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Remote learning at university: is it here to stay?
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Remote learning at university: is it here to stay? 

Remote learning – or what we call hybrid learning at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) – has quickly adapted throughout the pandemic, and it has presented both challenges and opportunities as time has progressed.

Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed an impressive and rapid upskilling of academic capability in delivering remote learning. Some staff have become extremely skilled in the art of not only delivering high-quality content online, but in building communities based around relationships of trust – critical to deep and quality learning.

However, it has not always been easy. Those who have really committed to providing a high-quality student experience – often very quickly reinventing their skills and teaching approaches – have, at times, found the intensity of such a transformation challenging.

When the pandemic struck in early 2020, we were forced to close our campus doors and embark on a university-wide move to virtual learning and teaching for the first time. It was a huge shift for us, and for the whole sector, but students and colleagues soon began to experience the real benefits of our new hybrid model.

This has since reemphasised UWS’s commitment to digital transformation, and in order to realise our ambitions in this space, we have partnered with learning experience platform, Aula, which has seen us begin to shift our entire teaching provision for more than 17,000 students to its social learning platform.

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As demand for flexibility has increased as a result of the pandemic, digital learning has become a huge part of the way our students want to learn. Our new social learning platform means that students can gain access to all the learning materials they need – wherever they are – such as videos, readings, and podcasts.

Whether at home, or on campus – the flexible and dynamic teaching and learning it offers fits around our students and their busy lifestyles. We are confident our new social learning platform will bring so many benefits to our students’ outcomes and overall higher education experience.

The timing of the pandemic meant that concluding the 2019-20 academic year was reasonably straightforward. Of course, we had to develop some strategies for fully remote assessment, but largely the teaching aspect was nearly over.

Without question, the most challenging period for us and for many other universities was approaching the start of the 2020-21 academic year in September 2020. The hope in summer 2020 that the periods of lockdown and remote working were over had been replaced with a realisation that possibly the entire coming academic year was going to have to be delivered remotely, and preparation for that was going to have to take place in record time.

While it was undoubtedly challenging, we have realised the true benefits of hybrid learning and for us, it is here to stay. The pandemic accelerated an already existing need for our learning and teaching at UWS to evolve to continue to meet the needs of the diverse student body we serve at our university, and our sector-leading social learning approach ushers in a new, exciting era for UWS’s learning and teaching journey.

Professor Jonathan Powles is the vice-principal of learning and students at the University of the West of Scotland.

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