After 20 years’ experience in operational and programme management before moving into education, with senior management roles in Royal Mail, I now teach the Principles and Practices of Management for the University of Essex Online, which is operated by Kaplan Open Learning. Working in operational management, responsibilities and boundaries are clearly aligned to your role within the organisation. Co-operation is essential but collaboration less visible. So as a latecomer to teaching, I have found it refreshing to work in an area where wider collaboration is encouraged and valued.
The recent joint seminar series between Essex Business School and Kaplan Open Learning is a case in point. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to the workplace, but it has also fostered new relationships and innovative responses. This series of seminars was conceived during the pandemic, which had necessitated a rapid move to online and blended teaching with a different model of teaching and learning. Recognising the opportunity to learn from the practical experience and pedagogically developed practices from the online platform, the aim was to support staff as they developed new teaching methods, providing an opportunity to share experiences and develop innovative online approaches.
Collaboration encourages understanding but it is dependent on participation. So, it was great that so many people took time out to attend and engage in the discussion. It brought together the expertise and experiences of tutors in Essex Business School and Kaplan Open Learning, sharing ideas so tutors could develop a greater understanding of how they might adapt their teaching style to this new model. With a range of speakers from both schools, the presenters brought their own thoughts and built a picture of our shared values and the similar challenges we face, while the question-and-answer sessions allowed for further discussion and debate. There was a general agreement that teaching online brings different demands and that it is important to consider ways face to face modules can be adapted to meet these, business as usual is not an option.
Online teaching and learning with its inherent dependence on technology requires familiarity with new platforms and teaching methods. One of the key issues discussed was how to encourage student engagement with both synchronous and asynchronous teaching. In the first seminar Stephen Livesey, Director of Learning Technology for Kaplan Open Learning, gave an insight into creating a supportive online learning environment that increases student engagement, sharing how technology can be used to monitor and encourage student engagement. While later on, Dr David Makin shared his experience supervising students online, acknowledging that the principles of online supervision reflect those on campus but demonstrating how technology can be used to play an enabling role. In the Q&A sessions a wider discussion developed which gave some opportunity to explore whether blended learning can act as an effective bridge between face to face and online learning, one that is perhaps worth re-visiting.
Nevertheless, despite any differences the underlying principles remained. Whether online or face-to-face it is vital to develop modules that are up-to-date, reflect the latest research and thinking, and engage and challenge the students. This is underpinned by the AACBS approach. Overall, perhaps the thing I’ve noticed most in these seminars is that our shared values mean we have much to gain from further collaboration and I hope they will lead to more opportunities to share knowledge between Essex Business School and Kaplan Open Learning.