ANU Lunch Vox 2 - Zoom screenshot

Remote or Isolated – The Student Experience

Wrap Up : Lunch Vox #2

View the full Lunch Vox #2 Session here

The changes in our day to day lives have yielded fresh introspection into the routines and structures that we once took for granted. There are the obvious adjustments: physical classes, meetings, and conferences have shifted to webinars marked by chat boxes, mute buttons, and errant pets. Then there are small tweaks that spark deeper thoughts. The acknowledgement of country now expands to recognise the traditional owners of the different lands upon which the online participants are located. This acknowledgement speaks to the significance of the land and the privilege of sharing a space, and the expansion reminds us that there is nevertheless great distance between us. For academics and professional staff, this has meant moving existing networks into digital collaborations. For many students, this has meant forming brand new communities without the memory of a shared space. All this prompts the question – how has distance affected the student experience of learning at ANU?

The second session of the ANU Lunch Vox: Campus Conversations about Teaching and Learning series explored that very question through the topic “Remote or Isolated? The Student Experience”. Associate Professor Jason Payne chaired a lively panel discussion featuring Dr Jason Mazanov from Evaluations, Planning & Performance Management, Skanda Panditharatne from ANUSA, Dr Cassandra Steer from ANU College of Law, and Utsav Gupta from PARSA. The panel discussed challenges and opportunities from the perspective of educators and students.

Jason talked us through the data on student experience, summarising the collective student and staff voices and their perspective on the university’s performance in 2020. Jason noted the need for further training of staff and students as partners in remote teaching and learning. A crucial takeaway was the importance of feeling connected in a safe and respectful online learning space. The remote context creates myriad challenges for social interactions, and kindness and respect must be the first priority for students and staff.

Jason’s opening remarks

Skanda’s role as Education Officer at ANUSA immerses him in the conversations being had amongst students. He reminded us of the ways in which the pandemic has affected students’ personal and financial lives, and the profound impact it has had on the kinds of interactions that endear a student to their peers and to the teaching staff. Nevertheless, Skanda also observed the benefits and opportunities – particularly in relation to accessibility and flexibility when tech was used successfully (transcripts and captions are a boon to all students). Looking forward, authentic collaborative learning is a powerful way to inspire and connect students as members of a community of practice.

Skanda’s opening remarks

Now we’ve moved from emergency to the new normal, what good practices can educators engage in to mediate isolation? Cassandra proposed we “take 5” at the beginning of a zoom session – send the students into breakout rooms to check in with each other and enjoy those organic moments you would normally have walking into the lecture theatre. Couple this with really clear guides on what will happen through the course and how to navigate the LMS and students can feel more comfortable and confident to tackle the course.

Cassandra’s opening remarks

Finally, Utsav as PARSA President, identified the direct impacts (access to equipment, challenges for interactions) but also the indirect impacts on the student experience. Along with the much-referred to lack of social interactions, time-management and routine are no longer dictated by timetables and moving around the campus. Students are needing to learn new ways to manage their study and set their own pace, and this is something that educators can consider when they design their activities.

Utsav’s opening remarks

The audience questions drove further conversation about solutions and reconsidering the paradigm of adult education. While there was a strong feeling that collaboration between educators and students was essential to improving the student experience, there are no easy answers, and the community will continue to debate and discuss the best approaches to remote learning.

If you want to be part of this debate, post your views and respond to ideas in this Padlet. Please feel free to respond to the questions and comments, whether you attended the panel or are exploring it for the first time now. 

See upcoming ANU Lunch Vox Session here and catch up in previous session below:

October 2020

Dr Kelly Frame is a Senior Education Designer in the Education Design (ED) team – one of three teams within the ANU Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT).