“We need to create favourable conditions for meaningful change not only in spite of, but also because of this crisis moment. The COVID-19 moment will impact on future agency and holds significant possibilities for renewal. We might, for example, emerge beyond COVID-19 with deepened compassion, humanity and wisdom and our University could be shaped anew as a place where hope and humanity flourish."
This was the positive message brought by Dr Melanie Skead, Director of Stellenbosch University's (SU) Centre for Teaching and Learning, at the University's recent quarterly Learning and Teaching Enhancement Seminar, which focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academics and students at the University.
The seminar was hosted by SU's Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching, Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel, and the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Division. Skead was the speaker at the seminar and spoke on the notions of academic agency and how its achievement opens up possibilities for thinking and doing things differently beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Skead, the impact of the pandemic and the changes to learning and teaching has had a significant impact on lecturers and students, with some “easily adapting to change" while others “felt constrained" with all the changes that took place.
“Over the last six months we have experienced an unprecedented time and watershed moment where the unthinkable has happened. We have seen that the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and it really has undoubtedly confronted us with a completely new spectrum of exclusion. So this is also a moment for transformation and the possibilities of being opened up for resetting resilience and rethinking the way we've been doing things," said Skead.
Skead believes that in the midst of this crisis, people are challenged to see the possibilities for a renewed “pedagogy of hope" and to not “succumb to fatalism" but rather be open-minded and “muster the strength" that is needed to change society and re-create the world for the better and the next generation.
Since March this year, SU has been focusing on how to keep the academic activities going amidst the constraints of the various COVID-19 risk levels. By the beginning of the second semester, it was evident that for the most, staff and students had settled into the new mode of learning and teaching. Months later the University has successfully been able to adapt to a new norm of remote learning and teaching, and students are about to embark on the first exam opportunity in November.
According to Skead, this crisis moment has allowed the University to reflect on its learning and teaching and has given the opportunity for academic agency, which can continue to help enrich students' experiences and the learning environment at SU beyond COVID-19.