Dr Steve Mackay, the Dean of Engineering at the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) travelled to South Africa from Australia in March this year, after a two-year hiatus.
It was wonderful to be back in the country again, and a privilege to catch up with a large group of academics at TUT.
Lecturers (and students) have faced uncertainty and upheaval as teaching and learning moved online to accommodate the extensive lockdowns imposed in early 2020, when the pandemic took hold.
It is one thing to plan and design an online platform methodically and systematically, but quite another to implement it overnight.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor of Teaching, Learning and Technology, Dr Barend van Wyk, has been poignantly aware of the innumerable challenges facing the academic staff as they bravely and hurriedly adapted to this new and unwelcomed status quo.
EIT, on the other hand, has been using a blended model of learning to reach students globally since 2008.
The Internet of Things has been increasingly impacting the engineering workplace and facilitated this transition to education delivered remotely - comprehensively and proficiently.
Admittedly, however, to student cohorts who are - by and large - already working in the industry.
Dr van Wyk invited Dr Mackay to present a couple of specific features of the platform used by EIT.
The first entailed EIT’s rather unique approach to resource creation.
EIT designs course content in-house to ensure there is consistency (and excellence) in a multi-modal environment: students and lecturers are globally-based and there are also two campuses, one in Perth and one in Melbourne.
The second feature of the platform discussed was EIT’s Secret Weapon: the Learning Support Officers (LSOs). The LSOs nurture students from registration to graduation; they are responsible for all non-academic queries and issues relating to students in their care.
They keep the Learning Management System (LMS) up-to-date and manage a global team of academics (for the units that they oversee). They schedule the live webinars/tutorials, they check that these sessions are interactive, they ensure that the marking of assessments and examinations is completed in a timely fashion, and that grades are uploaded to the LMS.
In chatting to TUT staff after the presentation it was interesting to note that some of the approaches used by EIT had arisen organically at TUT. They may not have been referred to or implemented in quite the same way, but they were there nonetheless. It was heartening to see this agility and not very surprising.
Dr Mackay was very grateful to have the opportunity to again meet academics in South Africa and as always left feeling inspired, with new ideas or fodder for the education gristmill.
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