Practices and perspectives of science instructors in response to the COVID-induced move online



online learning, practical teaching, academic experiences


The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic profoundly disrupted teaching and learning activities at Australian universities, necessitating a pivot from primarily campus-based delivery to fully online. Although this presented opportunities for teaching innovation, educators also faced complex challenges as they considered how best to deliver their subject in a largely unfamiliar online context. These challenges were paramount for teachers in the STEM disciplines, who needed to adapt largely face to face practical and experiential learning to the online format. We present here quantitative data describing the shifts in delivery modes across these activities from a broad institution-wide survey, in tandem with qualitative narratives from STEM academics describing their experiences during the move online. Whilst there are undoubtedly difficulties with adapting practical learning online, we have also seen instructors develop remarkable innovations including the delivery of home lab kits, the integration of 3D video and drone footage and leveraging affordances within the learning management system to engage students and connect them to the discipline. As universities move to a largely blended approach to teaching and learning, careful consideration of the unique challenges faced by instructors of practical and experiential learning will be required, as will the promotion and support of innovative approaches.

Author Biographies

Elisa K. Bone, The University of Melbourne

Dr Elisa Bone is a Senior Lecturer in Higher Education at the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, where she advises academics in curriculum innovation projects across the University of Melbourne. Elisa has marine invertebrate zoology and has worked as a researcher and instructor in Australia, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand, and the USA. She has research interests in interdisciplinary and authentic teaching and learning in the sciences, including the use of digital tools and technologies, in the design and implementation of strategic curriculum change processes, and in the effects of disruption on teaching and learning.

Sarah French, The University of Melbourne

Sarah French is Lecturer in Higher Education at the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. She is coordinator of two award courses for Indigenous researchers and an advisor on Curriculum and Assessment. Sarah is an interdisciplinary researcher with research interests spanning the fields of higher education, theatre and performance, cinema, cultural studies, and gender studies. She has published widely in the areas of feminist theatre and performance, film and philosophy and higher education.

Raoul Mulder, The University of Melbourne

Raoul Mulder holds dual appointments as Professor of Higher Education and FlexAP lead in the CSHE, and Professor of Evolutionary Ecology in the School of BioSciences in the Faculty of Science. He is passionate about maximising opportunities for student learning in higher education, and in scientific, evidence-based approaches to university teaching. He has a long-standing interest in the potential of educational technologies to improve learning outcomes. He has pioneered the use of student peer review and automated grading in his own subjects, and taught one of the early successful MOOCs in Australia. His work in teaching innovation has been supported by a range of grants and university and national teaching awards.