Reflecting on remote teaching during the state of emergency
After two months of practicing remote teaching, the staff members of the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies gathered during a collegial seminar style event to reflect on their experience, lessons learned and plan ahead teaching activities in the fall semester.
Around one year ago, in May 2019, our institute hosted another teaching training event dedicated to various software programs which can be used to enhance teaching activities - Zoom, Infogram, Articulate 360. Little did we know that some of these tools will become a fundamental component for sustaining some of our course activities and assignments in the spring of 2020, including hosting digital defences for those students who were outside of Estonia. Looking in a retrospective, J. Skytte Institute has been conducting various innovative teaching activities even prior to the crisis: we developed various MOOCs and e-courses; our teaching staff members were awarded with the good teaching grants to develop innovative practices; we collaborated with leading European universities such as Leiden and Uppsala to organize series of teaching masterclasses. All of these served as an important headstart for us to readjust to new circumstances presented by the crisis.
The magnitude of the following emergency certainly added additional stress and workload to all staff members and students of the institute, but also served as a trigger to further innovate and experiment in the field of digital teaching. According to the Deputy Director for Academic Affairs, Olga Bogdanova: "this crisis affected our institute in a significant way since we are hosting many international and exchange students, who are following our programs. However, thanks to our previous experience and standards developed in e-learning, we managed to mitigate the situation, and collected feedback from the students and lecturers shows that. Moreover, we have been proactive in putting forward various initiatives during the crisis situations, such as the introduction of the Digital Honor Code."
The need for the collegial planning event became clear by the end of the spring semester, when questions about the university's readiness to continue remote teaching in the fall semester had been discussed. Prior to the event, we developed a survey and circulated it among the teaching staff to identify the challenges faced by re-adjusting the courses to the online mode, and options which were considered for delivering courses remotely.
Building upon the data collected, a one-day seminar was organized to discuss the shared experiences of the past semester, collectively learn from them, and plan the forthcoming semester in the light of these lessons learned. Following a preliminary discussion led by Manager of Online Learning Projects, Anna Beitane, and the Deputy Director for Academic Affairs, and the presentation of good practices by some of the institute's teaching staff members, participants were divided in groups and started to put into practice ideas and scenarios with the respect to their specific courses. The brainstorming process was supported and accompanied by Anna Beitane and a team of in-house and external experts from the Lifelong Learning Center and Institute of Education. In the words of the main organizer of the event, Ms. Beitane: "today's collegial discussion helped us to map out various options and scenarios on the table, as well as to find the most feasible match between the goals and tools available."
According to the a participant of the event, Dr. Stefano Braghiroli, Director of Master's Program in European Union - Russia Studies: "thanks to the meaningful conversation that we had with colleagues and experts, I can say that I have a clearer perspective on the steps to be taken and on the practical arrangements to be done in order to ensure the best quality of teaching and learning in digital mode for the next semester".
The seminar shouldn't be seen as a one time event, but as part of a broader effort to plan and enhance remote teaching and digital preparedness of our teaching staff for the next semester. In the light of this, future training events are being planned and a digital teaching support group has been established within the framework of the institute. Worth mentioning is that around 40% of the courses in digital or blended format offered by the Faculty of Social Sciences over the next semester will be hosted by our institute.
More infromation: Anna Beitane, Manager of Online Learning Projects, anna.beitane [ät] ut.ee