Contributors: Pranavi Garg, Endah Ibrahim, Harvey Chiew, Jennifer Cornwell, Kristina Georgiou, Ly Huu Bao Nguyen, Maria Lantzke, Monica Allen, Murray Brennan, Peter Zhao, Vimala Amirthalingam, Yvonne Tien
As COVID-19 cases surged earlier this year and the possibility of a lockdown loomed, the Commerce teaching team at Curtin College was determined to provide the best digitally assisted learning experience while supporting students and also each other. With approximately one week to transfer units to a Digital Campus, we considered several aspects to ensure the student experience saw no compromise. Although overwhelmed with the insurmountable task and anxious at facing uncharted territories, we knew we were in it together, and together we felt stronger and more capable, come what may.
One of our first steps was to quickly identify “Experts”, “Knowers” and “Learners” in online learning and teaching within our team.
- Experts had experience in online learning and teaching (including Zoom and online assessment) and were able train others.
- Knowers had some knowledge and/or experience and could quickly gain skills through Navitas L&T professional development sessions and support videos from the Experts.
- Learners needed more of hands-on approach and support.
As restrictions were not yet in place during preparation week, Experts, Knowers and Learners got together on campus. Doing things together gave us confidence and reassured us that we were not alone. As lockdown commenced, we engaged through virtual meetings via Zoom to discuss ideas, challenges and learn from each other. However, we soon realised that weekly virtual sessions and emails meant delayed responses and were not useful when assistance was needed swiftly. “What if I am unable to start my Zoom session on time? What if there is a technical issue with an online assessment?”. These were the questions that gave impetus to establishing a common platform where we could seek support in real time, which led to the Commerce team’s WhatsApp group.
We ‘broke the ice’ on the app by sharing photos as we set up our work-spaces at home, which provided some excitement during challenging times.
This also made some turn green with envy when someone had better views! Working from home was tricky and we all juggled various tasks, but we also shared ideas on how to keep the family busy so we could focus on developing new skills as we explored and delivered our lessons online.
Through our WhatsApp group, communication flowed impeccably thanks to each member’s participation and commitment.
We discussed best e-learning practices and ensured consistency across the program so that the students do not feel overwhelmed. For instant support, we would log concerns on the group chat and Experts helped through Zoom when needed. We supported and encouraged each other to keep spirits high and focused on sharing experiences, reflections and feedback. Through audio messages we were able to provide quick, detailed feedback. We shared our experience of our first exploratory Zoom sessions – what went well, issues that surfaced, potential improvements and strategies to manage awkward Zooming bombing, helping us feel better equipped for future sessions. We found reassurance in each other if sessions did not go according to plan. Experts shared tips on various e-learning tech tools, including the use of the Zoom whiteboard, breakout rooms, polls and Moodle discussion boards, which helped us build our virtual classroom management strategies.
We had each other’s back, and resolutions were then shared with the whole team.
We endeavoured to provide real time support to each other. For example, a lecturer with Zoom log in issues would post a question on the WhatsApp group, and any available lecturer helped engaging the students until the login issue was resolved. In another instance, a lecturer was having trouble setting up online assessments at night and got real time assistance through the WhatsApp group chat and Zoom. After setting up any e-assessments, we nominated buddies while running our first e-assessments, so if an issue arose, help was just a message away.
More importantly we felt connected during isolation, which further strengthened our team culture.
The Commerce team’s WhatsApp group was more than just an app – it was a safe space for us to share our experiences, failures, frustrations and learnings. It provided both professional and wellbeing support. It was our motivator as we encouraged each other through the process. We shared our achievements and success stories, and it came full circle when we shared positive student feedback at the end of the study period. This gave the team confidence and satisfaction – we believed we can achieve our goal of providing the best e-learning experience and we provided a consistent level of support to students as we would have done in a face to face environment.
The success of any communication tech tool will depend on the members’ willingness to engage and support each other.
Teams can use any platform to communicate and stay in touch while working remotely; WhatsApp seemed to have worked well for us. One must always be conscious of privacy, and all members should maintain a balance between using the team group chat as a professional support space versus a social connection with colleagues. Team members should be careful not to inundate the chat with unnecessary messages. If this occurs, it could be a cause of distraction rather than a platform for communication, encouragement and support – moderation is key.
To continue the conversation, contact Pranavi.Garg@curtincollege.edu.au. If you would like to share your successful online learning and teaching approaches or would like more information on any of the strategies mentioned above, simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.