In a time of rapid, responsive change it may be tempting or convenient to disregard considerations of procedure or standards. Extreme situations call for extreme measures. Yet while a call to agility is warranted this does not have to be at the expense of quality, and the answer lies in being firmly student centred.
The rapid conversion to online delivery has increased workloads for some and created tension for many. Teaching staff have adapted their teaching practice to online delivery at short notice and upskilled in the use of educational technologies seemingly overnight. If you weren’t familiar with Collaborate, Teams and Kaltura you are now, and ‘active teaching’ and ‘social presence’ should be common parlance. Academic Developers, eLearning Support teams and Learning Designers have leapt to the fore to provide rapid-response help for the struggling and motivation for the inspired. Perhaps now more than ever, staff are relying on their colleagues and networks for support and reassurance.
This remarkable pivoting and pirouetting has been anchored by one ongoing concern: the students. Regardless of mode of delivery, the quality of teaching and learning must be maintained to a high standard and, like all teaching at Flinders, the student is always at the centre. Our emergency response to COVID-19 and accompanying ‘call to arms’ has seen the interests of the students magnified, and in turn, the quality of our offerings scrutinised. Teaching staff are trialling tools and techniques with their students to see what fits. Student polls are being taken on delivery methods and flexibility has been key when engaging large groups. House pets are introduced, stories are shared and for some at least the experience has been enlightening. Flinders teaching staff have risen to the challenge of an emergency adaptation with flexibility, collegiality and a firm commitment to giving our students the best quality learning experience possible under challenging circumstances.
With all this going on it would be easy to forget that the monitoring and assuring of educational quality has been continuing in the background. Internal course accreditations have continued unabated, with eleven course review groups scheduled across the coming months, and topics continue to be academically calibrated. While deadlines have been flexible, and accommodations made for academic workload, the focus on quality assurance and improvement is no less rigorous. Similarly, while some procedural adaptations have been made to facilitate the rapid adjustment of topic assessments and in some cases availabilities, the Educational Quality Team have not ‘dropped the ball’ on processes and governance. Flexibility, efficiency and a shared focus on the needs of our students have seen an upholding of the Educational Quality Framework even when times have called for unusual or expeditious action.
On a broader level, and responding to the need for sector-wide coherence in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the Australian Council of Professions (ACoP), Universities Australia (UA), the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), the Australian Collaborative Education Network (ACEN) and the Independent Higher Education Australia (IHEA) together with their member organisations issued a Joint Statement of Principles for the Higher Education Sector COVID-19 Response. The agreed Principles have been welcomed by TEQSA, and vitally echo efforts already employed at Flinders. The Educational Quality Team have maintained an adaptable and pragmatic approach to quality assurance, accommodating the needs of academic colleagues while considering the best interests of students and remaining consistent with the Higher Education Standards. Being flexible, transparent, accommodating and reasonable towards our assurance of educational quality, whilst operating within a clear and robust framework, should see us in good stead.
An important lesson to emerge through this time of sector crisis is this: agility and adaptability are not antithetical to quality. It is possible to adapt, pivot, and radically change the way things have been done while still paying heed to standards. The Flinders ethos of student centredness has permeated our decisions and responses throughout this time of rapid change. It has helped anchor our actions with considerations of quality and will be a forceful legacy in our transition to the ‘new normal’.
Written by Anna Smith
Project Officer, Learning and Teaching – CILT