student working on laptop

What can we learn from the Semester 1 2020 T&L experience at ANU?

The ANU surveyed students and staff about their wellbeing and experience of remote learning during semester 1 2020. This post summarises some common themes – both positive and negative – that emerged from student and staff feedback surveys on the Teaching and Learning experience in Semester 1 2020, including TWiRL/SWiRL.

Alongside these themes are practical suggestions at an individual course level for how to implement improvements or leverage the positive experiences to further improve the learning and teaching experience in the post-COVID world.

Themes and suggestions for improvement

1. Lecturer presence and interactivity with students

Theme: One particularly prominent theme was that students miss the “presence” of and interaction with the lecturer and their fellow students that they get when attending on campus face-to-face classes.

Improvement: The course design needs to explicitly create the opportunities for these social interactions. Social and teaching presence can certainly be incorporated into a remote learning experience. The affordances of teaching face-to-face are different to the affordances of teaching online or remotely, and with some attention to these differences the same end goal can be reached of valuable/valued teacher presence and social interaction.

See further suggestions for improvement (PDF 214KB)

2. Communication with students, and between students

Theme: With the rapid shift to remote learning in Semester 1 2020, feedback shows that at times an equally rapid shift to appropriate online methods of communicating with students didn’t follow at the same pace.

Improvement: The course design needs to explicitly create the opportunities for online communication channels. Practically, a key difference to teaching face-to-face can be that for remote learning there needs to be greater scaffolding in place to enable meaningful communications.

See further suggestions for improvement (PDF 207KB)

3. Student wellbeing and mental health 

Theme: Alongside a key theme in TWiRL that academic staff have faced a significant amount of change and stress this year is student wellbeing. This was manifest in two notable forms,

  1. motivation to study online and
  2. workload and stress, in particular related to assessment. 

Improvement: Carefully consider the impact of changes to assessment on student workload and course satisfaction and treat your students as an online “community”. Assessment is a key driver of student behaviour, and so experience of assessment is linked with course satisfaction. 

See further suggestions for improvement (PDF 202KB)

4. Learning to learn online and in groups

Theme: With a rapid shift from face-to-face campus-based learning experiences, which students expect when enrolling at ANU, students (and teachers) had to quickly learn how to engage in remote learning and there was a large range in how well students (and teachers) handled this transition. From TWiRL: “Building student confidence in remote education needs to integrate how to learn effectively in online environments into courses”.

Improvement: When remote or online learning is a new experience for students then there needs to be appropriate scaffolding and support for students to understand expectations and their orientation to the online environment and tools.

See further suggestions for improvement (PDF 201KB)

Staff can contact our CLT Educational Designers for further support/advice on the themes and improvement suggestions made here, by emailing or booking a consultation time here

October 2020

Joseph Hughes is the Manager of Educational Design in the ANU Centre for Learning and teaching (CLT) – Email:

Acknowledgement: this document draws heavily on input from Jill Lyall, Deirdre Feeney and Claire Brooks, Educational Design, CLT