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5 ways we're delivering innovative learning online

30 June 2020
Excellent learning experiences continue online
This year hasn't exactly gone to plan. But creative lecturers and tutors from across the University were up for the challenge, thinking outside the box to support students and keep them learning online.

1. Digital choir rehearsals

When Choral Conductor Elizabeth Scott first heard rehearsals were cancelled, she didn't blink. Working with accompanist Ingrid Sakarov, she quickly recorded an entire piano part of a Mozart requiem using a conductor cam – Elizabeth conducting Ingrid and an imaginary choir, basically.

Next, Big Choir students were provided with teaching tracks allowing them to learn their parts in isolation at home and, over the coming weeks, were supported with feedback via Zoom. When they were ready, each recorded themselves singing a final version along to Elizabeth's conducting and the Con's tech team began the massive task of editing and mixing 58 separate tracks.

“I absolutely loved being part of the virtual choir,” says Bachelor of Music (Music Education) student Jessica Suann. “It enabled me to experience something completely new and challenged me in new ways. It was definitely the most innovative class I had, redefining what 'choir' would look like.”

2. High tech teaching

Virtual reality classrooms

How's this for a commute: instead of tapping on to public transport, some Psychology students are logging in to campus via take-home virtual reality headsets. From their bedrooms, the Virtual Reality Therapy class are able to gather in a virtual laboratory where they can handle virtual spiders to learn about phobias and adjust their avatars' body mass indexes to learn about eating disorders.

Read more about virtual reality classes.

Immersive video tours

Tutor Liam French of the Business School transported his Logistics and Supply Chain Management students to warehouses, shipping yards and even Singapore using next-gen hardware. Through cameras and drones, students have been able explore real locations from perspectives that they’d never get on the ground IRL.

“The live tour of the warehouse was the most exciting experience of this semester!” says Master of International Business student Tina Petrov. “It was amazing to witness our lecturer's adaptability and the video technology made it feel like we were there. I would strongly recommend the use of this teaching method in the future, as it allows great flexibility and time saving for students.”

Playroom@USYD

For a second, it looked as though professional placements were on hold for Speech Pathology students during lockdown.

But not so fast – Clinical Educator, Annie Chan, quickly introduced Playroom@USYD: an online playroom where young children engage in fun, language-enriching activities devised and led by our own students.

The response to the free, livestreamed program has been overwhelmingly positive – 13 sessions were held across two days for over 130 kids. Educational and parent training videos have also been produced by students, further supporting children and families with limited access to speech pathology services.

And the other cool thing? The Playroom@USYD will continue to run as a placement option, even after the COVID-19 restrictions lift, with students developing their telepractice skills in the process.

“Families often struggle with finding time and travel is often difficult. With this program, these barriers are elevated and children with the need for therapy are able to access it,” says Speech Pathology student Nicole Ng.

Lightboard diagrams

As an alternative to PowerPoint presentations, Associate Professor Kellie Charles, Nicholas Randal and Brooke Storey Lewis of the Sydney Medical School introduced Lightboard videos in class, drawing medical diagrams in real-time, allowing students to follow complicated theories, one step at a time.

“I'm loving the Lightboard videos,” one student says. “You understand the mechanisms and aren't overwhelmed with a complicated Powerpoint. And it's nice to see the teacher's face!”

examples of lightboard diagrams

3. Learning delivered to your door

Growing exotic mushrooms at home

We now do delivery! In order to replicate traditional laboratory mushroom practicals, Associate Professor Daniel Tan decided to send exotic mushroom spores home with his Horticulture students to grow, monitor and eat while in isolation at home.

“Growing the mushrooms was such an enriching experience,” says Bachelor of Science (Food and Agribusiness) student Michelle Sun. “Reading about something is very different from having the chance to practice it yourself and it was an especially good idea during lockdown, since we couldn’t do the practical classes.”

exotic mushrooms at home
exotic mushrooms at home

Take-home suture kits

To keep their professional skills needle-sharp, Veterinary Science students were sent suture kits and other materials so their hands-on experience could continue at home, following along in real-time with their teachers and other classmates via Zoom.

workstation and suture kit set up at home

4. Getting arty with YouTube

Ordinarily, students enrolled in Painting Music give an oral presentation on their creative process and the music they’ve been influenced by while creating their art project during term.

But last semester, Dr Adam Geczy and Dr Markela Panegyres instead got students to share their insights in the style/genre of a YouTube video – as an interview, a doco, a how-to-do-it guide or even a parody of these forms.

As students created their videos, they researched and critically engaged with what makes different genres work, communicating their process with a level of creativity that went beyond a typical presentation.

Check out how creative they got:

“It was a better experience to do a presentation in this format as I was able to express clearly and concisely my ideas and take time to put forward my best work,” says Contemporary Music student Anna Huxley.

5. Collaboration without borders

Working remotely with remote enterprises

Taking learning online has led to collaboration with industry partners around the world. Remote and Rural Enterprise Program students have found ways to connect with indigenous organisations in remote Australia – some from as far away as the USA.

“The pandemic showed me that remote learning can be done,” says Bachelor of Commerce student Sachin Shah. “I haven't had a lot of disruption because our tutors are really invested in us and it's easy to keep motivated when you've got a real organisation and people you're working with.”

Learn more about how students are collaborating with social entrepreneurs online.

zoom call with teachers

Getting real-world experience online

Through our award-winning Industry and Community Project Units, hundreds of students have come together from across the University to engage with industry partners online, working on real-world projects for organisations including Allianz, Bauer Media, City of Sydney, PTW Architects, PwC, Qantas, Telstra, Westpac and City of Sydney.

“With access to Zoom and the flexibility of our project supervisor, we were able to hold multiple productive meetings a week with our team which really enhanced our ICPU experience,” says Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies student Saketh Darbhamulla, who completed his ICPU with Subaru. “Also, the convenience of traveling a whole two meters from my bed to my desk made things much easier than the usual commute.”

Students quickly rose to the challenge of a new way of working, says Nick Munro, Head of Automation at Westpac.

“Quickly pivoting from classroom mentoring and presentations to virtual collaboration, students worked to deliver exceptional final project showcases on how artificial intelligence could help Westpac,” Nick says. “This resilience is critical for success as they begin careers in a world of rapid change.”

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