IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - June 2021 - 49

as well. Not only adapting our teaching to being
online but also making sure that we were understanding
our students' needs and their anxieties,
so we could best support them. Reflecting on my
own first experience of teaching an online seminar
course, I found myself facing a virtual room full of students
whom I had never met before, and I couldn't
see them because cameras had to be kept off due
to bandwidth limitations. That felt particularly challenging
to me: How do you form a relationship with
a group of students you haven't met before, where
our Oxford system is so strongly based on small
group teaching and tutorials?
At this current phase, we have students back,
which is great. Though the U.K. has recently entered
the second national lockdown, the students are
staying, as the government has said very clearly that
students should reside in their universities not only
for the sake of their education but also as a public
health concern, to avoid students traveling back to
their homes.
So, this term we have adopted much more of a
blended approach, with a combination of in-person
teaching-socially distanced and wearing face coverings-but
also online teaching, and in some seminars
using both simultaneously if, for example, we
have students who are self-isolating. We have also
been very cautious by allowing members of staff to
decide for themselves whether they wish to return
to face-to-face in-person teaching or whether they
wish to carry on entirely online. We've made that
a personal choice for individual members of staff
because obviously everyone has their own concerns
and household circumstances. So, it's not just
blended learning for the students, it's also blended
teaching for the tutors.
SW: Thank you both for highlighting so many
of the dimensions of blended learning of hybrid
online/offline modes. As a measure for coping with
some of the immediate practical issues of the pandemic,
such as self-isolating students. And equally,
as a mode which is sometimes even preferred by
teachers and students, and perhaps holds the promise
of improved educational experience and results.
I would like to consider this from the " other side of
the coin, " exploring the aspect which you each also
mentioned of some students potentially being disadvantaged
when teaching moves online. How do you
see these current developments affecting accessibility
and inclusivity?
June 2021
LR: That is a most interesting topic because this
idea of inclusion and accessibility, and diversity in
education was already under much consideration
before the pandemic hit. It was regularly discussed
in our college and faculty meetings: How can we
be more inclusive? How can we enable a positive
experience for our students with specific physical
challenges or with specific learning difficulties, or
those who are located overseas and in different
time zones?
But, at the same time, the discussion was
informed by the framework that such students were
in the minority-that we were catering to the minority
by recording lectures or seminars or similar measures.
Suddenly, that's become the majority situation;
we're all of us in some ways in need of special considerations;
we all have specific learning needs.
Certainly, we all have challenges that have been
presented by this new way of thinking about teaching
and learning. The pandemic circumstances
demand that, as teachers and institutions, we are
much more creative in our approach to learning, to
thinking about education and how we deliver it. In
this, the pandemic has presented a really important
opportunity. We're all longing to get back to normal,
but I think that this heightened awareness of the
importance of inclusivity, of accessibility, of diversity
in reaching out to others and minority groups within
education, in particular, this awareness should be
one of the most important things that we keep from
this time.
Fang Wang (FW): The main concern we have
is whether online teaching is as effective or as efficient
as offline classes. The online teaching platforms
available in China are quite diversified to
meet different teaching goals, and when integrated
with different teaching tools or embedded within
collaborative platforms, they are usually able to
play their role with high effectiveness. The biggest
remaining problem arises from disparities in internet
connection and software and hardware availability
among students.
Apart from Zoom and other online learning platforms,
we have also established the Smart classroom,
which enables students to attend the class either in
the physical classroom or online from home. The
professors can easily include these remote students
to participate in the classroom discussions or presentations,
working in breakout rooms and on digital
blackboards to collaborate on projects. There
49

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