In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNSW Global UEEC program had to move its teaching online. They were faced with decisions about how to continue teaching and learning while keeping their staff and students safe from a public health emergency that is moving fast and not well understood. The COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity to create a better online learning experience and build a strong learning community for students.
Therefore, some of the key challenges include:
A key focus was shifting the approach of being passive learners (receiving content) towards engaging with the content (by becoming active participants of the learning experience). How do we maintain a high level of engagement with students? And how does that look online?
How do we harness the range of functionalities and features that the platform offers?
The two teams needed to make decisions such as: Which features to utilise? How are we going to create a strong sense of learner community? What activities were going to be designed?
How will training take place? How intensive should they be?
The two learning design teams from UNSW Global UEEC and OpenLearning collaborated together to transform the 100 hours of paper-based lesson content into a carefully sequenced, scaffolded set of activities that made up the lessons in the course using a range of widgets, tools, and functionalities available with the OpenLearning platform. The two teams worked collaboratively involving UNSW Global supplying the first unit of the lesson to OpenLearning, in which a prototype was then designed in response to the OpenLearning team by transforming the content and translating it to a range of activities. This enabled UNSW Global to see how it could look like, and provide necessary feedback until final sign-off, before moving on to the next unit.
The design strategy and model of the UEEC program aim to enable learners to:
The online learning environment is designed to encourage strong peer-to-peer and teacher-to-learner interactions, lively communication that lasts throughout the course, multimedia-rich learning, and the creation of meaningful content. The OpenLearning platform makes this possible through:
Learners complete different types of activities in the course. Some activities are done independently, while some require collaboration with others in the class.
A range of question-and-answer activities helps learners to practice and demonstrate their language skills. For example, learners might read some text and answer questions to show their comprehension. Their responses are visible to the teachers, who then provide private feedback.
Sharing activities encourage collaboration and learning from one another. Learners share their thoughts, ideas, and answers with the other learners in the class. The conversational style of activities helps learners to experience different ideas and perspectives. Through this collaboration, they build language skills in ways that they wouldn’t be able to do alone.
A major part of this course develops speaking and listening skills in the English language. That means communicating person to person. So, on some screens in this course, learners are directed to the Groups page, where they will be able to access a chat room to talk with other learners through a video conference. These chat rooms are a great way to practice discussing topics in English.
Learners are assigned to a group of 3-5 people to collaborate on group activities.
Overall, the project roll-out proved to be a success.
The program's success can be reflected by:
UNSW Global, owned by UNSW Sydney, offers pathway programs for international learners. Of these, the “Academic English Programs” is a key enabler for international learners to succeed at university by improving their English skills. The University English Entry Course (UEEC) is tailored for learners wanting to directly enter a UNSW Diploma, Bachelor, or Master’s Degree. UEEC prepares international learners for entry into university once they have received a conditional offer from UNSW Sydney, but have yet to meet the UNSW English entry requirements.