Navigating distance learning in the time of COVID-19: A recap of the Adobe Creative Campus Digital Literacy Roundtable

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by Sebastian Distefano

posted on 07-31-2020

Last month, our team kicked off the first virtual Adobe Creative Campus Digital Literacy Roundtable, a two-day event in which faculty and administrators from colleges and universities across the United States convened online to discuss approaches to fostering digital literacy and strategies for navigating the mass shift to distance learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From unpacking the impact of the rapid transition in learning modalities to discussing sustainable distance learning solutions, our three guest speakers provided valuable insight into how educators can effectively navigate the current environment.

Below are three key highlights from the roundtable discussions with Dr. Melissa Vito, Interim Vice Provost of Academic Innovation at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA); Melody Buckner, Associate Vice Provost, Digital Learning and Online Initiatives at the University of Arizona and Kyle Bowen, Executive Director of Learning Experience at Arizona State University.

Overcoming the stages of grief when transitioning to remote learning

The switch to remote learning was no small task for higher education institutions – this was a sentiment that Dr. Melissa Vito echoed in her opening remarks as she correlated the sudden transition to distance learning environments to the five stages of grief. Dr. Vito indicated that many faculty members and staff were initially reluctant to relying solely on digital and online platforms to teach their curricula. However, UTSA recognized that this transition would not be easy, and in an effort to help educators process the loss of the familiar and help them embrace a new normal, the university conducted a robust training operation for more than 1,000 faculty members. Going beyond band-aid solutions, the program aimed to drive institutional innovation in how educators viewed course curricula and interacted with students.

As a result, this approach ultimately helped faculty learn how to leverage technology to improve and personalize digital experiences for their students. In fact, Dr. Vito indicated that prior to the Spring 2020 semester, only one-third of UTSA faculty were comfortable using technology, but toward the end of the semester, nearly 75 percent of faculty said they were comfortable using technology in their courses and expressed a continued interest in using digital tools in their teaching. The cultural shift to embrace technology and leverage it in teaching took place in the span of a few months, which Dr. Vito said under normal circumstances, would have taken place over the course of a decade.

Transitioning from “emergency mode” to effective distance teaching and learning

Faculty members tend to vary in the way they design and plan their courses. In Melody Buckner’s session, she explained how faculty at the University of Arizona were overwhelmingly in “emergency mode” when transitioning from on-campus to distance learning environments. And although 93 percent of university faculty had an existing presence in the institution’s online learning system, their familiarity and confidence in using these tools greatly varied. The university was also tasked with enhancing the accessibility students had to these tools, promoting an asynchronous education and leveling the playing field in the remote learning process.

Buckner began this process by talking with faculty about authentic assessment and how to evaluate students’ learning outcomes. She revealed that one of the key ways to achieve authentic assessment is through experiential learning and the use of open pedagogy. Buckner herself used open pedagogy in a class she taught by tasking current students with creating the curricula for future semesters. To accomplish this, her students developed their own assignments using digital tools, such as Adobe Creative Cloud, for an open education resource textbook. The use of digital tools not only strengthened her students’ understanding of curricula development, it also bolstered their engagement in a virtual classroom setting, making the learning process more effective (and arguably, more enjoyable) than traditional lecture-style classes.

Flexible learning to foster digital fluency

When it comes to helping students build foundational digital skills, faculty members should introduce new modalities to make the learning experience more impactful. Kyle Bowen explained that the key to preparing students to be creative problem solvers and creators of new ideas is for academic leaders to rethink the way that they engage students – namely, through flexible approaches to teaching and learning through the use of technology. Doing so will ultimately help students achieve digital literacy and fluency. However, this isn’t a one and done step – it’s one that should evolve over time. The transition to remote learning environments should be active, which is why Bowen said Arizona State University recently launched a learning modality called Sync, which provides students with technology-enhanced, interactive courses.

Looking ahead to the upcoming Fall semester and beyond, this modality will offer flexible environments for students from both a physical and digital perspective. To enable this, Bowen and his team launched the ASU Digital Backpack, which is a collection of technologies that provide students with digital environments. Through the use of these technologies, students can build fundamental skills, such as storytelling, and ultimately enhance their learning experiences.

As many colleges and universities prepare for another semester of remote learning, faculty and administrators must embrace technology, adopt asynchronous education strategies to level the classroom playing field and encourage flexible learning to nurture creative and digital skills. For more information on how to integrate digital skills across disciplines and throughout curricula, please visit the Digital Literacy resources page.

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We also know many people are still impacted by the current COVID-19 crisis and our thoughts are with you. The entire Adobe team wants to thank you, our customers, and all creators around the world for the work you do to keep us inspired during this difficult time.

Topics: Education, COVID-19, digital literacy,