Thousands of visitors were expected for the annual event being held both on-campus and online. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) had not seen a locally-acquired case of COVID-19 in more than a year. But less than 48 hours before The Australian National University (ANU) Open Day 2021 was to begin, a positive test was confirmed, Canberra entered lockdown, and it was pivot time on our campus once again.
“There were discussions on what we’d do in case we went on lockdown. But from talking about it to actually doing the flip, it took a good amount of effort,” said Ana Paula Lacerda, Services Coordinator at the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS).
CECS Associate Dean Education, Associate Professor Natalie Lloyd had been preparing to address a live audience at Manning Clark Hall. She instead spoke to prospective students and their families via live stream, aided by slides and video that had been intended for a movie screen.
During the months prior, areas of the University prepared videos to offer to prospective students who could not come to Canberra due to travel restrictions. Those videos played a bigger role than expected. And one in particular seemed perfect for the day.
Entitled ‘Studying technology in a pandemic’, it attracted more views than the other on-demand videos. It showcases how ANU is innovating in these uncertain times, and exactly what our current and incoming classes of engineering, computing, and cybernetics students can expect to see in response.
WATCH: Studying technology in a pandemic
The video was filmed in July and is framed by the Engineering Capstone showcase held at the Hanna Neumann building on Tuesday 20 July. Moments before the event begins, an engineering student named Hayley remarks, “Being in, not even the wake of COVID, but still having it going on around us, I think Canberra's in a pretty good position at the moment that we're able to have events like this”.
At the start of Semester 2, Professor Steve Blackburn appears to thrive as a lecturer in the hybrid learning environment, something he describes as “the best of both worlds”.
Standing on stage in Manning Clark Hall, he welcomes the students seated in front of him, then looks straight into a web camera fastened to his lectern and welcomes remote students as well. During the lecture, a question typed into a live chat is relayed to him by tutor Leopold Zhou, and the conversation continues seamlessly as if the question had originated inside the room.
Professor Blackburn has taught two classes from his living room since the ACT lockdown began on 12 August and he says things are going swimmingly, thanks in large part to his team of tutors who scrambled to collect necessary equipment such as web cameras before the campus was closed.
“What is cool is that I’ve kept the thing going with Leo. He moderates and synthesises questions on the chat, just as you saw in Manning Clark Hall, only now he’s at the other end of a Teams audio call,” said Professor Blackburn.
Zhou, who is an undergraduate computer science student, also monitors the live stream and alerts of any technical issues. He serves as the voice of the remote students, which, for the time being, is all our students.
“This seems to give students a strong sense that they’re there and part of the lecture,” Professor Blackburn said.
Had Open Day gone forward as planned, a video featuring ANU Solar Racing would have been looped on a wide-screen monitor next to the School of Engineering both. When the lockdown was announced, team member Aiden Matson penned an Open Day essay welcoming prospective students to virtual Open Day, and sharing how his own decision to study at ANU was influenced by his interest in solar racing.
The educators at CECS and at ANU are ever adapting and remaining nimble so that they can provide world-class educational experiences to remote, hybrid, and in-person students. The goal is to fine tune virtual and in-person environments so that one enriches the other.
Just a few weeks into Semester 2 2021, with the ANU campus closed, we’re putting that to the test.
Associate Professor Lloyd addressed that in her live remarks on ANU Open Day.
“Even if you are here in Canberra, there's going to be times when you can't get to campus. Maybe that bad hair day or the clash with your part-time job. That's not a problem. We make sure that you're still connected to the learning community remotely or by these digital interactive experiences that you can have.”
WATCH: Why engineering, computing, and cybernetics at ANU with Associate Professor Natalie Lloyd