As part of our University of the Future series, we spoke with academic leaders from some of Australia’s leading universities to gain insight into how COVID-19 had impacted the industry, their vision for the future, and the role of technology in facilitating change.
In this selection of interviews, our contributors discuss what’s on the horizon for higher education.
These are extended interviews that were conducted as part of the research for our whitepaper – University of the Future: Navigating the New Normal. Continue reading or visit the landing page for more interviews exploring how universities can embrace the opportunity to reimagine the university of the future.
Dr. Chris Campbell, Senior Lecturer Learning Futures, at Griffith University
What do you think the university of the future will look like?
There’ll be more online learning and more flexible learning. With this shift to rapid remote learning, universities are now cancelling lectures so there’s now no in-person lectures in quite a few of the courses – they’re all online.
That’s actually quite a good thing for our students. What they’re now able to do is watch recordings or revisit a lecture that was presented online at a later date and it really promotes a level of flexibility that young people these days need. They need flexibility because they’re working at different hours than they would have traditionally so flexibility means they can study when it’s convenient for them.
Which emerging technologies will play the greatest role in the university of the future?
What I believe we’ll see is an increase in digital technologies that really promote interaction, feedback, and flexibility as these technologies will play a major role in how we engage with our students online.
These engagement technologies will be critical. One we use a lot at Griffith is Padlet. It’s a simple tool, but the number of people using it – and the way they’re using it – is really innovative and helpful for student engagement.
The focus now will be on developing best practice around authentic assessment, enabling students to present and collaborate online, how courses are designed, and how course materials are accessed – for example, can learners watch videos multiple times, can they access video transcripts if they prefer, or can they interact during synchronous online lectures?
For example, Padlet is like an online post-it note wall that allows people to share what they’re thinking. I teach in education. One way I’ve used it is during a synchronous class with around 250 students, I’d ask the students a question and they then answer on the Padlet wall. It’s very easy for everyone to see, and you have a record of their answers.
These tools can also help facilitate engagement among the faculty. Using Padlet as an example again, because none of the academics or educators are in meeting rooms – we’re still off campus – people are using it to gather thoughts, provide input, and communicate around day-to-day work matters.
The key technology though, for my university, would have to be Microsoft Teams – we moved to Office 365 a couple years ago now, so we were an early adopter. We now have thousands of Teams across the university. For Learning and Teaching alone, we had more than 850 Teams. Once you include the uptake across the various courses, the administration teams, and research faculty, the numbers are immense and its only going to continue.
At the start of last year, Teams was considered ‘emerging’ and not many people were using it. But now? The uptake has been phenomenal – to the point it is now mainstream in our university. I’m not sure I could characterise it as ‘emerging’ anymore.
How did Griffith University adapt to the disruption of COVID-19?
Even prior to the campus closures, we were quite affected when students in China weren’t able to come into the country. How were we going to support them? At Griffith, our third largest campus is our digital campus so we were already well set up, we signed up for the Australian Government VPN that’s approved for Chinese students. We worked hard to test all the technology tools. It was a massive task, but we were really well set up and those students were well-supported.
That was late-January and into February 2020. Then we fast-forward into March and we were heading into lock-down. What we found was that even though the digital campus was our third largest, courses that were both available in face-to-face or digital had someone responsible for delivering the digital course and those who were traditionally only face-to-face. All of a sudden, this latter group had to learn how to use the remote learning tools.
A lot of work went into supporting these academics and educators to use the digital tools. In remote learning, engagement is critical. As such, we introduced seven support mechanisms to help academics build their confidence in using the technology, understand how to use the tools to make the experience more engaging, and develop their online pedagogy. This not only helps attract new students, but also to retain them.
The seven support mechanisms put in place for staff in late March were:
- Support Line – a phone line for pedagogical support.
- Engagement Community – a Microsoft Teams space for questions about educational technology and teaching practice where staff could seek help and help others.
- Support Resources – an internal SharePoint site for staff with learning and teaching resources.
- Development Support – webinars provided each week on a variety of learning and teaching topics including assessment and educational technology tools.
- Ultra Lounge – a twice weekly drop-in session conducted in Collaborate Ultra.
- FAQs – provides answers to common learning and teaching related questions.
- Weekly Support Newsletter – emailed to staff with content provided in a systematic and timely way.
What changes were accelerated as a result of Griffith’s response to the pandemic? Were these changes inevitable?
Overall technology adoption has really improved. People who were technology-hesitant have been forced to teach online. Some academics have gone from needing support for very basic technical elements to now teaching completely online – creating and sharing videos, hosting breakout rooms, everything. It has caught the tail-end of those who didn’t use technology before and made them use it.
When we had the shift to rapid remote teaching, there wasn’t time for academics to consider best practice. But now they’ve done so much professional development, learnt so much throughout the year, they’re now thinking about how to make the experience better, how to make it more engaging, more active, more collaborative, and more authentic.
For example, perhaps not every lecture needs to be a live online class. They do have their place, don’t get me wrong, but this goes to the idea of the flipped learning model. Instead of the live class, allow students to watch short videos. Instead of making a full 50-minute recording of a lecture, provide that in shorter chunks of six-to-ten minutes per video so that they’re more engaging and allow students to watch these videos before the practical element. This way, they have the knowledge beforehand and are more able to apply it.
So, it has accelerated changes in this area and there are some really nice changes happening in this space.
Do you believe there is a skills gap between what employers want from graduates and the skills graduates have upon completing their studies?
There is still a skills gap and universities are really trying to help bridge that gap. Program directors are working to identify the gap, ensure they’re able to bridge it, and are looking to do so through the use of current and emerging technologies.
Having industry partners is important. At Griffith, these partners come in to advise on and discuss the issues with program directors and course convenors so we can identify all the gaps.
The pandemic has really disrupted how we do things and how we see things. In that disruption, there is also disruption in what people are required to do in their daily jobs – think of how much jobs changed when everyone suddenly had to work from home?
As such, universities need to shift to ensure students are ready for this new workforce, not the workforce we had. Take teaching courses for example. Are universities teaching their students how to teach remotely? Universities need to adapt what they’re teaching to cater for this new reality and ensure graduates have enough skills to cope and succeed during these shifts.
About Dr. Chris Campbell
Chris Campbell is a Senior Lecturer in Learning Innovation, in the Centre for Learning Futures, at Griffith University. She conducts research into many educational technologies in the higher education environment, including the use of technologies to improve student learning and engagement across the Academic Groups. Chris recently conducted a university-wide evaluation of multiple digital tools implemented as part of the university’s virtual learning environment, including PebblePad and Microsoft Teams. She is currently the President of ASCILITE (Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education) and has been on the Executive since 2014.
About Griffith University
Griffith University is renowned for the quality of its teaching and research. Students have the opportunity to pursue more than 200 degrees with the added benefit of the university’s close industry ties. Griffith ranks in the top two percent of universities globally with 50,000 students spanning five campuses in South East Queensland, as well as a thriving digital campus enabling anywhere, anytime study.