The COVID-19 pandemic forced higher education institutions (HEIs) in Australia to transition from the classroom to the techroom by adopting Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL), in order to remain current and competitive in the sector. This paper explores approaches by HEIs to implement TEL strategies and their impact on student satisfaction, engagement and performance.
TEL embodies a basic learning management system (LMS) and various course delivery technologies. Its meaning in higher education differs from institution to institution (Laurillard et al., 2009; Oliver and Trigwell, 2005) and is defined in terms of three key factors: enhancing the quality of learning and teaching; meeting student expectations; and improving access to learning for off-campus students (James, Krause, and Jennings, 2010; Walker, Voce, and Ahmed, 2012; Walker et al., 2014).
TEL’s benefits include enhanced engagement, flexible learning, long-distance collaboration, asynchronous communication, development of time-management skills and enhanced learning outcomes (Clark, 2011; González, 2010). This inimitable delivery of education (Martinez, 2020) provides an opportunity for Australian leaders to shift the existing educational paradigm.
Changing paradigm – vanishing class-rooms and appearing tech-rooms
The pandemic significantly impacted the educational landscape. According to UNESCO (2020), governments in 161 countries closed all levels of educational facilities to contain the spread of the virus, affecting over 60% of the global student population. To mitigate this impact, many HEIs continued with or moved to online learning.
Effective online learning depends on student access to technological resources (Lamb, 2020), technological ‘know-how’ (Noble, 2020), appropriate technical infrastructure by the HE Institutions (ACER, 2020; Anderson, 2020), delivery capability by the academic staff (ACER, 2020; Lamb, 2020; Toth-Stub, 2020), reliable internet connection and, for some, dedicated online software. Yet, even in Australia, where ‘access to digital technologies and the internet is high’, many students have limited access to technological resources (Clinton, 2020).
Transitioning of an instituition to TEL
The Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-Learning (ACODE) has developed a TEL Framework comprising eight aspects of TEL implementation - Strategy, Quality, Systems, Services, Staff Development, Staff Support, Student Training and Student Support. This blueprint for institutions delivering TEL, encourages the adoption of all eight elements.
Leadership is key in transitioning to TEL. In addition, online policy implementation and planning, financial resources, content digitisation and its delivery, strong student support and enhancing student engagement, are all important (Bates and Sangra, 2011).
Effective online delivery requires that leaders posess relevant skills and knowledge and a have a positive attitude (Northouse, 2013).
Implementation of online policy and planning
As a critical area in transitioning to online learning (Bates and Sangra, 2011), HE institutions should implement policies to support pedagogical awareness surrounding learning. Integration of online learning into HE institution’s policies will increase relevance for, and foster greater adoption by, stakeholders (Casanova and Price, 2018).
Providing financial resources
The economic downturn and border closures caused by the pandemic placed significant financial pressure on HE institutions (Kim and Woodland, 2020) and generated a considerable enrolment deficit. Online delivery required more financial resources, creating an additional financial burden.
Content digitisation and its delivery
For effective learning, both online learning technologies and online digitised content must be integrated (Cheawjindakarn, et al., 2012). A quality online learning experience requires high standards of instructional design, development and analysis, and faculty and student support (Martin, Polly, Jokiaho and May 2017). Timely and constructive feedback between students and lecturers provides critical input for enhancing student engagement (Al-Bashir, Kabir and Rahman, 2016).
Building strong student support
In the absence of on-site learning, technical support should be offered (Jaggars, 2014). HEIs’ key focus should remain on student health and well-being, considering the emotional distress some students faced due to the pandemic (Roy et al., 2020).
Enhancing student engagement
Educational technology contributes to student engagement in online learning (Krause and Coates, 2008), fosters enriched class discussions, increases student knowledge and creates a collaborative learning environment (Kahn, Everington, Kelm, Reid and Watkins, 2017).
Making TEL a success – learner satisfaction, engagement and performance
With online learning becoming essential in 2020, sharper focus was needed on student satisfaction, engagement, and performance.
Online lectures have a greater impact on student perceptions than do face-to-face lectures. Online teaching is more challenging for instructors because it requires the adoption of new techniques and strategies to produce quality learning experiences (Asoodor, Vaezi, and Izanloo, 2014).
Student engagement can be identified in the development of critical thinking skills, achieving higher grades and embracing learning to achieve intrinsically motivated goals. Gonzalez et al. (2020) analysed the effects of the pandemic confinement on student performance. Their study revealed that confinement moved student learning strategies toward a more continuous online study approach which increased learning efficiency.
Online delivery that is well-designed and conducted within a robust learning management system by skilled teachers offers a comparable learning experience to face-to-face delivery (Toth-Stub, 2020). TEL, with fully supported active online learning, can deliver high retention and attainment rates leading to a rising demand for superior quality online education (Panigrahi et al., 2018).
Today’s students are accustomed to using digital platforms. They recognise poor digital design and disengage quickly with inadequate online experiences. Therefore, there is a demand for high quality, supported online learning, both in Australia and globally. HEIs need to embrace and leverage the changing face of education by adapting to the sector’s fluctuating needs with appropriate leadership, policy planning, financial resources and student support as well as with innovative content digitisation and delivery.
TEL has transformed into a delivery approach that encourages and embraces the potential of both technology and people for greater retention and improved performance. Online students have been ‘unseen’, most of the time. However, with enhanced TEL strategies in place, students can now be ‘visible’ using the entire-institution approach to greatly improve learning outcomes.
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Assistant Professor Jotsana Roopram is Deputy Dean (Student Experience) at UBSS.
Her main areas of expertise are examination management, developing academic systems, policy implementation in administrative processes and procedures, and school operations.
Jotsana’s research interests include governance and quality assurance in higher education, leadership, new managerialism and online assessment.
Dr. Ashok Chanda is Provost – Virtual Campus at UBSS.
He is passionate about ‘Digital Transformation’ in the education industry and has in-depth knowledge and experience in education and academic management and in compliance.
Ashok has authored books on business strategy, organisational performance and strategic human resource management and has published numerous research papers in refereed journals.
Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley has academic qualifications in music, psychology and education (his doctorate was in Virtual Pedagogy).
Currently, he is Deputy Vice Chancellor, Group Colleges Australia (GCA).
Greg has maintained a strong interest in online teaching and learning for a number of years, co-founding The Virtual Conservatorium in 2000 and overseeing the transition of Universal Business School Sydney (UBSS) to online learning in 2020.