With large numbers of students studying offshore or at home during the COVID-19 emergency institutions had to pivot quickly to find suitable online delivery platforms. Like other institutions, Macquarie University did remarkably well in our institutional transition. As the dust settled after the first Sydney lockdown, the Macquarie University International College (MUIC) paused to conduct a quick stocktake. Our conclusions were as follows:

* the use of traditional conferencing platforms allowed us to get the job done but did not necessarily provide an optimal experience, most notably as it applied to student engagement and our ability to gauge the same

* with an uncertain future still ahead of us we wanted to explore new opportunities that upskilled our teachers and got us closer to replicating a face-to-face learner experience

While we were providing professional development to our teaching staff in a range of technologies, what we really wanted was a single platform that both optimised the learner experience and gave us observable data around student engagement — data that provided us with meaningful insights into how our students were experiencing their learning.

Our search took us to the United States and a new virtual learning technology founded in 2020 by the creators of Coursera, a partner of Macquarie U, through the delivery of our Global MBA and specialisations in fields such as Excel for Business and Big History.

“Engageli” takes a fresh and timely approach to the issue of remote learning and delivers a learning experience that delivers the levels of engagement we were seeking. The platform replicates aspects of a traditional classroom experience with a virtual classroom technology that allows a range of useful functionalities, including:

* flexible table seating arrangements that replicate a traditional classroom to foster engagement and peer-led learning

* embedded polling to incentivise engagement

* inbuilt time-stamped screenshots of what the teacher is displaying on the screen to their personal notes

* Q&A and chat functions, and

* in-built analytics to measure learner engagement and drive positive learning outcomes.

As the first Australian partner of Engageli, we rolled out the platform across a number of units of study within our Foundation and Diploma courses. We appointed a “superuser” and worked closely with our IT department and Engageli staff in operationalisation. Three months in and, and coinciding with Sydney’s second lock down, we have trained up a dozen or so “champions” who are using the platform regularly.

Having surveyed our teaching team on their experiences during a six-week study period, we found that they enjoyed platform and found it easy to use. Most reported that it helped them teach more effectively, with highly useful features, and they would like to use it again. As an early adopter, we have been providing feedback to Engageli on how things might be improved and simplified for teaching staff and students. Student feedback was surprisingly extensive and indicated an enhanced the learning experience. Comments included: the enjoyment of the closer replication to a face-to-face classroom environment; preferences for this approach over other platforms, and; satisfaction with the additional functionality, which includes “a ton of good features”.

Even with the prospect of borders opening up and the return of international students to our shores into 2022, it is clear that teaching in a ‘post-COVID normal’ will not quickly or easily see us return to the world of 2019.

On-line learning has taken a quantum leap in the last two years and many students have found it an acceptable part of a mixed-mode approach to their learning that they would like to continue to engage with going forward.

Dr Pamela Humphreys is Director,  Macquarie U International College and English Language Centre



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