Contact information:

Dr Leda van der Post
Senior Lecturer
Tel: 27 41 504 2091
leda.vanderpost@mandela.ac.za

Evolve Team Series: Computing Sciences

23/11/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it, including the way we work. The Evolve Team Series seeks to capture these changes and salute staff in navigating and adapting to remain productive in very trying circumstances. Tell us how your team as evolved (see details at end).

Connection is key - Computing Sciences staff share their experiences

The Department of Computing Science in the Faculty of Science is the next to participate in our Evolve Team Series.

They found the exercise of reviewing the past months very valuable. When asked to submit a photo of themselves in their home workplaces, one staff member said: “All of us nerds are rather self-conscious or totally under-dressed.” We’re going with the under-dressed option, as we know they are certainly not all nerds! Below are the responses of staff from all the year groups – 1st year to honours.

What were the biggest hurdles that you had to overcome during lockdown?

The inability of students to read instructions! Also the inability to read students' faces when one is sharing learning material with them, to judge the level of understanding is challenging.

We found that students have a 24/7 expectation for staff support - both academic and technical. The feelings of anxiety, isolation and demotivation, as well as balancing the unknown and information overload with an ever-changing workload, seem to affect many of the staff in this department.

What are valid excuses when students ask for extensions? This is a question we are often faced with. Students also have more personal problems than in the past (medical, emotional and work related).

Getting students to participate online was a problem experienced by all.                     

What new skills has your team learnt – as individuals and as a whole?

Tricks to use in Respondus and Moodle to provide better sequencing of remote online learning and to add some integrity to remote online assessments. We gained experience and knowledge in online presentations through the use of Active Presenter, Teams, Scripting, Word, OneNote and PowerPoint. WhatsApp also made it easier to see students’ work and provide support.

Fewer assignments (once every two weeks) were required. Students can submit a draft (on a Monday), receive feedback from their lecturers and then give an improved submission at the end of the week which is certainly feasible for small classes.

Online teaching has become a learning environment for us as lecturers – our team has thrived on being part of sharing in a giving and receiving environment, where everyone is open to suggestions from other team members.

With the move to digital operations, how best can you describe your new way of working?

This way of working offers a better service to students and needs to be part of our future plans.

There is a much better response time to student queries (during working hours!), a wider range of learning approaches are catered for, there is better depth of material available and the potential for far broader online engagement (e.g. through WhatsApp) from a global perspective is more attainable.

Pure online learning and teaching must give way to a prioritised, blended learning approach using open source resources and with continued support from year group communities of practice.  Continuous assessment actually suits many modules. 

Structured templates in which students provide feedback were created to make it easier for students and lecturers.   Meetings with small groups on Teams (instead of face-to-face meetings) have been very beneficial. 

We see this as “connected learning” - it's more than just online learning. Connected students are more likely to interact.

Some of the staff of Computing Sciences and some of their workstations!

Share your Team’s Evolve story with us by responding to the above questions and capture shots of your team wherever they are working.