What We Are Learning From Those In The Classroom During COVID-19
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COVID-19 education crisis: what we are learning from those in the classroom

Jun 10, 2020 | By Lauren Martin
COVID-19 education crisis: what we are learning from those in the classroom
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Can campus-based institutions adapt by choosing the right approaches for educating and engaging their students during COVID-19?

Each level of education, worldwide, faces unique challenges in ensuring education can continue during COVID-19. Lack of references to similar crises in the past makes it difficult to predict what may happen or how best to approach teaching and learning within the crisis.  So Higher Education institutions, educators and students have needed to adapt to save the academic year with minimal reference points.

For the students, the most immediate impact has naturally been the closure of face-to-face teaching and learning on physical campuses. Leaving students in unfamiliar territory. The most evident impact on educators is the expectation of the continuity of teaching and learning using a virtual modality.

“I learned some personal skills such as working in groups and confidence to speak in front of groups, this really means a lot since I did not always have the self-confidence”

SACAP Student, Pretoria Campus

The successes and failures that unfold from institutions initiatives should give us all a better grasp of what is possible and perhaps how education may change going forward. While it may be too early to fully grasp the impact of institutions teaching and learning initiatives during COVID-19, it is important that institutions are asking both educators and students about their experiences during this time.

SACAP Student’s experience of the teaching and learning environment during COVID-19:

  1. Safe Classroom Environment: “I am truly grateful for your approach to teaching and interacting with all of us, it created a platform of comfortable vulnerability.” “Thank you for making every class interesting, stimulating and always felt like a safe space to learn and interact in” (SACAP Pretoria Student).
  2. Persevere despite discomfort: “What surprised me about myself is my adaptability and determination, as well as my resilience. There were moments during this first term I thought “there is no possible way this can be done. No way will I be able to do this. It is so complicated and I don’t know where to start”. And yet, each time I have felt that way, there was light at the end of the tunnel. What’s more, not just light at the end of a tunnel, but a glorious rainbow. Meaning that for all the struggles I experienced, they were worth it in the end. And I believe the personal growth I have underwent this term is amazing. I truly feel like a new and better version of myself. I feel smarter, tougher, wiser, and more in control of my actions and outcomes in life” (SACAP Pretoria Student).
  3. Personal Meaning: “The thing that will stick with me for a long time is the group work that we did in your classes. I really enjoyed it so much. It made me feel like I am part of something. When we did the group work I imagined myself working with amazing people like the people in our class one day and I could see how each of us will make a difference in people’s lives. It made me realize that I can learn so much from the people around me, and in the future I shall grab every opportunity I can get to learn from others” (SACAP Pretoria Student). 
  4. Community of Support: “I am actually just so very proud of us all. I feel like through everything that happened with Covid and the lock down, the honours class of 2020 really became a family. We supported each other, cried with each other, and laughed with each other. I am proud of how we have grown in our knowledge. And I am proud of the fact that at the end of the day, we don’t see each other as competition anymore, we share resources, we share notes. And I think that all of us are rooting for each other to get into masters” (SACAP Pretoria Student).
  5. Personal Development skills: “I learned some personal skills such as working in groups and confidence to speak in front of groups, this really means a lot since I did not always have the self-confidence” (SACAP Pretoria Student).
  6. Collaboration: “I enjoyed it when [the educator] shared personal experiences and scenarios about other people, that really makes me excited for my future, I enjoyed the people in the class, they are truly inspiring people and so helpful, I really enjoyed working with them and just figuring problems out” (SACAP Pretoria Student). 
  7. Develop self-awareness: “Thank you for providing a platform of enrichment and introspection, I truly enjoyed every class and walked away each time with broader knowledge” (SACAP Pretoria Student).

SACAP Educator’s experience of the teaching and learning environment during COVID-19:

  1. Training remains relevant to SA needs: “SACAP’s educational approach has always been plugged into the needs and demands of the times we are living in. What the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent transition to an online platform has done is to further amplify reflexiveness in our way of doing things. Not only are we plugged in, but SACAP has seen a constant and consistent reflection of its modus operandi and adjusts it to the idiosyncrasies of the environment we find ourselves in. Importantly, the reflexiveness of its educators is a microcosm of this macrocosmic philosophy that we have had to re-articulate in these current times” (Walter Matina, SACAP Educator).
  2. Small classes: “I believe it is the individual attention that students receive at SACAP due to the smaller classes of a maximum of 25 students per class. One can get to know the students better in such a smaller group. Students also tend to ask questions and interact more in a smaller group instead of the bigger group. There is a better communication flow also happening amongst the students where they debate, ask questions and interact” (Reinhard Tolken, SACAP Educator).
  3. Applied experience in class: “I don’t think SACAP students are different, I believe they have a different “classroom” or educational experience, then the normal tertiary education student. And it is because of this small group interaction type of classroom experience where the difference come in. They are getting hands-on experience with the content and this prepares them better to either get their degree and start work, or continue with further studies to end up being professional psychologists one day” (Reinhard Tolken, SACAP Educator).
  4. Focused curriculum: “First students need to be well prepared for their classes. Before we even begin the class the students already have a good foundation of the information that the educator shares. They need to be prepared when they enter a classroom. I think it is because of this work ethic that they are well prepared for further studies or even work. Also because of this they know the subject matter well. Psychology is also the major subject most of the students specialise in and they get a deeper understanding of what psychology is because of the focused curriculum” (Reinhard Tolken, SACAP Educator).
  5. Real world experiences: “Fosters deep learning in an environment that is characterized by creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. It fosters independent thinking and learning and brings the real world into the classroom” (Janine Kendall, SACAP Educator).
  6. Self-reflective educators: “Our students are taught by a dynamic group of educators who do not take what they do as a job but as an extension of their own journeys of self-discovery with a family of equals. What my fellow educators and I do best is to distill the very best of our own experiences in classrooms, counseling spaces and life in general and sift that through the lens of our academic curricula and our student’s own personal experiences to create a unique blend that enriches the classroom experience. The capabilities of the educators and the receptiveness of our students to always keep on learning and unlearning and relearning creates a winning formula for all that is necessary for the world of further education and of work” (Walter Matina, SACAP educator).
  7. Instill Life-long learning: “SACAP students are committed to internalize their learning for their future careers. The goal is not to pass an assessment or an exam, it is to become knowledgeable and gain insights and perspectives into content” (Janine Kendall, SACAP Educator)

Written by: Lauren Martin, Counselling Psychologist and Head of Teaching and Learning (Pretoria Campus)

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