Since March 2020 higher education has experienced one of the most disruptive phases in its recent history. In a sector typified by considered, researched and incremental change, overnight everyone began emergency remote teaching, learning and assessing. The dramatic shift resulted in positives and negatives, and posed a series of questions for students, staff and other stakeholders. Though still living through the pandemic, in March 2021 fifteen partners from a range of stakeholders across the sector agreed to work together to answer one shared persistent and urgent question: In the context of Covid-19, what have we learnt and what does it mean for the future of teaching and learning in Irish higher education?
Benefit of this resource and how to make the best use of it
The ‘Next Steps’ partners have worked in their own settings to answer this question for themselves and, significantly, have shared and discussed their findings in order to collaboratively answer this question for the sector as a whole. The Next Steps project was the first of its kind in terms of the scale of, and the approach to, collaboration where all partners submitted evidence-based findings from either new or previous research on the experience of teaching, learning, assessing and working through the pandemic. Project partners combined and analysed their respective findings in order to formulate high-level key messages, consider these in a wider context, suggest draft principles to stimulate further discussion, and identify next steps.
The purpose of this core document is to outline the work undertaken by the Next Steps partners, to report on the project findings, to point to where those findings are elaborated on (in the Next Steps Insights collection) and to share recommendations for Teaching & Learning1 practice, ongoing development, research and future policy. This report communicates our examination of the experience of teaching, learning and working in higher education now. It is a document written at a particular moment in time and a record of how we have “reflected in action” (Schön, 1983). We recognise that we are still living within the pandemic and that we cannot fully understand the breadth of that experience yet. Nevertheless, we see value in pausing and reflecting at this moment to consider and articulate our current understanding of our situation. We anticipate that we will need to continue to pause and reflect again as we move through the experience of the pandemic.
Our findings suggest not only what we wish to change from the innovations required as a consequence of Covid-19, but also how we can most effectively maintain and build on successful elements. The Covid-19 experience challenged many assumptions that had gone unquestioned for too long. It brought a sense of urgency to the addressing of issues which were important, but considered not time sensitive. Through Next Steps we realise that we need to build on what we have learnt, re-examine old doctrines and re- imagine higher education for the benefit of learners and society more generally.
We present our work with optimism and hope. We are deliberately ambitious in our recommendations which, with shared intentionality across all partners at all levels, we consider both critical and feasible; these recommendations can act as a starting point for future discussions. We are proud of the authentic partnership that we collectively enacted in the process of delivering this report. We are eager to collaboratively effect positive change for higher education students and staff, and for the national and global society to which we contribute.