Written by: Emma Woodward
Friday, 17 September 2021
The switch to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for students and teachers alike. But there have been some surprising benefits. Students in regional areas have gained greater access to higher education than ever before, and recent research has found that students can learn faster, while also retaining more information, when engaged in virtual learning.
There have been unique challenges and opportunities for students and teachers at AIT. With courses in 2D animation, 3D design, film and video, game design, mobile app development, and games programming, many of our creative courses are based on a hands-on and collaborative curriculum.
If you’d like to find out more about the transition to virtual learning at AIT then read on. Our conversation with AIT educators and staff at RedHill (AIT’s parent company) gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what keeps AIT courses rolling when learning goes online.
RedHill’s head of instructional design, Alex Gilbey, was able to provide some insights regarding the strategies and technologies AIT has implemented to assist students and teachers. Dean Musumeci, an educator and subject co-ordinator for filmmaking courses at our Melbourne campus shed some light on the day to day differences of virtual learning. And Adam Moder had further insights regarding how a highly practical subject area like 3D art and animation could translate to a virtual learning environment.
Alex: Educational institutions have tried numerous things to help keep students engaged, learning, and supported. Some are simple, like delivering classes in a hybrid or online environment, allowing for online exams or designing digital assessments, and providing virtual feedback. While others are a little more technical or creative.
For example, there has been an increase in programs aimed at student wellbeing,* where support and outreach are provided to cater for the feeling of isolation. Entire courses have been redesigned... Proof of identification and student verification software has been implemented for online examinations.
* A new wellbeing program, called Uprise, will give students confidential access to professional mental health advice at no cost through an online platform.
Dean: I have had to be inventive in my online delivery of filmmaking practices…. students do not have the opportunity to get hands-on with the equipment that works as the core of any film set. As such, I have created additional content using guides, instructions, and video tutorials, and utilised pre-visualisation software a lot more than usual to make up for the lost opportunity. Softwares such as CineTracer and Unreal Engine - albeit CGI-centric - have helped with visualisation and showcases to assist with teaching film production.
Adam: Working with students online in 3D art and animation means establishing a strong sense of trust and reliability, so that students are encouraged to present their work remotely for regular feedback.
Dean: We funnel most of our coursework delivery and assessment presentations through one platform, Big Blue Button. This platform enables all users to communicate, share screens and/or documentation, as well as camera feeds and external clips. All of which is usually accessible in a classroom environment.
One of the biggest, most valuable sets of soft skills that any employer would want in their employees is their adaptability and problem-solving abilities. Students that have the drive to showcase their work and curate the presentation appropriately for the chosen platform achieve much higher results than those who do not.
Adam: As mentioned previously, students need to be encouraged to present work in progress regularly online for teacher and peer feedback. Remote group work is especially challenging, so robust and accessible communication and online organisational tools (such as efficient storage and centralised production structures) are important to establish. Teacher or mentor co-ordination is crucial for group work.
Dean: Staying attentive. Staying communicative. Maintaining presence, engagement, and co-operation in a virtual classroom.
Adam: Technical restrictions - hardware, software, and bandwidth are always high on the list, but students also feel an increased need to discuss social, financial, mental and physical health, and academic concerns with their teacher and fellow students.
Alex: RedHill established an instructional design department, which has the objective of analysing all its courses to see how they can be enhanced and made more effective for virtual learning. While this is not a process that can happen overnight, a number of significant steps are being taken right now.
A number of major courses and subjects are being redeveloped with increased access to resources, clearer navigational instructions, and learning activities. And a series of instructional videos are being created to provide students and teachers with support and tips on how to embrace digital learning.
New student services resources are being developed… which provide clearer information, and a new student wellbeing program has launched, which allows students access to support with elements outside their education.
Dean: RedHill and AIT have put forward training programs for staff to improve expertise, engagement, agility, and dexterity with the technology and online platforms used for course content delivery.
Adam: Flexibility with assignment deadlines, provision of temporary software licenses required for specific subjects, access to student support and counselling services, and continuous development of teaching protocols.
Dean: Virtual learning has prompted the need for recorded classes and additional learning resources that students can engage with as part of their homework requirements. The instructional design team’s recent efforts to make AIT’s subject content modular and styled for asynchronous learning has been a benefit for students in that they have their to-do list and will tick off the content as they go along.
Adam: Yes - flexibility and accessibility for student classes, ability to provide additional consultation to students when they require it (very much appreciated by students), safe, practical, and efficient delivery of coursework and assessments, and feedback.
Dean: We set constant reminders for students that they ought to reach out to us and student services if they encounter any hurdles whether it be academic or emotional. We offer consultations and one-to-one tutoring sessions. We also engage in weekly coursework discussion forums with homework topics to keep the social momentum up where possible.
Adam: I encourage group discussions in online classes - very informal, and often not related to the academic side - students seem more engaged to talk about their situations with their teacher and peers online. But everyone feels somewhat isolated.
Adam: For me, the best solution is to get students to focus on their creative work. Encouraging students to use their imaginations, expand their skills, and present their creative results gives them a welcome break from the restrictions of being online - free their minds, let their ideas soar!
Adam: It’s important to adapt - as many studios are actually doing by moving their workforce online - hopefully, this current climate will improve, but in the meantime, we can find solutions to keep ourselves stimulated, engaged, productive, and connected.