Because of the COVID-19 virus pandemic and the associated lockdown it has been necessary for many universities and other higher education providers to hurriedly convert courses and subjects previously taught only in face-to-face mode to an online environment.  This is happening in institutions and fields which have not had a previous history of on-line learning. Subjects are being delivered by some staff inexperienced in online teaching and learning.

Pedagogical challenges to be faced in this changed learning environment include:

  • maintenance of the quality of teaching and assessment,
  • the educational outcomes achieved by students, and
  • timely graduation at the same standard as that prior to COVID19.

A particular challenge in translation of subject and assessment content to an on-line environment is the teaching of practical or technical skills related to professional practice required for the discipline being studied. The basic sciences, engineering technologies and the medical and life sciences are particularly affected.  Bodies which register students for the professions are concerned about this and how the current situation will impact on the flow of graduates to the professional workforce.

High quality on-line learning is not achieved by adapting learning materials and assessment without consideration of how students learn most effectively using technology and how the on-line assessment aligns with the stated learning outcomes for the subject/course.  Overcoming this challenge raises questions about how well prepared and skilled higher education staff, who have previously been involved only in face-to-face delivery, are to assess and validate new on-line learning outputs.

It is vital that staff be well trained and resourced to deal with their new teaching environment.  Best practice requires higher education institutions to mentor staff who are teaching on-line for the first time, to ensure that they understand the common issues that arise in this mode and how best to support students who might be having difficulties.  Such arrangements should be spelled out to staff and be technology-enabled to support those who are having difficulties in adapting their teaching approach. There has been a plethora of new staff development advice published electronically in the last eight weeks by experienced staff in on-line and remote learning. This material should be targeted to those staff experiencing poor student satisfaction with the change in study mode.

How does an institution ensure that on-line learning assessment is comparable to in-class assessment to warrant the same subject/course accreditation?  This is a matter of major importance.

Some institutions are proposing giving students whose studies have been disrupted with the imposition of lockdown an automatic pass in their subjects.  This approach should not be endorsed because there is no guarantee that students will have met the stated relevant learning outcomes. They cannot therefore be certified as having all necessary graduate attributes documented in accreditation and registration processes.

Priorities should be set to deal with senior students close to completion of their courses and require demonstration of the same skill and knowledge levels as pre-COVID students.  A critical assessment issue because of higher technology use by students is the maintenance of academic integrity in the new online environment.  Continued use of examinations in some disciplines for example will require greater controls and observation in the on-line environment than a conventional approach in a face-to-face mode. Valuable advice could be obtained from institutions which are already teaching both on-line and face-to-face and are experienced in assuring similar standards and the quality of educational outcomes for registration and accreditation purposes for both modes of study.

Skilled academic leadership has never been more important than in the present COVID-19 pandemic teaching and learning environment.


Dr Lin Martin, retired commissioner of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency


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