Dr David Collis, our Pathway School’s Director of Curriculum and Academic Development, reflects on the silver linings of the pandemic and encourages us to look at the world anew as we adapt to new ways of teaching and learning.
In April 2020, as we were going into lockdown, I read an article by Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, who said that ‘Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.’ She was writing specifically about conditions in India, but her article is an invitation to use the opportunity of the coronavirus ‘rupture’ as a moment to renew social purpose, wherever we live.
During the pandemic, I gained a fresh appreciation for the social purpose of our teaching. With social restrictions in place, the classes we run, more than ever, are a lifeline for students to connect with other people and bring structure to their days. The pandemic also raises epistemological questions of how we know what is true. A group of students asked me: ‘How do we know who to believe in terms of health advice?’
Instantly, I referred to our curriculum: ‘What do your History of Ideas teachers say about analysing sources?’ I realised the content of what we teach, including the critical thinking skills, is more important than ever in helping students make practical life choices.
For the sake of our students, it was vital that we shifted well to online teaching in 2020. Now, it is equally vital that we apply the lessons we have learned so far as we come out of the pandemic and return to face-to-face teaching. The world has shifted, student expectations have shifted, and educational providers have shifted.
In order to plan for a blended learning future that marries old and new teaching styles, I am keen for us as teaching staff to articulate what we have learned from online teaching. In 2020, we established the Collaborate Team for teachers to share tips and strategies. We ran roundtable forums across all teaching departments. We ran countless training sessions. And, during an early stage of our online teaching, I put a challenge to some of the teachers across a range of subjects who were leading the online teaching work to consider the questions: How can we tell the story of online teaching in 2020? How can we integrate these lessons learned in 2021 and beyond?
This was the beginning of a conversation that will continue this year. As we go back to a post-pandemic reality, we will need to make decisions about the future forms of our pedagogy. Nothing will replace face-to-face, but we need to establish a ‘best of both worlds’ approach, which combines what we learned online with what we do in the physical classroom. Think of those shy students who found a more confident voice through Microsoft Teams messaging, but who were otherwise reluctant to speak in the physical classroom context. We can use this knowledge and find new ways to encourage students to participate.
To finish, I’d like to share one of my personal highlights from last year, which signals an exciting new direction in 2021. When planning for our new Comprehensive programs, which will launch this year, a group of teaching staff decided that one of the common texts we’ll use is Cloud Busting by Tara June Winch, a Wiradjuri person and leading Australian author who won the Miles Franklin Award in 2020.
To my knowledge, this will be the first time our Foundation Studies students will begin their studies reading the work of an Indigenous Australian author. This is highly significant and feels right to me as a means of preparing our students emotionally, psychologically and intellectually to live in Australia and study at the University of Melbourne. Of course, this is just one of many new things we’ll be rolling out in 2021 as we continue to learn and adapt to give our students the greatest learning experience possible.
By Dr David Collis