Online provision must not displace face-to-face teaching.

Hau Taki Haere Tertiary Update Vol 24, No 12

Can online teaching replace face-to-face teaching? Do staff have a say in how their courses are delivered? What are the consequences for student learning and staff workload in substituting videos for ‘traditional’ lectures?

These are some of the questions raised by the recent management directive at the University of Waikato: ‘traditional’ lectures will only be delivered online in the second semester of 2020. Tutorials, labs, workshops and seminars that are deemed to have high interaction between teaching staff and learners will continue in person.

One justification for this change, as cited by senior managment, is COVID-19 and the possibility of restrictions on movement and gatherings being reinstated. The exigencies of the pandemic also seem to be behind the assumption that a directive of this kind can be isssued without even token consultation with staff.

Similar moves toward increasing online provision have continued under cover of COVID-19 at Massey University, where the crisis has been taken as further evidence that the university’s ‘Digital Plus’ strategy is the way of the future.

Consultation is ongoing at Massey, but the discussion documents are heavily weighted toward the limiting of face-to-face teaching and its replacement by online modes of delivery.

Public interest in this issue is high. An interview on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Nine to Noon’ on Tuesday 23 June around the moves at the University of Waikato received so much feedback that further discussion was scheduled for Thursday 24 June. During the RNZ coverage a third year science student noted that she hadn’t moved to Hamilton to watch videos from her living room. On Thursday, TEU organiser at Waikato, Shane Vugler gave an extensive account of the failure to consult and staff sentiment against the move.

Senior management at Waikato have conceded that staff who believe their lectures must continue face-to-face can apply for an exemption from the requirement to go online only. These will be considered on a case-by-case basis. TEU members are clear that this is far from being a satisfactory solution, however, and further talks with management will be taking place.

Both the University of Waikato and Massey University appear to have severly underestimated both the value students place on face-to-face teaching of all kinds, including lectures, and the workload demands on lecturers moving from emergency remote teaching to purpose built 8-10 minute modules of online delivery. Combined with the aftermath of teaching in lockdown, the total workload for staff  is immense and has become overwhelming and unsustainable for many.

Above all, students and staff are in agreement that online provision must not be allowed to displace face-to-face teaching. Online provison can be a great supplement for online teaching, but it is a poor substitute.

Teaching and learning is a social activity – perhaps the social activity par excellence, the primary  reason for the successful evolution of humans as unique, ultra-social beings. Those who see the current crisis as a major ‘disruption’ in this activity, as the business jargon has it, creating the opportunity for radical changes in service delivery must take more time to consider the overall picture.

There is a great need, from both students and staff, for familiarity and stability after a period of radical change. Now is not the time to put change upon change. Both staff and students need time to get back to normal, assess the impact of emergency remote teaching, get their workloads under control, and re-establish the social basis of their work and study. Only then can any major, longer term innovations in teaching and learning be consulted upon and informed, evidence-based views given on the options for supplementing face-to-face teaching with various forms of online delivery.

Michael Gilchrist, TEU Tumu Whakarae – National President.

Also in this update:

Other stories:

  • International Student Hardship Fund now fully allocated - ENZ
  • As universities go ever more online, students are getting left out in the cold – The Spinoff
  • TEC selects six boards to form Workforce Development Councils - TEC
  • Rangatiratanga at the core of new Canterbury University courses – Te Ao
  • Australian university fees to double for some arts courses, but fall for Stem subjects – The Guardian