Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

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Bring on the digital revolution. Meet the experts. Lynnae Venaruzzo, Western Sydney University

As Western Sydney University continues to implement its carefully managed four-stage return to campus plan, what course of actions have the professors taken to engage the students in online learning?  

Our experiences in 2020 with the rapid pivot to online delivery for courses that had previously had significant on-campus engagement have been valuable in shaping our future. At the heart of these plans is a curriculum that leverages technology to engage students in asynchronous and synchronous learning. A flipped learning strategy that promotes studentcen-tred learning is the norm. We have student curriculum partners who have been instrumental in helping inform the design of Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate sessions to optimise student engagement in online learning modes. We are continuously expanding our provision of integrated data sets to inform learning design approaches, teaching practices and creating dashboards to help professors make data-informed decisions and plans. Our digital transformation has been further extended to include accessibility indicators of digital content and alternative assessments in place of traditional invigilated on-campus exams. Additionally, piloting new tech-nologies to support students studying in practical based disciplines have also been put in place.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for higher education institutions. In fact, the 2021 timetable will provide dual delivery (a mix of face-to-face and digital learning). What has the reception of the academic staff been in delivering online classes at Western Sydney University?

Western Sydney University’s approach has truly been a partnership effort. From our student curriculum partners to our tutors, professors and senior academic leaders and the crucial professional staff in the curriculum, professional development, and IT; our successes and lessons learnt have been experienced together. There has been incredible professionalism, collegiality and an openness to share ideas, lessons learnt and experiences. 

How does Western Sydney University support the academic staff in their online classrooms?

Western Sydney University offers a diverse programme of support for academics teaching online. There is professional development with on-line learning modules for self-paced education, workshop and seminar sessions that are faculty-based or open more broadly to the academic community. Our focus has also been on developing mechanisms for institutional conversations about teaching and learning, and involving more professors and teaching staff in the conversation with academic leaders, policymakers and technology and pedagogy specialists. We have created resources to support the varied skill base of professors to assist them in re-sponding to their priorities and plans. One resource is the Online Engage-ment and Teaching Hub (available at: lf.westernsydney.edu.au/engage/). Another resource that supports academic staff in their classrooms is an interactive resource to increase student literacy in academic referencing. This is available at: efquest.westernsydney.edu.au/

LYNNAE VENARUZZO is Head of Technology-Enabled-Learning in the Office of the PVC Learning Futures at Western Sydney University. She leads a team of User Experience (UX) Designers, Learning Science Analysts, and Educational Technologists to partner with academic staff to design, develop and evaluate technology-enabled-learning environments and materials that engage students in active learning in online, flipped and  HyFlex modes of delivery. Lynnae is also a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and the Chair of the University’s Learning and Teaching Technology Committee.

Article featured on Worldbound, edition n.6-2021.