Opportunities and challenges of digital learning: an interview with Professor Tim Quine, DVC Education
Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic will bring challenges and opportunities for education, and three Exeter students recently had the chance to quiz Professor Tim Quine, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), to canvass his views. Poppy Osborne, Millie Britton and Maria Eduarda comprise the editorial team of the student-run Auditio blog. In their conversation with Professor Quine, they discussed his views on university life, digital learning and how the pandemic has altered the landscape for education.
Professor Tim Quine is an influential figure here at Exeter, so we really appreciated the chance to interview him. As Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) he is responsible for delivering the education strategy for monitoring and improving education. Tim was also the sponsor of Project Enhance, which facilitated the university’s approach to maintaining educational opportunities and outcomes for students in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, through the provision of a blended model of teaching and learning.
Opportunities for digital learning
Professor Tim Quine, DVC Education
Tim praised the power of digital learning to shorten distances between educators and students. He described how Exeter campuses pride themselves on creating an ‘international learning community’ where students across the globe interact and learn from one another regardless of location.
Subsequently, digital learning has expanded the potential of this description, as some students have remained in their home locations whether that’s here in the UK or further afield.
Maria, who had to remain in her home country Brazil during the pandemic, agreed with Tim’s description of Exeter as an international learning community. Digital learning, including recorded video clips, online forums and Microsoft Teams empowered her with the tools to complete her learning from a distance and still feel connected to her peers.
Tim’s passion for teaching/learning between and within communities on an international scale was manifested throughout the interview. He mentioned the use of hybrid teaching sessions held both within the learning space and somewhere else around the world. Such hybrid sessions can encourage dialogue and conversations between students in different locations, thus gaining a better understanding of culture.
Tim described how advantageous the flexibility and adaptability of asynchronous learning has been for both students and lecturers. For many colleagues, the ability to create and upload teaching material in their own time and around other commitments (especially, as commitments have largely increased during the pandemic) has been very helpful in ensuring the quality of teaching is not disrupted.
Similarly, the possibility to complete asynchronous material as a learner, within your own timeframe, has allowed for easier time management in a stressful time for students. Tim believes that students enjoy the additional control and autonomy over their learning. Millie agreed that the flexibility of learning in her own time has made fitting in additional commitments easier; however she’s missed the clear structure to her days that having in-person content created.
Tim mentioned a future opportunity for Exeter: the diversification of Exeter’s degree portfolio. With the potential of digital learning continuing and becoming the future of studying, Exeter has invested in the resources to offer entirely online degrees (for those that are interested).
Many students with extra responsibilities such as working students, mature students, students with children and international students have praised online learning due to its flexibility. With the potential and effectiveness of online learning, Tim described how Exeter could introduce new micro credentials (short courses for professional learners) online.
Tim recognised that digital learning has its downsides and is not best suited for every student and lecturer, noting that there have been several challenges over the past academic year.
Despite many lecturers creating effective and engaging material, the timeframe they had to adapt has been a challenge. Developing digital learning resources within such a short space of time has left many lecturers frustrated and tired. The major change in the pedagogic approach has shocked many lecturers who may have been more traditional in their ways of teaching.
Tim noted that every lecturer is different in their styles of teaching, with some being more enthusiastic than others to adapt to digital learning quickly. He argued that the standard of digital resources had to be high, in order to match Exeter’s teaching quality, but also to match the high standard of most things we see on the internet today.
When completing live teaching, Tim described how lecturers were unable to know how many students could make it: this can have negative impacts on the learning experience for students because session numbers were varying a lot (sometimes only two people showed up to sessions). He also mentioned the challenges for some lecturers of having to complete live sessions from home with the inevitable lockdown distractions of children or pets.
One of the biggest challenges Tim described, as identified by surveying Exeter students through pulse surveys, is connectedness. The peer-to-peer and student-to-staff connections have been difficult to establish this year due to the pandemic. Although digital learning can improve connections internationally, Tim recognised that the lack of in-person contact can be discouraging for both students and lecturers.
He mentioned that the online environment is good but it’s definitely not the same as in-person, and looks forward to a blended learning approach going forward. Tim observed that digital transformation has shortened distances (as it’s easier to meet someone from China!) but the pandemic has imposed distances (it’s harder to meet your neighbour).
He congratulated students for their perseverance over the pandemic period. It has been a stressful, mentally challenging time due to loneliness and uncertainty but he’s proud of students electing to keep going with their studies.
You can read an extended version of Poppy, Millie and Maria’s reflections on their interview with Professor Quine on the Auditio blog.
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