September and October 2021 will see the return of some in-person teaching within university education. Some universities have decided to go back to full in-person teaching, others with no in-person teaching, but quite a few universities have decided to use a mixture of both in-person and online learning. My teaching will involve a combination of in-person and online lectures and I do feel that this is the best way forward when returning to university education after lockdown.
One issue that needs to be addressed by all academic institutions is the fact that we now have a new hybrid/blended way of teaching; but this does not necessarily work for every form of teaching. When considering the amount of in-person versus online teaching, students still need to be provided with great learning experiences while being kept in a safe and supportive learning environment. In some subjects, such as within the more practical sciences, it’s very difficult to teach online meaning that in-person teaching is the best option. For other subjects such as social sciences, there is the option to teach online in terms of lectures and independent online workshops. As universities make the very difficult decisions of which lectures to place online we really need to be aware that education will not go back to the way it was pre-Covid, but in fact we are now developing a ‘new normal’ in terms of hybrid teaching methods.
When teaching students this year, we need to understand the issues that are going to be faced by both staff and students. A lot of students will have not had any form of in-person teaching for the last 12–18 months and this also means that some staff members will have not been in a room or lecture theatre with students for that length of time too. We also need to remember that a lot of the first year undergraduate students studied towards their A-Levels and college education at home, so there may be a lot of anxieties around moving to a new place and having the option of meeting new people.
This year will see me go from teaching 200–300 students in an online Microsoft Teams lecture to teaching a lecture theatre of students (albeit at a reduced capacity). Although I took a couple of lectures in November 2020, this will be the first time I have been in a lecture theatre with a larger number of students and for multiple weeks. I have developed five techniques that I plan to use and understand over the upcoming academic year.
Give yourself time
Covid caused many changes within higher education and this gave us time to get used to teaching from our homes. I think for some people (including myself), it will take some time to get back into a routine of being in an office and teaching in-person again, and this is something I am trying to be prepared for. I am trying to understand that it will feel a bit strange talking to a room full of students again, but I think that it may also be a similar case for the students – while they get to meet lecturers face-to-face and may be excited about this, for some students, this will be the first time being on campus, and it can be a scary process.
Over the past 18 months, teaching and learning methods have been adapted at short notice and then refined as we approached the previous academic year. I am fully expecting to walk into a lecture theatre for me to forget how to connect my laptop to the projector or do something like forget to press the record button for the session. I will attempt to take it all in my stride and pretend like I know what I’m doing with the equipment.
Covid has changed everything
Covid has changed everything and this is not just within university education. As Covid is still in circulation, we need to be mindful of this in every part of our lives, such as when socialising with friends or family outside of work. For some, this will bring a lot of anxiety as university students will now be interacting with hundreds of other students and staff within a short space of time.
While nothing is official, I do have notes on what happens if I become unwell and this is something that I think should be encouraged within universities. For example, what happens if a lecture cannot be run in-person? Can this then be delivered by Microsoft Teams? Will all students have access to this at short notice? I have found that over the past year team teaching can be used. So instead of having one person (or even two people) teaching a module, a team of teachers can be used to cover any sickness or issues.
Consider potential challenges
The return to campus is likely not going to be an easy one, and I think that everyone (including staff and students) needs to be aware of this upon returning. There will be some people who have faced great loss over the past 18 months, and this can cause a person to rethink how and when they feel able to interact with other people. It may be a good thing for all educators to be considerate of potential challenges (tech issues, lecture areas) that may be difficult for some people.
Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University.