Special issue


The COVID-19 pandemic forced universities worldwide to move their teaching online within an unprecedentedly short timeframe. Whilst the move online learning has increased the reach of tertiary educational delivery it has also raised significant issues of equity, accessibility and student engagement. This includes concerns around access to technology and reliable internet connectivity, academic and digital literacy, and other factors such as mental health and work-life balance. This paper examines two studies of student engagement with online learning during 2020 when then pandemic began. One study was conducted in South Africa the other in a small regional university in South-Eastern Australia. A mixed method approach was used in both studies and then student responses were analysed using the student engagement framework presented by Kahu and Nelson (2018). A key focus in this analysis is the critical importance the educational interface and shared mutually formative experience of learning between students and universities. Findings show that despite the two different contexts, student concerns around digital literacy and engagement in an online learning environment share many similarities.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Emergency remote teaching has created challenges for students both in digital literacy skills and access to technology.
  2. Strengths highlighted by students could be leveraged to enhance student outcomes.
  3. Students noted that a sense of belonging was important to their learning experience.
  4. Holistic support is required to ensure that students' needs are met during emergency remote teaching.
  5. Challenges with emergency remote teaching are global, and institutions should work together to address them.