, place and practice.

In March 2020 our education system was severely disrupted by the global pandemic.  Educators and their institutions moved swiftly to implement homeschooling and online arrangements to support learners at all levels. However, this move and the events that followed, including ill-judged decisions to bring university students back to campus, revealed many frailties and inequalities in the provision of education. Simultaneously, possibilities emerged for the distribution of more flexible and accessible learning across physical and digital locations. Offering a critical perspective, our speaker panel, chaired by Professor Keith Smyth will explore how we now need to reimagine the nature and purpose of education post-pandemic.


Please note transcripts are automatically generated, so may feature errors.

Professor Keith Smyth: [00:00:00] Good afternoon colleagues on our panel and participants from wherever you might be joining us and welcome to ‘Post pandemic education futures: rethinking precarity, place and practice’ a panel session for the RSE Curious 2021 festival, which has been running across this August and which will hopefully be running again.

As a face-to-face series of events as normal. When we come in to next year, My name’s Keith Smyth. I’m Professor of Pedagogy and Head of the Learning and Teaching Academy at the University of the Highlands and Islands. And I’ll be the chair for the session today. I’m very pleased to say that we’re joined by a number of colleagues who will have the opportunity to introduce themselves in a few minutes.

But comprising Janet Brown, Louise Drumm, Alice König and Alex Walker. I think from this point before we do a little bit of scene setting for today’s panel we will invite each of the panel members to introduce themselves. So I’m just going to go with the order that I see colleagues on the screen.

So brief introductions, then what we’re going to do is give an overview of [00:01:00] today’s session and hear a kind of short pitch or opening statement from each of the panel members. So Janet could I invite you to introduce yourself first please.

Dr Janet Brown FRSE: Yes. Good morning, everyone. Just want to say it’s very, it’s a great pleasure to be on this and just briefly introduce myself.

I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. I’m currently the Convenor of the Royal Society’s education committee, and I’m very, very aware of the importance of education skills, but also concerned that sometimes we don’t react quickly enough. When we see the changes needed and that’s pretty relevant. I think at this point in time I’ve had many different roles over the course of my career.

And until 2019, I was the Chief Executive of the SQA. So not surprisingly, I’m a true believer in lifelong learning, both formal and informal. So as a result, so Keith, am I coming back to you now for your opening remarks?

Professor Keith Smyth: Yeah, we’re going to, we’ll pass to Alex just to briefly say who she is and we’ll hear from [00:02:00] a brief introductions from the rest of the panel, then we’ll go to an overview and we’ll come back to Janet for your opening viewpoint.

So, Alex, would you like to introduce yourself, please? Thank you.

Alex Walker: Yeah, I’m Alex Walker, Professional Development and Recognition Lead, University of the Highlands and Islands where I facilitate and lead professional development opportunities, primarily for colleagues working in learning and teaching around enhancement and sharing good practice. Thank you, Keith.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you, Alex.

Dr Louise Drumm: Hi, my name is Louis Drumm. And I am an Associate Professor at Edinburgh Napier University and my area of expertise in terms of my teaching. And my research is the use of digital technologies for learning and teaching in universities. So one of the things I’ve been involved with in my university over the past years, I’ve been leading a project to help colleagues, staff members, whether they’re lecturers or professional services.

Support learning online and support their students online. So getting that [00:03:00] balance between the technology, the pedagogy, so the way that we’re teaching and the sort of the human aspect of what it is to do emergency remote teaching.

Professor Keith Smyth: Great. Thank you, Louise. And finally Alice.

Dr Alice König: Yes. Hello. Thanks for inviting me on the panel, Keith.

I’m a Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of St. Andrews and also a Member of the Young Academy of Scotland and the Young Academy and the RSE Royal Society of Edinburgh are currently working together on a project. That’s really looking at the future of tertiary education in Scotland.

And I sit on the working group for this project. So I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the last 18 months. Looking at different aspects of higher and further education and also consulting different stakeholders about their hopes, but also their concerns for the future.

Professor Keith Smyth: Great. Thank you, Alice. And thank you everyone.

Who’s agreed to participate on the panel today. It is fantastic we’ve got a panel that can offer a sectoral view on some of the issues we’ll be exploring today. As well as perspectives from learning and teaching, staff [00:04:00] development and also kind of wider aspects of policy and practice. So without any further delay just to set the scene for today.

So our panel is focusing. Post pandemic education futures. What are the implications of Covid-19 and the challenges we’ve had or less 18, 19 months in terms of how we might rethink procarity place and practice with respect to really today we’re dealing with formal education, formal learning and teaching in the schools, college and university kind of sector, if you like.

So in terms of a little bit of kind of broad scene setting. On this notion of precarity. I think we might argue that engagement in formal education has always thus been precarious. Learners are going through the formal school system. They’re doing so at a time of personal and physical development that in itself brings its challenges.

We are aware that in many corners of society school is a safe place for many young people. And that has lots of implications for their own development and their own wellbeing. But even when we think about the college and [00:05:00] university sector we might acknowledge the precarious nature of some of that for some of our students.

So many offer full-time students are actually effectively. Part-time already, when you take into account part-time working responsibilities. Caring responsibilities and so forth. And for university students and a good part of this sector this, the challenges and precarity around their own financial situation with the, with the payment of fees and all that implies in terms of what they will be left with as they leave university.

So engagement, formal education has always been precarious and it’s perhaps even more so given the situation we found ourselves in, in recent months, Certainly one of the things that the pandemic put a very keen lens on and certainly kind of underlined for us was the, the real kind of disparity.

Between those learners who have, and those who have not. Both in relation to technology and resources, but also in relation to space and the think [00:06:00] that’s really been revealed and, underlined quite strongly as learners in every part of the education sector have been studying from home the best they can with the resources and people and space that’s available to them.

There’s some emerging research. And also we know from our own experiences educators, that this has been having some implications around attainment and what’s been possible for some learners versus others during the pandemic and what the possible implications of that might be going forward.

And as learners have returned to school and slowly returned to college and university campuses.

Readiness is also an issue though. And even though we may have arguably a more digitally literate population of learners and educators overall it’s not the case that all our learners and all our educators are kind of comfortable with using technology and even those that are comfortable with using techniques.

When the pandemic hit, very few of them had self-selected to study fully online or self-selected to [00:07:00] teach fully online. And we’ve got lots of implications there in terms of readiness, both in relation to, and through the pandemic and the possible implications going forward for learners and educators to make good use of technology.

As we slowly move out of this situation, living challenges, but there’s also been many positive things that have happened in relation to the pandemic are, are kind of. Schools and our campuses having put up physical ramps for many, many years in terms of accessibility. When a pandemic hit, we suddenly put up a virtual ramps and made education, all levels accessible for a range of learners in ways that, that needed to be.

But also in ways that it hadn’t been before. And certainly we’ve, we’ve seen many arguments dispelled around well you just can’t teach that subject online. We’ve seen that any subject can be supported at least partially online. So there are some implications there. And then beyond that. We may want to consider the reality and also the possibilities going forward of the school, the campus, the curriculum as [00:08:00] distributed and co-located places that aren’t just in one fixed location that has challenges.

But then may also bring opportunities, particularly for learners who, for whatever reason, Maybe through disability or caring responsibilities are they’re on location. Maybe can’t easily get to physical locations for learning and teaching. So that hopefully sets the scene in terms of some broad experiences, or issues or things we might consider. And at this point we’re going to move to each of the panel members to hear their own take on what they see as the key issues. So we hear from each panel member for a few minutes, and then we’ll break out into further questions and discussion for the rest of the session.

And if we can turn to our panel members to hear from each of them, just for a few minutes around their own take on the key issues, challenges that our own perspective on what we’ve been through over the last few months and possible implications. So, Janet, I’m going to turn to you first if that’s okay, please.

Dr Janet Brown FRSE: [00:09:00] Yes, so as, as Keith has already highlighted there have been very significant challenges for the last 18 months, but for whatever circumstances they face students in universities and colleges that continued to courses and undertook assessments and, and coursework online. The materials that have been developed, been developed very, very rapidly.

Using both traditional and innovative ways to impart knowledge, but also to assess students and provide the necessary qualifications for them. Similar approaches were taken for children and primary and secondary schools with teaching and learning, being severely disruptive though. Qualifications were based on teachers estimates rather than external examinations.

When the results were announced all countries in the UK saw a marked increase in attainment. In Scotland for example, in 2020, there was an almost 15% increase in the overall attainment at higher. And the 2021 the numbers achieving an A grade at higher, increased by 20%. Over that scene in pre COVID 2019.

So that means a much [00:10:00] larger number of school leavers achieved the required grades for entry to universities and colleges than they would have earned in a pre COVID year. And it’s really important to understand what implications that has in terms of any particular challenges they may face in terms of a lack of exposure to certain aspects of the courses.

For instance, as a result of the disruption to teaching and learning. We need to understand and address the wider implications for education for everyone, whatever their age that has happened during the pandemic and make support available for them to ensure their long-term success. Because there’s been a significant amount of worry about whether this generation might be blighted over the longer term as a result of the events of 2020 and 2021.

Particularly those from less advantageous backgrounds. So the last two years were unprecedented and we hope that we’re now moving back to a more predictable future, but should we go back? Or should we take this opportunity to [00:11:00] rethink our approach, to teaching, to learning and to assessment? Let’s learn what worked well during the pandemic and build on it.

As Keith pointed out, there has been some excellent work undertaken we’ve been taken out of our comfort zone and many people have become very, very creative. So let’s try and stay there and not go backwards. Let’s take advantage of the experience with the last two years to make sure that education post Covid, whether it’s in school, college university, or the workplace is truly preparing people for the 21st century.

Let’s be radical and review. What’s taught how it’s taught, how different students learn, how we can assess their abilities in different ways and how, what support should be available and how it should be provided as they progress into their future careers. So learning teaching and assessment can benefit greatly from digital developments.

Let’s embrace them. Covid has shown that we can use technology to share, to learn and to keep connected whether [00:12:00] we’re five or a hundred. It’s not a question of either or. It’s not an either or decision at all. It’s about using a variety of methods and choosing what’s best suited to the context that often misunderstood term blended learning.

We shouldn’t be just providing information via stream. For instance, we should use technology in an interactive value added way to truly excite people and enhance learning. Providing engaging context, personalized, and self-paced on demand learning to address some of those issues that Keith has raised.

We can also assess knowledge and skills as students learn, moving away from the example and rote learning. We can provide virtual environments to test technical skills, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, and communication. All of those attributes that are well-recognized as critical for success in the 21st century.[00:13:00]

But if we want to do this, it’s not only a question of changing the education sector. It also means to change Scotland as a whole. The question is can Scotland move beyond what it regularly talks about? That in my day, exams were much harder that all knowledge needs to be learned rather than access. For instance, I didn’t have access to books and the internet when I was doing my exams that face-to-face teaching is always the best.

The digital divide means you can’t use technology in mainstream education. We can get around it. That pass rates at higher are the measure of success of the school education system that going to university should be the goal for all. Do we really believe in parity of esteem? These concerns are not new, but if we address them, then we can truly have a really good positive post Covid education system.

So let’s let the debate begin.

Thank you. [00:14:00]

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you very much. Indeed. Janet so much for us to think about there and a great opening to our deliberations. Particularly, you know, some really key, strong messages in there around potential disadvantage going forward, but also the opportunities and maybe dispelling some myths at this point in time to radically rethink how we approach learning and teaching going forward.

So thank you very much, indeed. We’ll move now to hear from Louis. So over to you, please.

Dr Louise Drumm: Thank you, Keith and Janet, it was really interesting. I’ve a few brief points I’d like to start with. And I suppose one of them is just looking back at a brief reflection back on what happened, what just happened over the past couple of years.

And I think we can’t underestimate the extraordinary. Effort, on behalf of parents, pupils, students, teachers, academics, administrators across the whole sector in terms of what happened. And it was a rapid change into emergency remote learning and teaching [00:15:00] for everybody and, education in general moves very slowly, but there were things that happened so rapidly that we would never have imagined, could have happened.

And just taking the example of assessment and the, very long lived experience of exams, for example, being the gold standard for assessing authentically individual students in that environment and how rapidly that changed. I mean, just to just looking back at that is quite extraordinary.

I suppose one of the points that I would like to raise is around the persistence of ideas around what is online learning and teaching. The danger of the idea that what happened then was actually the same as intentionally designed online learning and teaching as designed by people who are experienced with that and experienced with the technology, but also what it is to do that in from a pedagogical point of view from so from the learning and teaching point of view.

And I [00:16:00] think we just have to dispel those myths a little bit around and this is very much around the dialogue and the debate about Fees and students and particularly south of the border and value for money and what exactly it is that, that they’re expecting as, as Keith said, I think in your opening, we don’t, you know, nobody actually signed up for this and there’s a very different approach.

When we think about learners who are coming into a situation. Knowing that it’s going to be online or, or potentially blended as opposed to what just happened. So I would like to make sure that we, we, we kind of make sure that where the debate is differentiated between those two different scenarios. Looking forward I think there are some potential pitfalls and hiccups around moving back into more face to face. Whether that’s blended or, kind of partially on campus or partially in classrooms and partially online. And I think it’s, it’s a third way. And for the academics that I’m supporting and looking at at the moment, they’ve moved from one [00:17:00] on-campus traditional model, very rapidly to a wholly online model.

And now we’re looking at a sort of a hybrid approach. With the students attending partially on-campus, partially online. And that’s a different model because you have that face-to-face time. And it’s a different way of thinking about learning and teaching. So I think this has to be a softly softly approach to that, not least because we have.

There is a little bit of a debate around the idea of full flexibility for students. So students having full options about going online or being on campus and actually to design for that as a teacher, as an educator is really difficult. And it’s really difficult to give parity of experience and learning experience and engagement with students in all of the things all of the time.

So I think choice is something that’ll have to be kind of fleshed out a little bit. I think the last thing I want to end on is really about how could we, in future years look back on our school leavers, our college leaders and our graduates. And and how can there be [00:18:00] anything positive or in terms of what it is to be a Covid graduate or a Covid school leaver?

Are there skills, are there. Things that you know, within CV’s or our you know, employment interviews that somebody can say, well, actually I studied at, you know, at third level, in my first and second years during Covid and that brought a kind of an independence of learning or a digital skill set, or an understanding of my learning that that might be, it might not have been quite so surfaced in other situations. And this is where I think we talk about digital literacy, but I think there’s an opportunity here for educational literacy, not just in our student bodies, but in, in our society a little bit more generally, but thinking about what it is, learning is what it is, where it is that it happens and how do different educators and different subjects enable that to take place and just upping our language game a little bit around how we discuss these things.[00:19:00]

Thank you, Keith.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you very much, Louise, again, so much for us to think about there. Just to pull out a couple of things, which I’m sure we return to. But certainly the idea of the exam is a gold standard. And actually we’ve seen that there’s a richer ways to, you know, a richer range of ways to kind of gauge and assess learning, but also your point around the third way.

Many, many educators in various parts of the sector will know. Campus-based versus online or face-to-face versus blended. Were never a dichotomy. But they were very much presented as such at various points throughout this pandemic from a we’ll keep our kids in school. That’s the best place for them to be.

To, we’ve got to do home homeschooling and home studying blended is best to back to let’s get everyone back on campus in school because that’s the best way to learn. So mixed messages, I think for the public and, and, and For the sector as well. In terms of the narrative that’s unfolding throughout the kind of last year and a half.

So I’m sure we’ll come back to some of that. So thank you very much. I think this whole, whole thing about the third [00:20:00] way, and also not, not to mixing up or confused contingency or emergency moves to online learning with what effective technology enhanced learning can really look like. So some really key messages there.

Alice, if we can turn to you, please.

Dr Alice König: Yes. Thank you. As you say, Keith, some really fascinating points coming out there. So my expertise is very much in higher and further education. And I’ll, I’ll focus on that in my short comments now as others who said, I think it’s really hard to underestimate the scale of the experiment we’ve just been through.

And there has been, lots of creativity as Janet said. But it has also thrown up lots of really interesting questions for us to wrestle with. It’s safe to say that in the higher education and further education sector, there were already, there was already a kind of sense of crisis, almost change needing to happen.

Lots and lots of questions already. Threats effectively have been building to the UK higher education system for quite some time. And that’s precisely why the RSE and Young Academy of Scotland are running a project, looking at tertiary education [00:21:00] futures. And I just want to highlight really a couple of things that have come out of our debates actually about the future of tertiary education in Scotland.

One of them is the, sort of the lack of understanding of the social value of higher and further education and its importance to society beyond graduate employment outcomes. So in the press often colleges and universities are pilloried by politicians for not offering value for money. I think that phrase has already been used either to students or to taxpayers.

And those criticisms usually revolve around the sort of the perceived role of the college or the university to improve graduate employment outcomes to meet the UK skills needs to boost economic productivity and so on. Now, not all press coverage is negative, of course. But there is a lot of focus on the cost and the economic balance sheet effectively.

And there’s not enough focus on the wide package of social and educational or goods, which further education and higher education offer. So, one thing I would say is that going forward as part of this is a big [00:22:00] discussion about the future of education. We need to think about the frameworks that we have for measuring.

What further and higher education contribute to society and we need some better informed public discussion of it. So you know that those beyond this idea of producing sort of job ready workers, you can boost the economy. And so on in one of our recent Young Academy and RSE debates we had Carl Gombrich whose Director of Teaching and Learning at the London Interdisciplinary School.

And he used a very interesting phrase that is out there already. And when he talked about citizens scholars and universities and colleges helped turn citizens into scholars and scholars into citizens. And it’s this sort of combination of the two and this idea that learning is about actually.

Doing work of value to others in all sorts of spheres and all sorts of value. So I think the first point I wanted to make is just that we, we do potentially underestimate or misunderstand, or at least talking quite unhelpful ways about the purpose and the value of tertiary education. And we need to [00:23:00] address this and we need to strengthen the relationship that we understand between education and society.

The other main point that I want to make again, focused on the tertiary education sector. It’s about marketization. Again, this was a challenge that was facing tertiary education long before the pandemic, but, but the pandemic has thrown some new light on it. So we’ve got universities and colleges buying for students in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

That means that resources can get diverted into sort of branding campus one upmanship. A focus on league table positions. And what, really results is lots of competition between institutions, which occasionally drives positive change, but it can also encourage institutional protectionism. It can stifle collaboration, it can limit resource and expertise sharing.

And these are the kinds of things that actually we need to be doing. If we, to address these macro questions about education futures that that Louise and Janet have already touched on. So I think one thing I just want to stress here is that as we go forward and as we think about the experiment [00:24:00] we’ve been through about all sorts of different learning and teaching opportunities going forward that we really need to collaborate and that we really need to resist this, this competition that comes from marketization.

So those are the main points that I want to make by way of introduction. I’m sure, I think we’re going to come back to talking about assessment and I would absolutely echo what Janet and Louise have said about you know, the, my experience of online alternative assessments has been that, you know, that exams are absolutely one of the things we should really focus on doing away with frankly. And, and just a very quick point on this sort of in-person digital dichotomy that, that Keith, you mentioned Obviously, we’ve seen lots of opportunities for digital going forward. But one thing that I think that that we have learned, and I speak as a parent of school children, as much as an a lecturer at a higher education institution is the value of in-person. The incidental learning that happens maybe on the way to a lecture hall or on the way to the class and the [00:25:00] conversations, the sort of spontaneous discussions and knowledge sharing.The way in which school pupils can look over at what someone else is doing on another desk and think, oh, they’re not taking as long as over this as me or they’re not writing as much as me, you know?

And, and just that, those sort of infinitesimal adjustments. That you can only do when you’re sharing a space, but that children in particular, at a young age really benefit from. And then those conversations that university students have talked to me about really missing on the way to and from lectures that kind of round out the lecture experience itself.

So yes, we might have distributed campuses. We might have lots and lots of innovative digital learning going forward. But I think I’ve really learned the value of that in-person experience all the way through the education system.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you very much, Alice. And again, we’ll return to many of these things and just pull it up in a couple of key points from your introduction there.

And again, with so much in it, but I think it feels to me like the questions [00:26:00] you’re raising around the purpose further in our higher education, tertiary education in particular to this society, we sit within, I think that’s coming to sharper focus due to the pandemic. I think the, the, the work that universities do in relation to the wider communities I think there was a strong argument that that should be seen as a joint project.

And not something we should be in competition around. But also you mentioned things around citizenship and scholarship, and I’m kind of conscious as well that the use of the digital opens up really good opportunities for us to share knowledge from within the work of the university more widely.

And that might even extend to the work that students do. So the notion of students becoming digital public scholars through the sharing of the work and, and the dimensions around that, that relate to public knowledge. Knowledge that can benefit the public should be open, should be free. And she’ll be there to benefit anyone that can take advantage of it.

So hopefully we’ll come back to some of those things and just acknowledge the participants that have kindly started putting some questions to the panel. So we will begin to pick up on those very shortly, but before we do that we will hear from Alex. So over to please, Alex.

Alex Walker: [00:27:00] Thanks Keith. So I wanted to just quickly touch on professional development, pre Covid.

So pre Covid colleagues working in education who facilitated professional development for educators would typically offer professional development like mentoring, workshops, and conferences either face-to-face or for some institutions like mine through a mix of face-to-face attendance and through synchronous technology.

Like we’re using today. So when the first Covid lockdown forced the education sector to move online, it meant the educators like students. And as Keith said in his opening didn’t self-select to move their practice fully online. And although generally I think and we’ve agreed that there’s a good level of digital literacy amongst educators.

Many colleagues were not prepared or didn’t have the experience of learning and teaching online to move their practice quickly online. And I think Louise mentioned, you know, the speed and how rapid, it all happened. [00:28:00] And I think it was that speed in which it happened in the initial lockdown.

That was the hardest aspect for many colleagues. So the role then for myself and others in similar roles in professional development was to consider how to support colleagues through technology that is used in learning and teaching to support the move to online through professional development, but also to consider how best to support ongoing engagement with technology to support learning and teaching post Covid. So for myself and colleagues this included harnessing communities of practice within my institution and initiating professional development that utilized the existing expertise that we already had that the university and that included calling on colleagues with experience in fully online learning and teaching approaches to mentor those who are now having to move really quickly online.

In [00:29:00] relation to engagement in professional development and the shift to homework in and homeschooling that Keith and others have spoken about. Research studies in higher education have reported that the shifts to online professional development opened up the opportunity and increase the participation for engagement in professional development.

For particular groups of people, including those with caring responsibilities, who could now balance attending professional development from their own home. For example, advanced HE, did a report that showed the number of women engaged in professional development in HE had increased during the first lockdown.

But in relation to what Keith said in the open as well the physical space was highlighted as a challenge to attend professional development from home in the advanced HE report.

As well as that, the opportunity also arose in that first lockdown. And since for more sharing of good practice across the education sector and beyond, and we began to see more professional development [00:30:00] opportunities being offered across institutions rather than just within the institution that was running the professional development.

And in most instances that was a no cost to attend. And this gave a fresh perspective for what was happening and what is happening in learning and teaching across the sector. And I think we’re going to go on to discuss this today. Consideration for professional development beyond Covid should consider how we use an embed technology in our professional development provision and formal education programs that is creative and showcases and exemplifies best practice and learning teaching.

Finally, though, I do think that we need to be slightly wary or aware though, that there could be a move towards slotting and professional development between meetings and also an increased expectation on colleagues to squeeze professional development around existing workloads, rather than me being given that time for travel, that would offer the opportunity for reflection prior [00:31:00] and post engagement in a workshop or seminar that is probably crucial to initiating change in practice.

Thanks, Keith.

Professor Keith Smyth: Great. Thank you, Alex. And I think a really important message there. That we, we shouldn’t forget the challenges as educators. Whether the school teachers, lectuers faced and having to move fully online particularly if they were not very experienced in those modes of delivery before.

But also I think a really important message in that that teaching doesn’t happen in isolation educators and schools and colleges and universities. The teaching is formed by the good practice of the colleagues and the sharing of that practice. And by working collaboratively to find ways to respond to challenges and emerging needs in terms of shaping evidence-based teaching practice going forward and these things aren’t always obvious to, to those of us that sit outside schools and colleges and universities, that there’s, there’s a whole kind of culture of education for educators.

To enable them to do what they need to do. And that came into sharp focus when we were looking at supporting staff to move fully online in terms of [00:32:00] the teaching practice. So lots for us to think about there as well. So. We’re now into the second half of our session where we will open up into a further discussion.

We’ve got a number of questions have come in through the Q&A feature. So thank you very much indeed to all the participants that have put forward some questions. We’re going to try and take as many of these as possible in as much detail as we can. We also have some questions that we we’d like to put to the panel ourselves.

And we’ve got a number of observations as well. I’ll try and acknowledge the observations that have come in points of agreement that participants have shared. So. I think though what we’ll do to start with a nice starting place might be this question. So thank you, what are the influences and impacts of technology on students during online learning? And how make the period we’ve just been through influenced the social skills of our students.

So I think I’m going to turn in the first instance to Loiuse to tackle that one. And then we’ll see if any of the other panel members [00:33:00] would like to come in. So just to remind the panel and also those listening, what that question was from another what are the influences and impacts of technology on students during online learning? And how has the period of influence, the period we’ve just been through influenced the social skills of our students? So thank you for that now over to you, Louise.

Dr Louise Drumm: Thanks. I think it, the, the first part of your question there, it really depends on, on how the technology has been used by the educators.

And certainly at university level, this can vary widely. And, and I suppose there’s, there’s something around, I want to highlight around the idea of using technology as a broadcast medium which kind of is trying to replicate something that might be happening, for example, in a classroom or a lecture theater or the in many cases, a lot of the universities that I’ve worked at have, have quite advanced kind of engagement tools that can offer students opportunities to.

To be the other side of that broadcast. So whether it’s communication via text or it is actually something a little bit more embedded [00:34:00] into the curriculum, such as making digital artifacts and sharing them. This goes back to that lovely points. Alice was making about citizenship. And citizenship in terms of scholarship and bringing on Keith mentioned, bringing students out into the authentic real world where actually rather than just doing an assessment, but it might be something that you do just for the purposes in the eyes of your lecturer only. But it’s an artifact that lives in the real world. And it’s something that has a life beyond something that’s just done for a grade. And I think those kinds of methods and also the communication methods, and this gets to your second point as well is also quite helpful because obviously we live in age of social media and for various reasons, to do it, privacy and GDPR. Universities often have like a strict wall between their own digital tools for communication with and between students and the external world.

And, but in terms of social skills, I think there is potentially Issues around anxiety of not actually having met other students [00:35:00] on what’s that’s going to be like when you start to meet people face to face and that equally can be for the educators as much as the students. So I think there’s probably a certain amount of picking up of social skills.

And I know schools in Scotland have been doing that, you know, in between lockdowns to try and help their pupils and socially embedded themselves with each other in the classroom again. But I think a third level where we’re looking at potentially quite, quite difficult to difficult things for students to be able to, because as lecturers we don’t normally do that, we don’t normally think about the social aspect of learning because we’re in more formal classroom situations, but as was said earlier, Those kinds of corridor conversations, hugely important.

And while digital media may have you know, enabled a certain amount of conversations across things like virtual learning environments, or maybe informally through WhatsApp that face-to-face social skills and friendships is something that really needs to be picked up.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you very much, Louise.

And that starts to unpack a few issues around [00:36:00] student support, which we’re going to come on to as well, based on some of the questions that have been contributed. Would anyone else from the panel, like to respond to that question, Alice, please.

Dr Alice König: A very brief point. And again, I’m speaking partly as a parent here, not just as an educator.

I think your question though is a very important one about social skills. My observational impression is that social skills can be relatively quickly caught up on, but there has definitely been an impact on them. And what that results in is social stress. And I think that’s something that we really need to take seriously.

It depends very much on the age and indeed the personality of the students involved. But you know, at ages of sort of around 13, 14, when social dynamics are complicated anyway, taking three months here and there out of the, sort of the social physical world. Throws up all sorts of challenges, which have really huge knock on wellbeing impacts actually for, for school pupils.

And, and similarly, and then that feeds back into their learning as well. And that, that is definitely something that we’ve observed a little bit at the [00:37:00] university level as well with, with older students sort of 18 to 22 ish, 17 to 22. So I think we need to be looking at social stress as part of that as that inquiry into social skills and the, the very holistic wide ranging impact of the digital learning and the digital experience.

Professor Keith Smyth: Great. Thank you, Alice and Alice, I wonder we might we might stick with you actually just to, to explore something else we’ve, we’ve kind of talked about in advance. And it’s around this, around this whole notion of. Equality of opportunity. So if we think about what we’ve learned through Covid. Going forward, how do we ensure greater equality of opportunity for learners to engage in formal education?

And that includes responding to needs of learners in school for higher education. And we may want to consider, there are students that may have particular needs. So Thomas has posted a comment and question around students with special education and disability needs. So I wonder if you know that equality of opportunity, have you any thoughts to share around that?

Dr Alice König: Well, it’s obviously it’s a huge topic. So if I may, I will just focus [00:38:00] on the question that Thomas has raised about students with different educational needs. And again, my expertise is very much at the higher education end of the spectrum. Well, and I think it’s quite a mixed picture. So I think that there are ways in which digital learning absolutely can cater for a wider range of needs in some ways.

And, and we’ve certainly noticed different kinds of engagement from students who might actually find it much harder to come forward in class verbally and talk who are contributing in different ways through digital media and, and, and that’s great, but what. What we’ve also found, and this is something that has actually come out in some of the Young Academy and RSE round tables that we’ve been running.

And, and students and lecturers have been talking about this. Is that it’s much harder for support staff and teaching staff to assess and to support different educational needs virtually. So the, the in in-person teaching is it’s much easier to put some things in place or at least to observe how things are [00:39:00] going and and identify needs when you’re regularly meeting with people and and, and seeing people.

So I think, as I say, I think it’s a mixed picture. But what I would say is that I think we need more research and more discussion of that, of how and Louise might be the person to come in here of how this sort of transition to more digital format or blended formats and so on. How they impact particularly on people with different educational needs.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you, Alice and I’ll invite Louise back in. And then I think we’ll move on to some of the other issues that are coming up. So Louise would you like to respond to that.

Dr Louise Drumm: Sure. Briefly. Within our institution, we’ve had feedback from students in particular with disabilities who have found. This, this past year has been very positive for them in terms of the, the access problems that they would normally have.

Not, not necessarily within the campus, but actually getting to the campus can be a huge problem. So actually [00:40:00] having that move to everything, being universally online was it was of great benefit to, to a certain number with particular disabilities in relation to. To the question around autistic students and, and other other areas.

Those students, again, this is anecdotal, I suppose, when we’re talking about that social stress around talking about you know, live interaction and that those kinds of. When something is distributed when it’s asynchronous. So when people are interacting in a, in a distributed way where they have time to think about what they type into the chat or things like that, it has meant it’s got been a little bit more accessible for some of those students.

Professor Keith Smyth: Great. Thank you very much, please. And I think, you know issues around the quality of opportunity and the greater, the greater scope for quality going forward. Maybe something we can come back to, but certainly think has been acknowledged in the sector, or this is an opportunity. To, to build upon what we’ve had to do over the last 18, 19 months to make things more accessible, more inclusive, and to wait and participation.[00:41:00]

I’d like at this point though, to move on to a topic that was mentioned, a number of times in the opening provocations around assessment. And Derrick, thank you. Derrick has posted an observation around assessment pointing out. Through the pandemic. We’ve focused quite a lot on how we teach rather than, than what of teaching.

And he’s linked this into I guess the difference between the skills and wider purpose of, of kind of learning and teaching to attainment and assessment. So Janet, I’d like to turn to you at this point and just put to you the kind of question you’re given what we’ve learned through the pandemic, given what it was a necessity to adjust to the traditional forms of assessment, including exams in particular.

Do they still have a place in our system post Covid and should things like exams be as dominant as they once were pre Covid.

Dr Janet Brown FRSE: Well, thank you. Thank you Derek for the comments. Cause I, I totally honestly agree with you. We, we have not focused on what we teach. We focused on how, and I think one of the things we need to be thinking about. And Covid is sort of focused our minds on it. [00:42:00] It’s what do people need to know? And what do people need to know how to access and to be able to capture, to be able to do what they need to do in the future. So I think that’s a really important point and that did, as you rightly point out lead to the fact that in the, in the senior phase, what you needed to know was driven by what was coming up in the qualification.

I’d like to sort of just remind everyone though that at some point in the qualification structure, there were other ways of assessing. Being applied, not just examinations. The two words are not the same and they should never be confused in my mind, but I am pretty pedantic on that point. I think, I think assessment is important because it’s important for the student to know where they are.

To know how, how that progressing it’s important for the place that those students are going to know how well those students have done in their previous work. And if that work is relevant to what they’re, they’re about to start embarking on. So yeah. The way the assessment is done should be based on what [00:43:00] you’re trying to assess and what you’re trying to assess should be based on what people know, what they need to know to be successful.

So I think in terms of this specific questions should exams be brought back and should exams be in place. There are some things that exams work really really well . One could argue that in order to be able to do mathematical problems later on in life, you have to have a really good solid base in mathematical principles and a good way of assessing that is through problem solving.

And that is tends to lend itself to the ability to do that through an examination. But I personally would not like a written exam to be used for a doctor. Who’s going to operate on me and remove my spleen. I would far rather that’s done in a practical assessment that actually allows them to demonstrate their skills and their abilities.

So for me, we should be looking at how, what do we need to be learning? How do we then decide what we need to assess and then how do we assess that? And we should use whatever method is [00:44:00] there is that it’s possible. Scotland’s a great place for digital games. There are places for digital games to be able to assess people’s abilities, because if you’re trying to work out, whether someone could effectively put out the fire out on an oil rig, That’s hard to do on a piece of paper in an exam, but if they’re faced with an interactive digital game theoretical game, hopefully then you can, you can basically understand how they’re going to react in very pressurized situations and how they’re going to be able to deal with things.

So we need to think about assessment in a much, much broader way than just examinations. And going back to the old system is not the right way.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you, Janet. And it strikes me as well, but in relation to. The way in which our learners have to respond during the pandemic they will have developed lots of, or enriched, their existing digital skills and literacies they’ve had to be resilient and, and, and develop forms of kind of individual and, and also collective resilience.

And it just [00:45:00] strikes me that going forward, our assessment practices. Maybe aren’t currently alert to those wider skills and attributes that our learners have developed before and are currently developing now. And maybe that’s something we need to think about as we can move forward.

Dr Janet Brown FRSE: That’s the skills for the 21st century, we need to decide what people need and then we need to find out how to help them attain them and then how to assess them.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you, Janet. And hopefully that answers some of the questions and comments that that colleagues have been sharing online as well. Alice, we’ll bring you in briefly. And then I’m conscious of just how quickly this hour is flying by, or bring in briefly Alice and I’d like to explore these for a few minutes. Some of the, the staff dimensions to this. So Alive, over to you.

Dr Alice König: So just very briefly. One of the words that’s been turning up in our Young Academy and RSE debates has been around competencies, which consists of skills, knowledge, and behaviors. And I think that that trilogy of things is a really interesting thing when we’re thinking about how we assess.

And the only other point I’d like to make is that Janet, I agree. Some things are best in languages, for example, as well, best [00:46:00] assessed by exams because that actually drives learning. Okay. And that’s what we should be thinking about. Assessments that drive and support learning, not just tested.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you, Alice. I think this, yeah, there’s something there that those of us who kind of work in our education will recognize around this notion of authentic assessment practice. Assessment, you know, assessment practice, you should be authentic learning experiences in their own, right?

Wherever possible. I’d like to turn at least for a few minutes to issues around staff and staff development and teacher education. Alice you’ve talked about competencies there. We’ve we’ve talked and Alex talks about the, the kind of challenge for staff and moving to fully online teaching. And, and the whole kind of readiness around.

Some of them where maybe more prepared than others, but actually teaching online was new for, for the vast majority of our teachers at whatever level of the sector. So, Alex, I wonder if we can pack this a little bit with yourself. You talked about professional development for educators. How do you think we can harness and share the best practices?

The best [00:47:00] learning and teaching practices that have emerged through Covid-19. And you mentioned also communities of practice. How can we support the further development of resilient educator, communities of practice as we move forward with the lessons learned from Covid.

Alex Walker: Thanks Keith. I think, I think that we’re already beginning to see this happening.

So and Louise mentioned you know, having digital artifacts and, and examples of good practice to share. So I think repositories for sharing good practice are becoming more commonplace and also Being used across and beyond just an institution. So I think that’s really important that we are sharing to a body of knowledge around online learning and teaching the practice and the use of technology and learning teaching.

I think keeping conversations like this going is really important and we have all kind of touched on the fact that we’re talking across school, across further education and looking at similar challenges and sharing successes and approaches to online learning and teaching through digital spaces. So I think that’s really important to continue [00:48:00] again, offering that professional development beyond an institution and, and opening up what we have to offer beyond our community is really important and beyond the education sector as well. So today we’ve got colleagues participants joining from, from all around. I presume I can’t see you, but I think that’s really important to these conversations. I see that someone has mentioned a physical space being important to learning and an outdoor space. And I do think there is, around professional development. At least there is still need for face-to-face professional development. I think there are some instances where you, you can’t beat coming together as a group. For example, in my area of work, mentoring is quite an isolated

activity. So we come together as a group and we explore mentoring face-to-face and quite often outside as well. So I know that you’ve mentioned outdoor learning and we quite often adopt that. It can be quite tricky in Inverness, but looking for those [00:49:00] opportunities are important as well. So hopefully that answers your question. I’m just conscious of time.

Professor Keith Smyth: Yeah. Thank you, Alex. Yeah, I’m conscious of time too. It’s gone very quickly. I wonder. I know that I think we’ll all have a perspective on this, but I think Alex, you’re involved in professional development for educators around enhancing learning and teaching Louise.

You run a program for educators at all levels around developing the blended and online teaching practice. I wonder if just, maybe just for a minute. Put to both yourself, Alex and Louise. What are the implications do you think of Covid and what we’ve been through for our formal qualifications for teachers?

Our teacher education programs, our postgraduate certificates and teaching for FE and HE lecturers. Do they need to change in any way? Coming out of Covid.

Dr Louise Drumm: I think just to jump in there, Keith, I think the, one of the things Alex mentioned there earlier was around cross institutional collaboration around teaching.

And I think those, those conversations are so valuable and we’ve [00:50:00] it within Edinburgh, Napier, we’ve kind of embedded the dialogue and the, and the dialogic approach. Thinking about our teaching as a, as a formal assessment within, within our teaching qualification. And I think there is something it’s both authentic and but it’s also, it’s a learning experience for, for all parties involved, including the assessors as well.

And I think moving, you know, again, moving beyond that competitive idea of institutions working against each other, I think there is probably given the nature of technology, enhanced learning and the opportunities of you know, being distributed and, and working across different universities. To provide a much richer kind of learning experience for our educators would be, would be fantastic and, and wholly possible now.

Professor Keith Smyth: Great. Thank you, Louise and Alex anything from yourself on formal qualifications for, for educators in any ways in which they might need to change.

Alex Walker: I don’t think I would have much to add other than I think it’s really important both as in professional development and in programs of [00:51:00] education that we are role modeling the technology that we use in learning and teaching.

But also that we’re using kind of pedagogic approaches that have student led activities and build peer support and an online social presence. And that kind of touches on the things that Alice was saying. That this link to social stress and, all those types of things. So future-proofing our programs of study that role model good online, learning and teaching practice.

Professor Keith Smyth: Great. Thank you. At this point, I’m just going to thank and acknowledge everyone who’s posted comments that chime with what we’re saying on the panel and those that indicate that they’ve enjoyed the discussion. If we’ve not got round to your specific question, I do apologize.

But I see that time really has just run away from us and in many ways One of the, one of the final questions that came in. And it’s one that I think we’d like to finish on. Angela has asked, how do we avoid the danger of retreating back into the comfort of the familiar? So I’m aware that when the session finishes it two, it actually cuts out.

So Janet, I’m going to come to you in the first instance. And if we get to anyone else that would just be a bonus. [00:52:00] Given where you started from Janet and your introduction, can I ask you, what do you think are the dangerous of going of trying to go back to where we were before Covid in terms of educational practice?

Dr Janet Brown FRSE: We need to move. We just need to move. It would be wrong to go backwards. I think the dangers are that we would get fat, dumb and happy again, and we, and disruption actually creates positive change and Covid is disruptive. We need to take advantage of it.

Professor Keith Smyth: Thank you very much. I’m seeing nods from, from Alice and yeah, I’m sure.

And also Alex and Louise, I’m sure we’re all in that same position. We’re just about on to a two o’clock, so that’s going to incredibly quickly, but thank you for sharing your expertise and your views. And thank you to those who posted questions and comments really do appreciate it.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this panel session and any other events in curious, 2021 that you’ve been to thank you very much.[00:53:00]

Lectures and events
Publication Date
Professor Keith Smyth
Dr Alice König
Dr Janet Brown FRSE
Dr Louise Drumm
Alex Walker
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