The shift to online learning

AIFMRM acted swiftly in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns of sectors of the economy at the end of March 2020. Acting Director of AIFMRM in 2020, Obeid Mahomed, said it helped that AIFMRM identified a difference between emergency remote teaching (ERT) and online teaching (where more time to plan and resources were available).

“In addition to the time pressure, we also had to work with UCT’s directive of ‘low-tech’ ERT to ensure that students with limited access to data were still able to participate effectively. We alleviated some of this pressure by purchasing mobile data for students and opening access on the learning platform, Vula,” said Mahomed. We assisted some students in areas of poor internet coverage in relocating to Cape Town.

In addition, each lecturer developed their innovative teaching style, basically creating bespoke content. The next issue was interaction. Synchronous or real-time interaction for all programmes was not possible as this would have been too data-intensive and hi-tech. Group work and collaboration amongst the students was encouraged as much as possible.

Across the board, feedback from students showed that they were surprised and impressed by how they were able to continue studying in 2020. They particularly mentioned the assistance given by lecturers as well as the psycho-social support provided by Billy Enderstein. She was available 24/7, on email as well as mobile, to check in with students and offer advice. “For many students, the experience was gruelling at first and more difficult than with face-to-face classrooms,” she said. “I also posted a lot of supportive information about online learning. Students especially needed guidance on pacing themselves as the intensity of online can be overwhelming.”

It has also been instrumental in AIFMRM’s preparations for the 2021 academic year, again in a virtual format. “Our experience, innovations and resources from emergency remote teaching during 2020 enabled us to evolve our online teaching solutions and interventions,” explains Mohamed.

Many students are also better prepared in 2021 as they experienced emergency remote teaching during 2020 in their undergraduate degrees. “They understand the requisite technology, are aware of potential adversities and overall are more resilient,” says Mahomed. “Our improved online learning solutions combined with recalibrated student expectations resulted in a successful start to the new academic year.”

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