Making the transition from studio to digital learning space presented both opportunities and challenges for teachers and students in UNSW Built Environment during COVID-19.  

“The built environment is relatively unique because we teach many studio courses, which are small and intimate,” Dr Dijana Alic, the Associate Dean of Education, says. 

This meant the translation to the digital space required innovation.

Dr Alic, educational designer Mr Dean Utian and education support manager Monica McNamara teamed-up with educational developers from the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education’s team* to create the Built Environment Symposium. 

More than 30 sessions were delivered across two weeks. The sessions ranged from short Moodle workshops to longer sessions about designing a fully online course, using Padlet as a tool for visual collaborations, and exploring the possibilities for using virtual reality in digital teaching. 

Dr Alic says sessions were delivered by UNSW Built Environment lecturers – dubbed the Tiger Team – as a way to share their knowledge and expertise during COVID-19.  

This cross-disciplinary team, chosen by Head of School and Deputy Dean Bruce Watson, was “formed to also investigate future possibilities and directions for BE”, says Ms McNamara. 

Creating your digital presence, developing online assessments, and how to engage students online, are three sessions Tiger Team member Mr Utian co-developed for the symposium. 

Dean Utian“We don't want to ever see a message from students that says, ‘Is anybody here?’ because that means they’re feeling disconnected,” Mr Utian says of his ‘Creating an Online Presence’ session.

Mr Utian says teachers need to “embed” themselves into the course in many different ways rather than just through webinars or emails.

He outlined the need for a mix of “asynchronous” learning, where students have access to do the work in their own time, with “synchronous” learning, where students and teachers collaborate together, such as in a live webinar or discussion forum. 

“And being visible multiple times a week, responding selectively and effectively to messages, having more thoughtful and personal responses are among the top tips we give to online teachers,” he says. 

“It's all about how you actually create this online community.”

“But don't try to use too much technology too quickly,” Mr Utian advises. “Because you don't want to be overwhelmed, and you don't want the students to be overwhelmed either.” 

Dr Alic says the symposium has also been “far-reaching” in building the UNSW digital teaching community, with attendance figures picking-up an average of about 45 people per session. 

“The 35 online sessions were delivered to more than 1500 attendees,” she says, which is a big uplift on Learning & Teaching events.

“We received a lot of great feedback about being able to see what each other is doing and being able to build on each other’s knowledge and experience,” she says. 

Associate Professor Paul Osmond, who attended the symposium, says the sessions improved his knowledge of digital teaching and gave him things to think about in relation to the directions for BE learning and teaching post-pandemic. 

And urban development and design lecturer Jodi Lawton praised the symposium for being a “fabulous initiative which was created in an extremely timely fashion”. 

“It enabled educators with no previous knowledge of online learning methodologies to be introduced to a wide range of teaching possibilities,” she says.

Interior architecture lecturer Dr Alanya Drummond says, “I now know what questions to ask if I need more information about a particular process or software – that can be hard if you don't have the right terminology.”

Videos from the symposium can be accessed via this link

*The PVCE team includes educational developers: Dr Felipe Crisostomo Munoz, Dr James Vassie and Natasha Lukman. Education support officer Kathy Argyropoulos and executive assistant Ellen Clapin were also part of the Associate Dean of Education’s symposium team.