A reaction to the impact of the COVID19-pandemic has been an increased drive to implement institution-wide blended learning as the preferred mode of delivery in higher education. But big questions remain, including: are academics prepared for this transition? and, are they supported with the appropriate resources and skill development for its quality implementation?

If blended learning is here to stay – and surely that is now a given – it is imperative that universities develop more effective on-line learning environments that complement the on-campus experience and promote greater flexibility and accessibility for enhanced student engagement.

While some courses may lend themselves more easily to blended versions and even fully on-line delivery, in courses with laboratory and/or practicum components, this may not be feasible nor achievable, and there is a real risk of not meeting accreditation requirements.

To overcome this problem, universities need to invest time and money into developing innovative educational tools, and leveraging current technologies, to engage and motivate students in the on-line space. Of particular interest are virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence tools that can provide life-like learning experiences, replicating the face-to-face, hands-on engagement experienced by students in laboratory and practicum work.

For example, pharmacology laboratory classes are diminishing world-wide and, in some courses, have been completely removed. To fill the pedagogical gap for deep understanding of complex drug action, the pharmacology team at Curtin Medical School is developing and exploring VR laboratory tools to engage students in the study of how drugs affect human physiology. These tools are a result of a collaborative effort between the pharmacology team, and the Humanities and Science and Engineering faculties. The project is supported by student internships and the Curtin-Optus Alliance Fund, and has recently been awarded the Humanities Prize for the Curtinnovation Award.

Good progress has been made but more needs to be done. The challenge remaining for many academics is the limited funding and digital support available to fast-track the research and development of innovative tools that are needed now.

Associate Professor Lisa Tee, Curtin Academy Fellow, School of Pharmacy, Curtin University [email protected]

Associate Professor Susan Blackley, School of Education, Curtin University   [email protected]




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