Locked out of Oxford: Logged into learning

Professor Rhona Sharpe sat in a garden

Professor Rhona Sharpe


The leap to teaching and learning remotely, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, has been very much supported by the Centre for Teaching and Learning. Professor Rhona Sharpe, who heads up the team, explains how they have been assisting teaching staff
and colleagues that support teaching over the last few months.

Can you tell us about your career history before you came to Oxford?

My family joke that I went to university at 18 and never left! After a PhD in experimental cognitive psychology I quickly moved into supporting higher education teachers. For 25 years I have worked in teaching and learning development, specialising in
digital education, most recently as Head of the Department of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Surrey.

What is the main function of the Centre for Teaching and Learning?

The Centre was created last year following a review of learning technology support. Bringing together the learning technology support team from IT Services and the


Male student drinking tea and reading a book at home

Educational Development Group from the Oxford Learning Institute was intended to advance a step change in teaching and learning enhancement and digital education.

I arrived in December 2019 to lead the development of this vision and the long-term plan for the Centre.

If you had asked me then, I would have said my ambition was to use technology to minimise the barriers that hinder students’ learning and participation. The pandemic hasn’t changed these ambitions, but it has changed our starting point.

How has the centre responded to the coronavirus pandemic?

Early on we worked with other services and the divisions to agree recommended routes for remote alternatives to familiar teaching and shared these on the Teaching Remotely webpages. We also helped
to deliver the technical infrastructure for remote examinations. We have added support and guidance including Canvas training, webinars and the Teaching Oxford Remotely email discussion list. We have launched the Flexible and Inclusive Teaching project to help teaching colleagues support student learning across all circumstances, as we assist with their planning for Michaelmas 2020. We are responding quickly to emerging needs, collating teaching ideas, collecting feedback from students and considering
how it changes what we do next. The Teaching Remotely Service Desk (remote@ctl.ox.ac.uk) enables us to be accessible and useful to all.

How have colleagues responded to the transition to teaching and learning online?

The transition to remote teaching has been remarkably smooth. In general, a combination of recorded lectures, Canvas tools and online meetings enabled remote students to engage with planned teaching.




Where things have gone well it has been down to the commitment, expertise and imagination of those teaching and supporting the teaching.


It has not been plain sailing by any means, but we have encouraged staff and students to let us know where they are experiencing problems so that we can find solutions together.

Everyone in the Centre has shown remarkable dedication and commitment to helping others. The Canvas programme team have demonstrated insight and agility and the communications teams have helped us to reach those who hadn’t even heard of the Centre for
Teaching and Learning before March.

What can Oxford learn from this experience and take forward into the future?

Overall we’ve learned the power of what we can achieve when we collaborate right across the board. We have seen the value of collecting and sharing real-life examples of teaching, of establishing an easy pathway to the right specialist,
of the accessibility of an informal conversation with a local IT officer and of providing a forum to discuss teaching across disciplines.


A particular highlight for me was watching an enlightening conversation about using electronic whiteboards develop on the Teaching Oxford Remotely discussion group among colleagues teaching Maths, Business and Classics.


We are discovering more about how students are using technology to support their learning and how technology-enabled approaches can minimise barriers to participation. The student and staff surveys about teaching and assessment in Trinity are providing
vivid insights into how students have used digital resources and stayed connected with their tutors and lecturers while studying remotely. We have all learnt a lot very quickly about how to preserve Oxford’s personalised education during the pandemic,
and this will inform Oxford’s flexible and inclusive approach to the next academic year.

Photo credit:

Photo of student at table is sourced from Unsplash