A Virtual Classroom Aproach

Anne-Marie Chase, Head of Curriculum, Monash College

A Virtual Classroom AproachAnne-Marie Chase, Head of Curriculum, Monash College

It would be an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has proved challenging for the education sector. Never before have we seen such disruption to its delivery and pedagogical methods. 

The face of education has changed dramatically in the past 12 months, with increased domestic and international partnerships and alliances being formed to shape a highly competitive landscape.

With Australian borders remaining closed for over a year now, international students have been forced to stay in their home countries and study online.

Monash College, the preferred pathway provider to Monash University, Australia’s largest university, has a long and successful history of supporting the progression of international students into study and employment. 

The way we’ve operated for over 25 years has used a high-touch educational model, transforming lives through our high-quality, face-to-face learning and teaching. 

This has been supported by a wealth of in-house services including career counsellors, under 18 guardians, psychologists and academic support staff to help our students on their educational journey.

Set against this backdrop, we had the challenge of pivoting from this model to a completely virtual one, while retaining the distinctive Monash College experience we’re renowned for, in only a few weeks as COVID-19 began to spread globally in early 2020.

The investments made over a number of years to develop and uplift our digital offering, and the existing pedagogical skills of our teaching staff and the technological infrastructure already in place at the College, enabled this rapid shift to teaching in the Monash College Virtual Classroom.

Using the latest video and webinar technology, the Virtual Classroom provides the full classroom experience as students talk with and listen to teachers, and interact with classmates.

It brings together interactive teacher-led sessions, student-centred collaborative learning, and independent learning activities in one easily-accessible learning management system, keeping students engaged and on track for entry to Monash University.

Our teachers have been able to implement a range of inclusive pedagogies for engaging and supporting learners , providing consistency across our pathway programs as well as flexibility at a local level to respond to student and curriculum needs.

Our specialist eLearning and Curriculum Design staff deployed an upgraded Moodle program that’s consistent with our teaching principles, and supported delivery areas in adapting their units for remote delivery.

To manage the transition to and continued use of the Virtual Classroom, we deliver professional learning for teachers in each pathway. We’ve implemented a teacher support model and team that provides real-time assistance, and we’ve developed broad learning and teaching resources relevant to the challenges of the virtual environment.

We’ve increased our use of learning analytics, including the importance of using dashboards to monitor a range of important learning attributes beyond normal factors like attendance. 

While ensuring we had our pedagogical principles and technology in place, we continued to retain personal interactions with our students. We’ve regularly contacted our new and continuing students to ensure they’ve managed the shift to a virtual learning model. 

To date, the number of hours students have spent in the Virtual Classroom totals close to 1.5million, and, encouragingly, the academic performance of our students across our pathways has improved. We’ve also seen overall satisfaction indicators stabilise, and in some instances increase, which is a wonderful endorsement for the proposition we’ve developed.

At the end of each teaching period, we’ve run focus groups with students to gain insights into the Virtual Classroom experience and understand where there are opportunities to further strengthen the model.

To give prospective students insight into the Virtual Classroom, we’ve held ‘taster sessions’ that provide them and their families with a live demonstration so they can observe, engage and interact with teachers. 

These sessions have been particularly successful, instilling confidence in the professionalism of our offering and the quality of education our students receive.

The Virtual Classroom forms part of Monash College's current hybrid model, whereby onshore students are taught face-to-face while offshore students learn simultaneously in the Virtual Classroom.

Face-to-face interaction remains vitally important to the future of education, and remains the cornerstone of the College’s student offering. On the horizon is our relocation to an innovative, world-class campus in the heart of Melbourne, and we’re developing an educational strategy that will take into account our learnings over the past 12 months and ensure we maximise emerging opportunities as we move into our new surroundings.

This strategy will further strengthen Monash College’s position as a leader in transition education and enhance the quality of our learning, teaching and student support.

What’s important is that current and future models of teaching and learning are flexible so they’re sustainable in the long term and designed with a collaborative approach in mind. 

We look forward to Australian borders reopening so we can, once again, welcome students keen to immerse themselves in all that an international education offers. In the meantime, our move to a new building, a redeveloped education strategy, and our continued virtual offering will ensure the College continues to move into its exciting future.

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