“Beyond COVID”: the future of teaching and learning

To kick off the start of 2022, the Edubytes team is looking ahead with optimism to our collective experience “Beyond COVID”.

This month, our guest editors are Dr. Silvia Bartolic, Associate Professor of Teaching in the Department of Sociology, Dr. Jonathan Graves, Assistant Professor of Teaching in the Vancouver School of Economics, and Stephen Michaud, Senior Manager, Learning Applications, Integrations, and Analytics in the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. Together, they share work produced during the first phase of UBC’s “Beyond COVID” project, which explored what the future of teaching and learning in higher education could — and should — look like, following the challenges and disruptions brought about by COVID-19. 

Teaching and Learning “Beyond” COVID-19

COVID-19 has affected many functions of the university – including the ways we teach and learn. It has required faculty, staff, and students to make often-dramatic changes to their routines, and to identify and re-prioritize many of the things that were often taken for granted. The “Beyond COVID” project was convened in April 2020 to begin a conversation about what teaching and learning might look like in a world reshaped by the pandemic — five to 20 years into the future. What have we learned? What worked? What didn’t work? What might work better under different conditions? 

Rather than settle into an organically-emerging “new normal,” this project engaged a group of approximately 100 faculty, staff, and students to identify how we might purposefully shape the future of teaching and learning in a way that will allow UBC to succeed and thrive in an increasingly uncertain future. This article summarizes the outcomes of this project, and adapts some of the material from the preliminary report it produced. 

Over the summer of 2021, this project formed six working groups, covering areas such as assessment, technology, curriculum design, and welfare. Each working group met a number of times and produced a set of recommendations: specific implementable goals that suggest tangible changes to practices here at UBC. These recommendations were synthesized into four themes, which summarized the conclusions of the working groups. These themes were: 

  • Theme 1: Innovation and flexibility
  • Theme 2: Inclusion and well-being 
  • Theme 3: Technology and support for faculty and student success 
  • Theme 4: Processes and policies  


Theme 1: Innovation and flexibility 

The pandemic forced instructors and students to rapidly transition online — with limited preparation and in a context of significant disruption. Despite the rapidity of this shift, UBC managed the transition relatively well, as discussed in this internal UBC report.  

Instructors, staff, and students had to be innovative and flexible in their approach to teaching and learning. This project considered how we can continue this innovation into the future in ways that retain the benefits that emerged during this period. The group identified goals for “beyond” COVID: expanding accessibility of learning experiences and supporting flexible approaches to course/program design. This article by Nworie (2021) describes how universities may use the experiences from the online transition to improve institutional practices for the future. 


Theme 2: Inclusion and well-being 

The pandemic has also created challenges beyond the classroom. Student, staff, and faculty well-being has been taxed on both personal and professional/academic levels and has been exacerbated by long periods of social isolation. These experiences exposed inadequacies and inequalities in some of our practices. As this report from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (PDF) suggests, the way to address mental health challenges among university students is through communication, adaptability, and new approaches to online teaching. 

This project identified that a core priority for UBC should be to create an inclusive learning environment that supports students in reaching their full potential. The project team developed recommendations for building these kinds of inclusive learning environments, while also supporting the well-being of teachers, students, and staff. 


Theme 3: Technology and support for faculty and student success

The rapidly-changing digital environment of the pandemic has given us new insights for re-imagining the role of technological tools used to support teaching and learning. This project identified that a core principle should be that technology supports student-centered learning in ethical, pedagogically-effective ways. The project made recommendations by highlighting ideas and practices that were effective, while also delving into those areas that were not as successful. 

Graphic showing the four phases of higher education response to COVID-19

Graphic showing the four phases of higher education response to COVID-19


Phil Hill’s blog contains a series of articles discussing how institutions reacted to being driven online by COVID and how that impact will continue into the future. He shares the above graphic, which depicts four phases of higher education response to COVID-19. They are: the rapid transition to remote teaching and learning in Phase 1, (re)adding basics in Phase 2, extending the transition (during “continued turmoil”) in Phase 3 and finally, the “Emerging New Normal” in Phase 4. UBC’s Beyond COVID project focused in particular on this latest phase.


Theme 4: Processes and policies 

The last theme in the project recognized the necessity of adjustment to academic policies and processes to support these recommendations. Recognizing and incentivizing activities that reflect collaboration, inclusion, and compassion requires that there be sufficient investment in the administrative structures underpinning teaching activities and the demonstration of care and compassion for students, faculty, and staff. 

This article from Tony Bates’ blog discusses a policy brief that raises a number of questions concerning how institutions address the “worry that the move to digital learning will increase inequality” and the ways we can “mitigate the inequalities that will inevitably flow from an increased use of digital learning.” Our recommendations make suggestions for how to approach this task at UBC. 

Watch for the full ‘Beyond COVID Phase One Report’, coming online later this spring. In the meantime, questions may be directed to: vpao.projects@ubc.ca

Enjoyed reading about “Beyond COVID”: the future of teaching and learning? Learn about other topics we covered in the January 2022 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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