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The ongoing importance of remote learning technologies for students

The coronavirus crisis has demanded that ANU strengthens its remote teaching infrastructure and technologies. Up until now, remote learning has largely been considered supplementary, supporting the face-to-face teaching that ANU is known for. The unexpected closure of campus in March positioned remote teaching as the primary mode of communication with students, a stark contrast with the existing model. While this shift is anything but ordinary, the need to teach and learn remotely has revealed valuable insights into existing ways that students engage remotely and provides indications to how the future of teaching could look with, or without, a prevailing pandemic.

The Echo360 platform has been used at ANU for several years, providing students with access to recordings of lectures they may have missed, or wish to return to. Echo360 recordings are generally captured to allow students equitable access to lectures, and additional resources. Data gathered from Echo360 shows a dramatic increase in ‘unique active student users’ from 2019-2020, showing the impact that the shift to remote learning has had on the volume of online lecture consumers.

Contrastingly, the total ‘video view count’ paints a different picture. Student viewing intensity has remained relatively consistent when comparing Semester 1 2019 to Semester 1 2020. Some noticeable differences are more pronounced spikes around March-April, the period when ANU went remote. May-June 2020 shows a relatively consistent usage of Echo360 where the 2019 spike coincidences with examinations in early June. This is suggestive that student’s online content consumption has changed from a supplementary study aid, to a more consistent method of engagement with lectures, which is somewhat expected.

An interesting insight into this data is that the total view count has not changed significantly from previous years, it has been redistributed. This would not come as a surprise to students, who would point to the balancing act of university studies with other commitments, including work or carer responsibilities, that limit attendance at face-to-face lectures. While the transition to remote learning was an unexpected shift responding to a global crisis, online learning has been an integral part of the student experience for many years. The key message here is that remote teaching, and its accompanying technologies and infrastructure, are important considerations regardless of whether teaching is occurring remotely, or face-to-face.

An area where ANU has shown strength is in the increased transcription of lecture content through Echo360. Transcriptions provide an additional resource for students and provides equitable treatment for ESL students and those with audio impairments, at a relatively low cost. The substantial increase displayed below shows the capacity for remote teaching technologies to support student experiences in an inclusive way.  

While existing data gives valuable insights into how students engage remotely during face-to-face teaching and crises, it is important to look ahead. The Echo360 data can be extrapolated to forecast usage based on existing trends. A key question to ask is: how will students use digital platforms during the second semester of remote teaching? Using a Holt-Winters forecasting model, the Echo360 data can be used to forecast what this might look like.    

The graph suggests very similar ‘view counts’ to previous semesters, further emphasising the importance of digital technologies within the university student’s life as a supplementary, or primary source of engagement. What this graph tells us is that digital technologies, such as Echo360, are important with over 10,000 views occurring during busy periods of the semester. The number of unique users may have increased, but the volume of content consumed has remained stable. The shift to remote teaching has given ANU a chance to re-evaluate its relationship with digital technologies, and to better understand how student engagement occurred before and during the pandemic.

September 2020

Karl Gwynn is an Education Evaluation Officer in the Education, Communities and Environment (ECE) team – one of three teams within the  ANU Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT). 

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