Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Teaching and Learning: Reflections from a Curriculum Design Perspective

07 October 2021
Posted by Study Group

Teacher Perspectives Blog Series from Study Group

Introduced by Dr Mark Cunnington, Chief Operating Officer for the UK and Europe at Study Group.

Earlier this week, we celebrated World Teachers’ Day by launching a new ‘Teacher Perspectives’ blog series. Throughout October, Study Group educators share learnings and best practices on the vital role of “teachers at the heart of education recovery”.

I am delighted to share the latest blog in this series from Dr Olufunke Aluko-Daniels, Centre Director at Study Group’s University of Huddersfield London Campus in the UK. In the blog, Olu talks about the importance of agile curriculum design to effectively navigate the current challenges presented by COVID-19 and as a way of proactively overcoming unforeseeable incidences, like the pandemic, in the future.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Teaching and Learning: Reflections from a Curriculum Design Perspective

By Dr Olufunke Aluko-Daniels, Centre Director at Study Group’s University of Huddersfield London Campus in the UK.

“The question that I have had to ask myself during this period is, how could we have designed our programme structure and the curriculum to accommodate such sudden changes, in an efficient way, without compromising academic standards?”

If any researcher or academic had hypothesised that there would be a time in human history in the 21st Century when teaching, learning and assessments for an academic year would be delivered online, the academic community would have had a good laugh.

Such was the impact of the pandemic on the educational sector in the last academic year that over 90% of the student population was affected. In order not to lose an academic year, varied online platforms were used for teaching, learning and assessments. It not only stretched the traditional use of the VLE, but it also birthed innovative practices on assessment methods and support.

As a professional who has spent the last couple of years designing high level programme documentations for different partnership programmes, especially during the pandemic. I would like to share some of my thoughts on how agile curriculum design may be a proactive way of preparing for such unforeseeable incidences like the pandemic.

Whilst the speed at which institutions moved from F2F to online platforms is commendable, the experience was nevertheless different for both students and staff. Despite the admirable speed at which institutions and educators switched from F2F to synchronous, and asynchronous, teaching and learning, there was very little time to immediately transform the curriculum to align with the new delivery strategy.

The recent clamour of students for discount on tuition fees is an indication that the learning experience is different for students. The question that I have had to ask myself during this period is, how could we have designed our programme structure and the curriculum to accommodate such sudden changes, in an efficient way, without compromising academic standards?

More than ever before, I believe that the solution to that is agile curricula. An agile curriculum requires incremental development of instructional materials in a manner that is flexible and collaborative. Although it requires more work, it is responsive, and maybe a lot speedier to deliver a timely and current curriculum. Additionally, an agile curriculum will stretch teachers’ creative abilities, facilitates the building of a learner-focused curriculum and the incorporation of real-time employability skills. I particularly enjoyed working with different teams of curriculum developers where they are having to build teaching material in an incremental manner.

I am not unmindful of the challenges that may be associated with the use of agile curriculum, such as the quality of materials, change of staff or absences, delays in having the materials ready for the lessons etc. I think that these are tokens when compared with the benefits to be gained. Plus, these challenges may be circumvented by putting measures in place to avoid them e.g., programme and module specifications should become living documents that the faculty or departmental quality officer should be able to exercise some oversight of, without triggering a wholescale reapproval.

Closely associated to the above, is the need to rethink the life cycle of programmes and curriculum reviews. Institutions need to get past undertaking this process mechanically. Curriculum reviews should be done to locate factors that may impede student engagement, outstanding learning experience and outcomes. The subsequent action of designing or redesigning and developing the curriculum should then aim to solve the problem not just for the moment, it should also be used to fairly predict future needs and be seen to then be responding to them. The era of mechanical reviews and curriculum development is gone.

My final thought is on using the curriculum to promote inclusivity and provide all students with equal learning opportunities actively using formative assessments and a range of assessment methods. Formative assessment, for instance, can be used to reinforce the emphasis on employability skills when students are given formative tasks that require them to apply knowledge to contemporary societal problems.

I doubt if learning will completely go back to what it used to be pre-Covid, if that is the case, we might as well get used to the new paradigm. Based on my experience for instance, I found that a move from the traditional mode of assessments, such as coursework and examinations, to having a range of assessment on the programme addresses diverse learning needs and allows institutions to keep up with online engagement even when they return to F2F.

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