Digital Approaches to Education During CV19, a Critical Perspective

Today we have a post from one of our lecturers, Matthew Rogers-Draycott, in which he offers his perspective on the digitisation of higher education, and the role of curricula such as the RAU’s blended learning model during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Matt is a lecturer here at the RAU specialising in Entrepreneurship and Marketing, and he acts as the Programme Manager for a number of undergraduate degrees in the School of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Between stints in business Matt has spent the last 16 years working internationally as an entrepreneurship educator and course leader in a wide variety of institutions. He is also a passionate tech geek with a keen interest in digital approaches to education. You can follow Matt on Twitter.

Matthew Draycott, lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Marketing

We hope that this this post will be the first in a short series in which Matt shares some of his experiences of digital delivery.

Digital Approaches to Education During CV19, a Critical Perspective 

When I was asked to write this blog it was hard for me to decide what to focus on. In institutions across the UK staff are coping with such a variety of pains and pressures I wondered how I could write something that would be useful and meaningful. In the end, I decided to try to summarise my thoughts about the RAU’s approach to online education in this phase of the CV19 crisis and how I felt about this in the hope that it might provide some useful insights for other colleagues. 

Unlike many in the sector I am not a newcomer to designing and building digital learning materials. I created my first online course in 2011 and, in a previous life, I often championed the use of flipped classrooms, virtual learning spaces and gamified delivery through projects such as Mashhop.com (a pretty glorious failure), eventsblogs and conference presentations

Having read this, I bet many of you are thinking that, in the current environment, I am getting exactly what I always wanted… Please allow me to disabuse you of that notion. What I have long hoped for is a planned shift toward a more digitally integrated curriculum which is not, in the main, what we are currently producing.  

Matt delivering content in the classroom and using lecture capture software (Panopto)
Matt delivering content in the classroom and using lecture capture software (Panopto)

At the RAU, for example, our CV19 delivery model is designed to provide a blended curricula, a middle ground between fully flipped and traditional in-class teaching.  

While I believe that this is a good model which has pushed me to create some impactful new learning materials and encouraged me to update many lectures in a fashion that I might otherwise have avoided, this is still a long way from the deliberately constructed ecosystem I would like to see higher education institutions such as ours embrace. 

The difficulty here is that our model, like many others in the UK, is treading a fine line between the need to build more structured, synchronous, online content while maintaining an element of asynchronous face-to-face delivery. Furthermore, its rapid introduction leaves me feeling that deeper considerations of philosophy, pedagogy, and methodology have been curtailed in favour of streamlined approaches which can react to our ever changing environment.

To be clear, I am not criticizing the model, I am supportive of it, and I think that its compromises are understandable given the competing pressures it must, pragmatically, mediate between. That said, I am also keen that we do not present this as something it is not, a major step-change toward the mainstreaming of digital education approaches in higher education. 

Matt's home recording set up
Matt’s home recording set up

If we are going to shift in that direction, temporary solutions, such as those that we are currently offering will not be enough. Students are savvy consumers of digital media, they expect content and delivery systems which have been designed from the ground up to engage, entertain and educate. I believe this will result in the need for new training programmes, better equipment, and a radically different conceptualisation of the curriculum design process. All of which will likely put the need for specialist support staff, training, and development time to create these kinds of experiences in sharp focus, especially when balanced against the myriad of other agendas institutions such as ours must seek to fulfil.

It is, therefore, becoming increasingly clear to me that we as educators need to make time and space in our ‘new-normal’ to share insights and ideas that will help all of us to develop our practice as. No matter how difficult that may be.  I know that is what I intend to do more of. I am going to commit to more blogging, posting and dissemination to share some of the tips, tricks and ideas that I have hit upon to improve my materials and I hope this will encourage others to do the same. 

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