Life with COVID-19 has induced many changes. As the country, indeed the world, embraces a new way of living and working from the safety of home isolation, it’s become more important than ever to maintain a degree of normality and social function. Technology is thriving, with home-schooling, online house parties, web conferences, and online workplace catch-ups to help preserve social interaction and keep spirits high.
From a University perspective, being able to deliver on the commitment to providing an educational service has meant extensive changes to the way courses are prepared and delivered, and managing how interaction between staff and students is maintained.
The Technology Enhanced Learning Lab (TEL Lab) at UOW’s Faculty of Social Sciences knows all too well the challenges of these uncertain times, but perhaps they are one of the lucky groups with their early insight and research into online delivery allowing them to adapt to change with ease.
"The TEL Lab’s primary directive is to support staff in their use of technology in teaching. We provide guidance in using technology to support educational outcomes and delivery, and founded on pedagogical advice, we are able to respond well to the evolving use of educational technologies in classrooms. With focus on good pedagogical practice and research-based evidence, we also work to develop the digital literacies of staff, students and graduates," explains Amanda Gigliotti of UOW's TEL Lab.
The TEL Lab at UOW
They have long been working towards accessible and streamlined staff resources for online teaching and learning, even before the onset of COVID-19. Some might say that they have found themselves in a fortunate position. In fact, the team being led by Amanda Gigliotti, TEL Lab Coordinator and Educational Technologist, and Anna Nicholls, TEL Lab Educational Technology and Professional Development Officer, would definitely agree.
Facing online delivery with an uncertain timeline, their approach was to work as though the University had to cease face-to-face teaching and move everything online as quickly as possible.
“Most of the uncertainty was focused on the level of service we could provide to our staff and how soon we would need to physically close the TEL Lab,” Anna said.
“We pride ourselves on the high level of support we provide to others, so an increased volume of enquiries and the rapid move to remote teaching presented many challenges.”
The key challenge the team faced was a combination of the high volume of enquiries they were receiving, the short timeframes they were working under, and the need to quickly develop and release their Remote Teaching support site.
“Even without the recent COVID-19 changes, this is an extremely busy period as it coincided with the point in session where academics were making major preparations for delivery of Autumn subjects and seeking support from the TEL Lab. It was very important to us to try to reduce this stress as much as possible and help staff prepare for the changes they were facing,” Anna added.
An Illawarra local with a strong family connection to business and education, Amanda Gigliotti has been with The TEL Lab since October 2018 and focuses on the operational and strategic objectives for online teaching and learning within the Faculty. Her role includes coordinating the TEL Lab, providing expertise and experience in learning design, and developing staff expertise and confidence in using learning technologies to enhance teaching and learning. She is also an experienced educational technologist, classroom teacher, and university lecturer/tutor.
“I like that this area is constantly evolving and there is always something new to learn. Technology brings many affordances to teaching and learning, such as flexibility and collaboration. However, technology also needs to be carefully considered and integrated into teaching,” according to Amanda.
Anna Nicholls, a dog lover and outdoor enthusiast, is well-versed in using online technology to communicate and stay in touch. Anna joined the team in August 2019 on secondment from Careers Central where she had been for eight years. As an International Student Careers Consultant within the Learning and Teaching team, Anna looked after the whole subject lifecycle and was able to take on opportunities that allowed her to focus on enhancing the learning and teaching experience.
“I enjoy how technology can be used to streamline processes and make things easier to manage, particularly in the management of tutors and marking. I enjoy using it to engage learners through different mediums, to share information in a collaborative way and to find solutions to problems. Educational technology is an area which is always changing, and as the rate and pace of technological development is so fast now, there is always something new to discover and learn.”
The TEL Lab team are very fortunate to work under the guidance and support of Julie Kiggins and Martin Hesse, who are not on;y supportive of the work they undertake in the TEL Lab on a daily basis, but also ensuring the wellbeing of the team in such trying times.
Associate Professor Julie Kiggins, Associate Dean Education, certainly knows the value of the TEL Lab.
“The TEL Lab provides the Faculty with crucial local capacity and knowledge that complements the work of the University’s Learning, Teaching and Curriculum (LTC) unit. Together, both units have responded magnificently under enormous pressure to support UOW throughout this transitional period. Having the TEL Lab team means we have been able to tailor the support that we’re able to provide to the Faculty. Amanda and Anna have been working tirelessly with individuals and units within Social Sciences, while also supporting the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, and sharing resources with LTC.”
“This last month has seen an urgent and unprecedented increase in support that the team has provided. From an initial series of support sessions that focused on the various different technology available, to ultimately having to revise everything to support the transition to online teaching following the Vice-Chancellor’s announcement that face-to-face teaching would cease.”
International Coordinator with the Faculty of Social Sciences, Ian Butler, has also been working with the TEL Lab and school academics on some of the less technical tasks, allowing Amanda and Anna to work solidly on a Remote Teaching site.
“Sitting in the TEL Lab over the last week has really shown me how trusted Amanda and Anna are. Academic staff have been dropping in to speak with them about urgent changes to their Moodle sites, and to seek their advice on how to adapt their subject content for online delivery. Sometimes in times of crisis, it’s the quiet achievers who we rely on to get us through.”
As echoed by both Anna and Amanda, they make a great team and working alongside each other has been mutually rewarding. They share a common sense of humour and a love of a good laugh, while continually supporting and encouraging those around them.
Contemplating the future, Amanda sees this move to online delivery as a precursor to educators reviewing their future teaching and learning practices.
“This period, while difficult in many ways, also has a positive side. We are seeing staff adapt, learn and build resilience while facing enormous professional and personal challenges. I think this is something everyone should be proud of, at both an individual and Faculty level,” Anna said.
The TEL Lab has certainly delivered, and will continue to deliver, all the while ensuring staff continue to feel supported and connected to them. The TEL Lab is always open for a virtual coffee, so stop by and say hi to the team.
Contact TEL Lab
The TEL Lab is currently available for phone and online support via WebEx or Zoom.
M: 0401 590 389
P: 02 4252 8725 (x8725) - will divert to WebEx