This article, via collaborative autoethnographic reflections, provides an extreme comparison of intra-period responses in two countries (the UK and Singapore) to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in higher education. Taking autoethnographic examples from these countries from three pairs of stakeholders of higher education (HE) – students, non-teaching academic staff, and lecturers – we discuss contrasting experiences in pursuit of answering the research question: What were our experiences working/studying in HE during the COVID-19 global pandemic? Despite the pronounced differences of the higher education landscapes in the UK and in Singapore and the heterogeneous experiences of them, five common themes emerged during an inductive analysis: impact on work, impact on learning, wellbeing, awareness and flexibility. There are significant opportunities to learn by examining the different experiences. We recommend overcoming the many separations between HE stakeholders and to engage all of them (students, lecturers (both adjuncts and full-time faculty), non-teaching staff) with the overall goal of improving the teaching and learning experiences. Technology should not be revered as a panacea and sound pedagogical practices are as important as ever.

Practitioner Notes

  1. This research created a glance at the voices of students, lecturers and non-teaching academics during COVID-19 in the UK and in Singapore.
  2. Technology must not be isolated from sound pedagogical practices, such as the constructive alignment of learning objectives, teaching and learning and assessments, student engagement for critical thinking and the enhancement of metacognitive competences.
  3. Credibility and authenticity of the teacher are more important than technical gimmicks, though it is of course appropriate to use technology as a tool in the classroom.
  4. To build online learning capacities and increase staff and student readiness, continuous online training should be provided.
  5. Staff wellbeing epitomises an ‘Achilles tendonitis’ where the initial trauma of rapid adaptation leads to pain, stiffness and affected movement.