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A phrase we hear a lot at the moment is “new normal” but, when it comes to the ever-shifting landscape that Coronavirus presents, being reactive, flexible and open to change are key.
We are lucky that the situation here in Switzerland is regaining some stability with public services all now mainly open and larger group gatherings permitted. This has meant that students at IMI can return to the classroom; however, with many of the students from our May intake unable to travel to Switzerland, we have adopted a hybrid teaching mode to include them in the live class sessions.
Hybrid (or blended) learning combines traditional classroom experiences with digital course delivery, allowing interactions between the lecturer, students physically present in the classroom and those connecting to the class online.
At IMI, we use the Microsoft Teams software so that students connecting remotely can speak to the lecturer, appear on screen at the front of the class as well as sharing their own screens for presentations etc.
Implementing a successful hybrid teaching mode required strong collaboration between IMI’s Academic and ICT teams and it was this efficient communication that allowed us to react so rapidly when the outbreak first hit Switzerland.
At this time, all classes were delivered online, so a further transition to a blended system was required when students on campus returned to the classroom.
IMI’s Head of ICT Christoph Kübler was instrumental in setting up this new system of teaching. He recognises the learning curve involved for lecturers in adopting to this new style of teaching.
“Making them (the lectures) familiar with the new software and confident in using it was the initial challenge,” he explains.
“A lot of one-on-one coaching was required at the start and the ICT team were on hand at the start of classes to deal with any technical issues.”
Of course, practice makes perfect, and it wasn’t long before everyone became more comfortable and confident with the technology. Students were impressed with the speed with which the changes were implemented and the staff adapted.
“It was a very smooth transition from physical classes to the hybrid mode,” says Adam Omar, a second year Swiss Degree student. “The teachers were very well prepared and we could see all the learning materials clearly.”
Rather than seeing hybrid teaching as a problem to be overcome, our Academic team instead recognised the opportunities it afforded for innovation and new forms of digital interaction in class.
“In one class, we used an online tool where someone in the class could write a statement on a digital whiteboard, and then other people could leave comments or debate the point underneath,” explains Bruno Johnson, a Higher Diploma student from Switzerland.
“It was a great way to provoke discussion in the class as well as checking who was awake,” he jokes.
The Teams software allows students and lecturers to share resources and materials in Chat and Project groups which can then be utilised in class by both the students present and those connecting in.
From the academic perspective, lecturers recognise that adapting to this new style of teaching has made them more versatile in their approach.
“I think that I have already turned into a more technologically- savvy teacher,” reflects Postgraduate Programme Leader Mr. Ioannis Evagelou.
“I am now constantly experimenting with more creative ways to enhance and enrich my teaching methods online and since I started delivering hybrid classes, the terms ‘engagement’ and ‘pedagogy’ are revolving more in my mind.”
His colleague and Swiss Degree Programme Leader Dr. Carrie Ann Brühlmann, points to the fact that having to adapt to the new methods led to greater collaboration between the academics.
“I think we developed a more collaborative approach to overcome obstacles,” she explains.
“We shared ideas and new platforms and tools we had discovered and considered what had gone well and what could be improved.
“It is all about lifelong learning – even for the educators!”
One legacy of the necessity for online classes that students really appreciate is the ability to have access to replays of lectures.
“The fact that I can go back and re-watch the recording of the class, that is still very beneficial,” say Zimbabwean BA (Hons) student Melisa Chimbodza.
It is true that the life we were used to may never return entirely to normal but, as we have seen, this does not necessarily need to be a negative.
Through creative thinking, hard work and a willingness to grow and develop, previously unthought of solutions and innovations can present themselves and actually enhance our lives and learning experiences.
At IMI, we are certainly adopting this optimistic outlook and it is great to see this reflected in the attitudes of both our lecturers and students.
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