IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2021 - 48

Opinion
Actually, teachers are surprised to discover that
hybrid online/offline modes can be no less effective,
so online teaching will continue to play a very important
role even after the pandemic. With our growing
experience of online teaching, we have identified
its constraints and started making some changes in
course design, software, and technical support. As
online teaching becomes more widely accepted, we
anticipate that teachers will be able to use blended
teaching methods effectively, with continual improvement
in the teaching and learning experience.
Lynn Robson (LR): Here in the U.K., when the first
lockdown came into force, it was at the very end of
the second 8-week term of Oxford's university year. In
some ways, this was fortunate, as it gave us the vacation
break to prepare for students' return in April. This
did mean that we were working flat-out during the
period when we would normally be researching and
recuperating. So, it was a great deal of work within a
very short span of time.
As Oxford is a collegiate university, we have students
in about 40 colleges located across the city. For
undergraduates, their college isn't just a dormitory
or hall of residence, but where all their teaching and
learning is organized and delivered. The University's
faculties and departments have oversight of that, but
they aren't involved in the day-to-day teaching for a lot
of the students. They do, however, provide large-scale
lectures, and these all immediately moved online, so
a very similar arrangement to Professor Sun's description
of modes and technologies used at PKU. And as
at PKU, our Centre for Teaching and Learning was
intensively involved in educating faculty members in
the practicalities of online lecturing, providing guidance,
and support for people who had never had to
record a lecture previously.
While this was happening at the university level,
within the colleges it was a bit different. At Oxford,
college teaching is based on the tutorial system. This
is a weekly meeting between one to three students
and their professor, so it is uniquely adapted to moving
very swiftly online because all we need is the technology
and we can carry on teaching a tutorial much
as before. For us, the big challenge was having all our
students dispersed into their homes and guiding them
and the staff through that change.
A big concern for our students was access to library
provision. The tutorial system is based on independent
learning; the tutorial happens once a week, and
between those contact hours, students are expected
48
to pursue their studies independently. Students were
very concerned about how they would get hold of
all the material that they needed in order to do their
studies. This became a huge task for the library staff.
Oxford University has the Bodleian, which is a copyright
library serving the whole university. Then, each
department and each faculty has its own library, as
does each college. How were we going to make these
resources in all these places easily available to the students,
so that they could carry on with their learning
even while they were at home?
So, although the ability to teach a tutorial online
was pretty straightforward, the kind of support the students
needed was far from straightforward, and I have
to say that coordinating that effort between faculties',
departments', and colleges' libraries, plus laboratories
and so on, was a complex and time-consuming
process. Thankfully, there was a lot of cooperation at
every level.
Trinity Term, which is the final term of Oxford's
academic year, is a bit lighter when it comes to teaching
because two-thirds of our students are undertaking
examinations. Now, that presented additional
complexity and challenge because examinations are
overseen by the University, and each faculty and each
department impose different requirements and needs
for their particular examinations.
At the college, our job became guiding our students
through that process, acquainting ourselves as
teachers and directors of studies with how the examinations
were going to run, what format they were
going to take, and then guiding our students through
that. As colleges, we had to prepare our students for
a very different kind of examination from what they
were expecting, and we found ourselves communicating
with our students individually about what their
technological capabilities were.
We were very concerned about the widening
gap between the most advantaged and the most disadvantaged
of our students, in terms of what level
of secure and stable access they might have to the
internet, and what that might mean when they came
to sit their examinations. Working closely with our
faculty and department colleagues across the university,
we developed a robust system for considering
mitigating circumstances when it came to finalizing
examination results so that students would not be
unfairly disadvantaged by moving exams online.
I must say that this was all a very steep learning
curve not just for our students, but for us as teachers
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2021

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