The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), based in the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), was awarded the 2020 UCT Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Service Excellence at the UCT Annual Awards, hosted on 2 December.
The annual award acknowledges outstanding service by staff who have contributed to the delivery of exceptional and significantly improved services to UCT’s staff and students.
It’s been a whirlwind year for CILT. Informing the university’s emergency remote teaching and learning project amid the global COVID-19 pandemic has been a tremendous task. The shift from conventional learning to a remote, online learning methodology was rapid. There was no time for traditional course design and online learning strategies.
The department displayed resilience, dedication and commitment in this pursuit. The team supported academics and course convenors to develop course material to kick-start the remote teaching and learning project effectively, ensuring that students could continue the academic programme from their homes.
“It’s been an extraordinary year – in both the best and worst sense of the word.”
“It’s been an extraordinary year – in both the best and the worst sense of the word. This award acknowledges the commitment of every person in CILT to support both teaching staff and students during these past few months,” said CILT’s acting director, Sukaina Walji.
“Every role, every position and every person in CILT has contributed to this achievement.”
There’s no ‘I’ in team
In the midst of the rapidly changing environment of the past few months, Walji said that the department rallied together and supported one another in order to reach the best outcomes for academics and students.
“Even in the midst of serious stress, like during this year, we didn’t forget our sense of humour.”
She said that staff displayed great agility, even while being pulled in multiple directions. Many members of the department have worn many hats – from Vula helpdesk consultants to webinar and workshop facilitators. Developing guidelines for emergency remote teaching, providing academics with one-on-one consultations, offering online courses on teaching online, and delivering remote filming and video production tutorials was all part of the job description.
“We are a dedicated and passionate team, and even in the midst of serious stress, like during this year, we didn’t forget our sense of humour,” Walji said.
“This year has been an exceptional learning experience, and there are so many learnings that we are guaranteed to take forward far beyond this time.”
2020 in a nutshell
As Walji reflected on 2020, she said that a few words come to mind when describing the year: wild, stressful and uncertain.
Since March the team have been working around the clock to support UCT teaching staff to deliver low-tech remote teaching to students. This approach makes use of teaching strategies that promote asynchronous learning and allow learning to take place in different environments using lower bandwidth.
“CILT was in a reasonably good position to support the university. Our recent years’ experience with online education, hosting and developing Vula, and some years of in-house investments in our capacity to offer online and blended learning gave us a bit of an advantage. But no one, no one was ready and prepared for emergency remote teaching,” she said.
“We had to dig deep and apply our best strategic thinking hats to a ‘wicked problem’.”
There have been plenty of challenges. The rapidly changing situation brought about by the pandemic meant that staff were always standing by to shift gear to accommodate academics and students.
Students’ connectivity and access to resources were two of the main challenges the university faced head on as it rolled out its temporary learning methodology. And not having clear answers to pertinent questions was frustrating.
“We had to dig deep and apply our best strategic thinking hats to a ‘wicked problem’ and work with other university stakeholders to overcome them,” she said.
Humble, excited, grateful
Walji said that the department is delighted to receive the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Service Excellence.
“We are so excited and delighted that work that is often invisible is being recognised. Helping teaching staff to shift to online has been tough, and when everyone is super stressed, it’s even more tough,” she said.
“We’re also so humbled, because at the end of if all, all we’ve been doing is our jobs, albeit at a more intense level.”
“We’re also so humbled, because at the end of it all, all we’ve been doing is our jobs, albeit at a more intense level.”
Walji also recognised the “outstanding” work of the university’s complete teaching and learning ecosystem without which, she said, CILT would not be able to fulfil its role and deliver on its goals.
“CILT is one stakeholder in a huge university network. The past few months have meant adopting agile and responsive approaches to the way we work. It’s required high levels of trust and strong leadership to hold it all together,” she said.
“To get this right has taken outstanding, relentless work and collaboration from everyone in the teaching and learning ecosystem – and everyone needs to be acknowledged for their role.
“We hope to continue this dynamic, collaborative new way of working when things resume to normal.”
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