Transforming our education during the pandemic
At the start of a new academic year, now is a good time to pause and reflect for a moment on how the University responded to the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we can learn from that response.
In April 2020, Exeter faced the same daunting challenge as most other universities: how to move most or all of our teaching rapidly from in-person on-campus delivery to remote online delivery?
But even more pressing matters awaited. Whereas many of our competitors cancelled their end of year examinations completely, Exeter moved all of its examinations online. With just five weeks’ notice, and no established examination software, we succeeded in running over 900 examinations and 55,000 individual sittings over a three-week period in May 2020.
Only once the summer examinations were over could thoughts truly turn to the challenge of blended and/or online teaching in the academic year ahead. To advise on the pedagogical and technological approach, a Digital Expert Group was set up drawing on digital advocates and experts from within the University. Institutional Design Principles for modules, and Teaching & Learning Norms for balancing on-campus/online modes of delivery were established to drive quality and promote appropriate levels of consistency. A new online Enhancement Hub provided extensive advice and guidance to academic staff, helping them to recreate their modules for the online environment. New digital tools were procured or created at unprecedented speed.
Much of this work was facilitated by the rapid recruitment of 69 Digital Learning Developers and over a hundred Digital Learning Advisers, who ensured Exeter’s transformation of education was made very much in partnership with its students.
Looking back, the sheer scale of the changes and innovations remains impressive. A ground-breaking No Detriment Policy and No Disadvantage Guarantee helped protect student outcomes from the impact of the pandemic. Resources like Studiosity and LinkedIn Learning helped support students’ move to digital learning, while new apps and services were made available to support mental health and wellbeing. A Digital Hardship Fund awarded grants to those struggling to find the resources to move online.
Even at the end of a long year heavily disrupted by the pandemic, the University joined forces with its student bodies to run a Festival of Discovery designed to give students some taste of the face-to-face experiences they had missed, and end the year on a high.
While everyone is looking forward to a more ‘normal’ university year, there are elements from last year we can retain and build upon to help provide an even better educational experience. But regardless of the way we evolve our education offering, everyone in the University of Exeter community can be proud of their efforts to provide a high-quality education and student experience in what was truly an extraordinary year.