Science education leadership webinar series

Online Learning

Next webinar: Thursday 12 November - What science learning outcomes can be achieved online?

In a new series of ACDS led webinars for science and mathematics education leaders, we will explore the experiences of online science and mathematics teaching in the time of Corona from multiple perspectives. We will look at the impact on faculty education leaders and the challenges ahead to shape science education post pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption to education across the world.  For universities in Australia, the timing of the pandemic coinciding with the beginning of semester one impacted the ability of international students to commence their courses onshore. As the transmission of the disease spread, the opportunity for students to attend face-to-face classes ceased.

The rapid shift to wholly online teaching provided significant challenges for students and staff alike, but has, remarkably, progressed better than many thought it could.

Long-term financial impacts on universities, coupled with an existing strong desire by university management to develop online teaching, will undoubtedly mean that many universities will wish to capitalize on the temporary move to online teaching by making it, at least in part, permanent. Many academics have also been surprised by the efficacy of online subject delivery and have plans to redevelop subjects in blended mode.

From the perspective of university management, academics and students alike, 2020 will be remembered for the seismic shift in thinking about the ways we deliver content both onshore and offshore.

What does this mean for science education? For example, the efficacy of large-lecture teaching has been in the spotlight for many years, there has been a longstanding push for a decrease in laboratory teaching, seen to be too resource-expensive (financially and spatially), with many science faculties being under pressure to reduce their laboratory teaching.  The value of small tutorial groups has also often been questioned in times of scarce resources.

Of necessity, in 2020 lectures, laboratory classes and other small group activities have been delivered online to students around the world, and this may serve to strengthen the argument for less face-to-face teaching.

Superficially, many have seen this shift to online teaching as a success, but there are a number of critical issues to address:

  1. How true to the original subject was the online delivery?
  2. What was the quality of the subject delivery and learning experience?
  3. Were the learning outcomes of the subjects met?
  4. What was the student experience?
  5. Could online delivery be sustainable over multiple semesters? How would this impact student learning and engagement?

Questions like these are fundamental to discussions about online learning, but the answers in the science context may be quite different to other disciplines. In many universities, the discussions will be at whole-of -institution level where the science perspective may not be at the forefront of such discussions or even visible. It is therefore critical that the ACDS has a position on which components of a science and mathematics education can and cannot be realized online without compromising either the essential learning outcomes of a science degree or the development of graduate attributes.

Two webinars have been held on September 4 and November 12. The presentations are available from the Teaching and Learning Centre page here