Navigating the Remote Online Learning Space during Covid-19: Lessons learnt from a South African Higher Education Institution.

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Brief Abstract

Global disasters change the world. The COVID-19 brought about a very uncertain period for higher education institutes in South Africa, especially public universities which have been practicing face to face teaching modalities. It was therefore detrimental to embrace the new normal―teaching and learning online (remotely) in a developing country.

Extended Abstract

Navigating the Remote Online Learning Space during Covid-19: Lessons learnt from a South African Higher Education Institution.

 

Global disasters change the world, and the COVID-19 outbreak is having a significant effect on all aspects of human life and is very much akin to a major war. The reality that we have to embrace is that the legacy of the Covid-19 crisis will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. This will undoubtedly change how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) function within society, and how they interact with management, staff and students.

 

In March 2020, the president announced a national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All HEIs had to close their gates and a very uncertain period started for these Institutions, especially public universities which have been practicing face to face teaching modalities for many years with very little experience teaching in an online environment. It was therefore detrimental to embrace the new normal―teaching and learning online, meeting and collaboration via Zoom, Skype, Google classroom, WhatsApp, and a virtual office. The HEIs in South Africa were not ready for this educational crisis―from face to face contact with students to teaching and learning online, and even more so remotely in a developing country where individuals might not have access to the same resources.

 

Online teaching, and the preparation thereof, became a reality for all institutions in South Africa. Suddenly, management of the HEI had to develop and start intervention strategies to ensure that the academic programme for 2020 could continue under these uncertain times. Business as usual (going to class, face to face interaction between lecturers and students in a classroom environment, facilities, and access to WiFi on campus and at residences) were no more the order of the day. To ensure readiness to commence with teaching and learning online in a short period of time, faculties had to collect the necessary data in terms of internet and device access, due to the fact that the HEI had to sustain its  academic presence, deliver competitive market related programmes, and equip students with the critical 21st Century skills―critical thinking, people management, emotional intelligence, judgement, negotiation, cognitive flexibility, as well as knowledge production and management.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights that as an institution and faculty it is imperative to be more responsive to a changing education. In order to ensure better preparedness for future uncertainties or crisises, it was crucial to determine the Faculty’s (managers, academic support staff, lecturers, and students) access, perceived readiness and attitudes towards ERL, their experiences engaging with ERL, and what strategies can be implemented post-crisis.

 

Level of Participation:

During this presentation engagement will be facilitated by having the audience interact with some of the research findings through polls, and by facilitating a fruitful discussion on the different experiences between countries considered first world countries, and developing countries, through a virtual discussion.

 

Session Goals:

The goal of this session will be to share pracitical insights into the remote online teaching and learning experiences from a HEI in a developing country. Furthermore, the lessons learnt from this experience (both positive and negative) from the perspective of students, staff and Faculty Management will be discussed. Furthermore, the aim will also be to provide attendees with some innovative ideas for online learning, as developed from the research findings.