From the Trenches: Reflections on Semester One

We asked some of you to share your learning and how you adapted through the COVID-19 restrictions.

From sending actual badges to students, to preparing for long silences in online conversations, here’s what you told us.

Associate Professor Kirstin Ross coordinates one of the more unusually named topics at Flinders: ENVS2741 Zombie Apocalypse: Microbes and Toxins. This popular topic sees students engage in lab-based challenges – making water drinkable, preserving fish, etc – to stave off an apocalypse and along the way learn a thing or two about microbes and toxins. Students earn virtual badges as they successfully complete each challenge.

With the COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing rules in place, Kirstin faced a dilemma: how to deliver this lab-based topic virtually? While the lectures were already online, the practical elements form a crucial component of the assessment. What to do?

The solution lay in giving the students each challenge and then, in pairs (communicating virtually) or individually, the students developing a list of materials and instructions which the lab demonstrators and Kirstin followed to the letter in the lab. Kirstin and the lab demonstrators videotaped themselves undertaking students’ directives and uploaded the results. So for example, they preserved fish using the students’ instructions, then tested them the following week for microbial load, and put up photographs of the agar plates so the students could see for themselves how successful their experiments were. In an interesting twist on the virtual badge, once students successfully completed each challenge, they were sent an actual badge.

Kirstin reports that, although the interaction between the students and the lab demonstrators was missed, enacting the pracs based on the students’ instructions nevertheless worked. And she’ll definitely be continuing with the badges!

Meanwhile, over in BGL Dr Jodie Curth-Bibb has shared her insights into what has – and hasn’t – worked for her in the rapid conversion to online delivery brought on in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions.

Echoing our earlier articles on Tools for social presence online and our Teaching online guidebook, Jodie speaks of the critical need to create an online ‘space’ that students inhabit. To overcome a sense of isolation, the need to be more responsive than usual and be “in touch for the sake of it” becomes pronounced. Quick responses to the needs of students is the most important thing!

Jodie found a need for greater clarity with students in the online environment. For instance, she utilised agreements with her students to clarify their expectations, together with basic outlines of what they were doing at given points in the topic – what next, list of things to do, etc. The online modality helped Jodie “get to the point” with her teaching and develop useful templates, e.g.: Key concepts, Application of concepts, Case study, Comparative. Jodie stressed the need for assessment to work easily online: “nothing stresses everyone out more than assessment that is difficult to pull off technically and socially” in the online environment.

To support students with the online conversational elements of her topics, Jodie found that having a “framework for engagement” provided structure to conversations and helped prevent long silences (although here Jodie stressed the importance of reassuring students that long silences are part of the process in online cohort building). Another important consideration here too is the need to avoid dealing with sensitive issues, and to be particularly attuned to students’ mental health. With anxiety and depression at a high, asking students to participate in online forums in such conditions can be challenging, while not having such interaction is also detrimental. It is important to strike the right balance, while keeping students at the centre. As Jodie articulates, both flexibility and structure are required.

The challenges of disability access and technology barriers were pronounced in the quick online conversion and here Jodie would have liked to have done more. In the future, our Accessibility and inclusivity in FLO tip sheet is a useful resource which, with adequate time and preparation, can help alleviate this common concern.

Jodie and Kirstin, together with the hundreds of other teaching academics who have uploaded, downloaded, converted and delivered, deserve recognition for this vital and unexpected work which has taught us all a lot and from which we will no doubt grow.

If you have your own tales from the trenches you’d like to share, submit them to


Written by Anna Smith
Project Officer, Learning and Teaching – CILT

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