Pandemic + 2 Years: Possible Visions for the near future of HE class delivery.

Another brain-dump I’m afraid – apologies for digressions and tangents! My thoughts here are loosely around the use of more advanced forms of educational technology in the event face-to-face teaching becomes more rarefied.

So, here we are in May. Universities up and down the country are continuing to cope with this sudden, unwelcome change in practice. Curricula assessment are being revised to fit remote learning delivery and everyone is wondering if they must deliver synchronous lectures (answers on a postcard to this but I suspect the answer is very rarely yes)…

It’s working myself, as a supporter of educators, in these circumstances that has provoked the question: Will HE ever really see a return to the traditional, sage-on-a-stage form of delivery? Does it need to?

Even when the lockdown has eased, how long will it take students to feel comfortable sharing the same, close-proximity space with their fellows again? How many international students will be happy to sit in a British University lecture theatre when the UK has one of the highest Pandemic death-rates in the world? I appreciate none of this is particularly optimistic but I suspect these are the new urgent practicalities of running HE (FE also) courses, not just in the UK but across the world that need to be addressed.

But for the moment, many unis are asking educators to either deliver synchronously or create screen-recordings for their students but what about subjects that are more hands-on?

An academic delivering a lecture about, for example, the Crimean War will be able to deliver a incredibly good session using screen-recordings, webinars, some well considered active learning activities etc. It’s also possible to deliver an engaging, interactive JAVA workshop online using tools that are readily available.

How about a Chemistry practical? Indeed, any subject that requires supervised lab work or workshops? Biology, Pharmacy, it’s a long list for sure. For me, this is where the, shall we say regular forms of educational technology need to be either carefully reshaped and remapped against new curricula or upgraded altogether.

Perhaps microbiology students (I’ll be showing my subject ignorance here so I’ll apologise in advance), in the lab are required to manipulate a model of a protein and discuss certain elements of it as part of a formative assessment? What are the options of replicating something like this remotely?

A more expensive and involved solution could be one of the digital ‘realities’ (see below) but, what we can all do, with just a little effort is to find out what quality, pertinent resource we can deploy for our students fairly quickly.

Consider the below YouTube video. As demonstrated, we can use some of the newer functions offered by Microsoft PowerPoint to embed 3D objects in presentations and then allow the manipulation of these objects inside of the presentation. If this was combined with a live meeting inside of, say, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or Zoom, would this suffice? Would we be able to measure certain competencies using techniques like this?

If you’re interested – I’m sure your nearest learning technologist would be happy to have a conversation with you about using this sort of entry-level 3D in your own practice.

What is this, Star Trek?

It’s education Jim, but not as we know it…

There are a number of ‘realities’ in technology that are currently available. Some are still in their infancy still and will take some time to mature to the point of inexpensive access and easy use.

Virtual Reality (VR); having come on in leaps and bounds, VR has fixed many of the problems that have plagued the platform, motion-sickness for example appears to have been all but resolved now and the cost of entry-level systems are a couple of hundred pounds. There are many off-the-shelf applications that can be used for education. Institutions could also invest in creating their own content. This does sound like a daunting task but virtual labs, field trips etc., customised to the context of a particular faculty or subject-area has the potential to add massive value and enrichment to student (and academic) experience.

Augmented Reality (AR); So, you embed a QR code or a launch image into a VLE, Teams, anywhere really. Your students use an AR app on their tablet or smartphone and, voila, they could, for instance, be able to take a self-paced tour of the human heart or the brain’s limbic system. Again, there are apps out there as well as the software platforms that would enable a faculty to build their own. The below video offers an insight into what is possible.

Mixed Reality (MR); The first time I heard the term Mixed Reality was at a talk delivered by Microsoft’s excellent Mike Taulty. Mike is a Hololens developer and he explained how MR is a combination of real-life, augmented reality and virtual reality. It’s a heady combination to be sure and it’s not the cheapest solution but take a look at the video below to see what’s possible.

A World of Opportunity

I hope I haven’t scared any of you with my meanderings. As I said, ’tis but a brain dump and I hope what I’ve blathered on about will just help some of you consider where we are and where we might need to be heading in the event things don’t get back to normal.

But there are many opportunities right now too which we can easily exploit. Have a 2 hour lecture normally delivered to a tiered learning space to 200 students? Why not consider breaking this up into ‘chaptured-chunks’ with ‘extras’ inserted between chapters?

When I say extras, I’m thinking of micro-activities such as reflections, chapter summaries etc. This is one way of not only managing to deliver a good approximation of your face-to-face lectures but also a way of adding important active learning strands to aid student comprehension. Perhaps even follow every series of these proxy-lectures with a live seminar event using Microsoft Teams or Google Meet?

Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you’re all managing to stay safe and healthy in these most peculiar of times.