Provost candidates look at future of online learning in AHSS forum

The three candidates faced questions that gave one of the most significant insights in the campaign so far on topics where they diverge

A view to utilise opportunities presented by online learning beyond the end of the pandemic is on the mind of all three candidates in the race to become Trinity’s next provost.

The three candidates spoke about the future of online learning today in a discussion with Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) staff. 

Professors Linda Hogan, Jane Ohlmeyer and Linda Doyle spoke about their vision for online learning and its future in Trinity and how they would balance face to face teaching with virtual opportunities.

Hogan highlighted that online learning presents “real opportunities”, but said that it must be led by academics. She emphasized that if Trinity is to incorporate an online element in teaching after the pandemic, “we cannot have an evolution of what we have, which is each academic having to fend for themselves in the online space”. 

“I don’t mean to underestimate the supports [College provides now], but I do think academics need more supports if we are going to have an online element of the Trinity experience that is at the same level and on  par with the face to face experience,” Hogan said.

Ohlmeyer said that the opportunity to attract students from around the world would be a “life line” for smaller disciplines, but that online learning is  “no substitute for face to face and small group teaching”.

“It’s about hybridness, about balance, but always remembering that the heart of our educational programme is our incredibly vibrant campus,” Ohlmeyer said, noting that Trinity is a “destination of choice” for international students because they “want to walk on the cobbles and have that direct experience of campus”.

Speaking next, Doyle also emphasised the importance of face-to-face teaching for the student experience. “I think we should celebrate when we do get to come back, the actual physicality of our experiences,” she said.

However, Doyle highlighted the opportunities presented by online learning. She suggested that College should use a “citizens assembly approach” to compile knowledge from staff, students and experts to “develop our vision”. She said online learning needs to be “driven by pedagogical principles”.

Although they largely agreed on online learning, the three candidates faced questions this afternoon that gave one of the most significant insights in the campaign so far on topics where they diverge.

The candidates were asked about open access regimes, which involve making research publicly accessible, and how the candidates would mitigate a “threat” it poses for staff publishing in journals.

Doyle, who led open scholarship initiatives in Trinity as Dean of Research, said that they had already begun to address that risk by “ensuring we have gotten as many voices into the mix” as possible and considering wider concerns around open access on an international level.

She said that a pool should be created that could be used to support funding for publishing research.

However, Hogan and Ohlmeyer took a more cautious approach on open scholarship, agreeing on its merits in principle but raising what they described as its shortcomings, both saying that the model had been driven by the sciences.

“Although we may have funding to support humanities journals, many of these presses are so small, so niche, that they will never survive this wave of transformation that is underway,” Hogan said.

Ohlmeyer said that “if we are stuck with it, which we probably are”, the question is how to cover the cost of publishing, and that there was a risk of “damaging an area that is so important to Trinity’s global reputation, going back to those global rankings”.

The three professors fielded questions on initiatives to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education and their strategies to help those with disabilities on campus. 

Doyle said she planned to employ a full-time in-house Sign Language interpreter in Trinity and to make the provost’s house accessible. She also proposed working with the government to tackle some of the “blockages” to education that students encounter while trying to enter college. She emphasised the limited number of scholarships available to asylum seekers in college and said that it “ be very easy for us to expand that”.

Hogan highlighted her plan to invest in College’s existing equity infrastructure. “We already have the infrastructure through TAP, HEAR and DARE and also our pathway programme,” she said, describing “world-leading ideas and architecture” that Trinity has and saying that what College needs to do is invest in those. She proposed a “cultural” change in Trinity that would be “underpinned by policy” and emphasised her “commitment to building diversity and inclusion”. 

However, Ohlmeyer disagreed on the idea of expanding Trinity’s existing programmes:  “I actually don’t think the structures and architectures are right in Trinity.” 

“The whole area is chronically under-resourced,” she said. “”We need to stop doing it in a tokenistic way.” On the scholarships available to asylum seekers, Ohlmeyer said that College currently “isn’t willing to pay for the accommodation of those four students”. She raised the topic of race and said that a culture in Trinity where staff who “aren’t white” or who have a disability experience a “feeling that Trinity isn’t for them”.

The final question of the event prompted the candidates to say how their leadership would differ from the current administration, as they were asked: “What wouldn’t you do as provost?”

Hogan said that she would stop the practice of “grand top-down reform projects”, stating that College needs to “work together as a community” and “set our agenda together”. 

Ohlmeyer said that she would not communicate with College via Twitter. She said that currently staff “find out what is happening through social media” and that in future she would “communicate in a way that is meaningful”, ensuring that staff would be the first to hear about new initiatives. 

Doyle said she would not “have consultations that are called consultations when they are really not consultations”, adding that when she seeks to gauge the options of staff she would do so in a way that is “real”. 

The provost campaign was launched on Monday with a hustings after the three candidates were officially announced last Friday.

The campaign continues for the next two months, with voting to take place online on Saturday, April 10.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Editor-in-Chief of Trinity News, and a graduate of Sociology and Social Policy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Finn Purdy

Finn Purdy is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister English Studies student, and a former News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Lauren Boland

Lauren Boland was the Editor of the 67th volume of Trinity News. She is an English Literature and Sociology graduate and previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.