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Adapting to the Year 2020 – A Story of Resilience, Determination and Collaboration

From the Teachers and Students perspectives

I still remember the first tutorial I ever took, the first class that I stepped into. I was so nervous, it was 2005, I was 22, completing my Honours Degree in Tourism Management at Latrobe University. I got such an exciting feeling when I finished my first class, I could not wait for my next one. I never thought I would feel that way about teaching, it had never been in my plans, and for me, was always something I was just going to do whilst completing my studies. That was sixteen years ago, which I still find hard to believe. 

Everything inspired me about the industry, but what inspired me the most was its resilience and ability to grow better on the other side of every crisis it was faced with.

I started my journey studying Tourism at William Angliss Institute in 2001. It was the year of 911, the year that Ansett Airlines and HIH insurance collapsed. I started to question if this was an industry I wanted to study. People were losing their jobs; consumer confidence was reduced, and businesses were folding. What I realized though, is I wanted to keeping learning. I loved everything about the industry, how it made people feel, the experiences my teachers would share, and my own experiences that I could share with my students when I started my own teaching journey. Everything inspired me about the industry, but what inspired me the most was its resilience and ability to grow better on the other side of every crisis it was faced with.

After taking a break from teaching in 2017 to have my son, I decided to take a chance, and in 2019, I applied for a full time Lecturing Position at William Angliss. When I found out I was successful, I had the same moment that I felt all those years ago from when I took my first tutorial. I was nervous, excited and could not wait to start the journey with the organization that started mine as a student all those years ago. I never would have thought that that journey would take me on one of discovery, adapting and finding that same passion again that I had, in an online teaching environment. 

Going back to February 2020, I recall the day that I realized the world is going to be a different place. I was in Bali with my husband, young son and friends, and I had just watched a documentary on a Pandemic. I was on the couch alone, and shared my concerns with my husband, who at the time thought I was overreacting. Currently, the Virus was restricted mostly to China and there were no restrictions on travel. On our journey home, there some people on the plane wearing masks, and I questioned this, are they overreacting? Are they sick? I never would have thought eight months down the track, that I would be taking a mask in my handbag, just like I do my phone. 

I recall my students asking me if things were going to be ok, I felt their fear, their anxiety and I realized at the point I had an important role to play.

The transition from the face-to-face classroom environment to Online Delivery was challenging for everyone. I recall my students asking me if things were going to be ok, I felt their fear, their anxiety and I realized at the point I had an important role to play. I needed to provide them the same motivation that my teachers provided me, all those years ago, when I was studying through a time of turmoil. They needed confidence, reassurance, and dedication. I decided at that point that I would do everything in my power to provide them with the best educational online experience that I could and would bring in the skills that I had learnt previously and apply them to the best of my abilities. 

As part of my new role with William Angliss, I was tasked with developing new subjects for our Tourism Marketing Degree, which I was excited about. What I believe is fundamental for any learning, is both engagement for students, and industry connections as part of their experience. I had spent a lot of time building industry relationships to create authentic assessments, where students were working on real industry problems. This included one with Nillumbik Council, with students developing destination development ideas for Hurstbridge, and another where students were working on a research problem for Parks Victoria and developing new visitor experience ideas for the Grants Picnic Ground. Both subjects involved Field Trips and on-site investigation, and then the Pandemic hit.

At the time, I was starting to see businesses pivot and adapt to the environment, and I thought how I can do the same, and still provide outcomes for both the industry and my students?  Working closely with my industry partners, Danielle Phyland, from Nillumbik Council, and Lisa Mckenzie and Jarred Parsons from Parks Victoria, we were able to find a way to adapt the assessments, and create virtual experiences for the students to stay engaged. This included working with my colleague, Belinda Daly, Eco Tourism Lecturer, who took footage and photos at the park, prior to the official lockdown measures coming in; using Zoom to conduct industry webinars, so students were able to both hear and present to industry and creating an online booklet, that provided all the important information for students on the research problem. I also utilised a number of online tools such as Padlet, which is a great virtual collaboration tool to encourage engagement with the students in the online environment as well as Interactive Quizzes and Polls.  

Photo by Chris Montgomery

I also had international students who had travelled back home, as well as those who had chosen to stay in Melbourne, so I realized more needed to be done to maintain their motivation. As the lockdown continued, I could see the mental health impact it was starting to have on everyone. Working with my colleagues, we were able to create Collaboration forums where teachers could share their ideas and provide support and training on using different online tools. This included how to use Zoom effectively, and utilizing the breakout room feature, creating online checklists for students so they could keep track of what they needed to do each week, developing interactive videos, using industry case studies, and incorporating reflective questions, to encourage active learning. Industry speakers, including Danielle Phyland, who is the lead on the Hurstbridge project, kindly provided drop-in sessions for students to ask questions on their assignments, as well as acting as a mentor.

 I was fortunate to also have the support of the Young Tourism Network, with Hugh Fitzpatrick kindly offering an online Mentor session with one of our Tourism Marketing Degree students, as part of their Achievement Award for their work with Parks Victoria. Having been Former Chair of YTN, and being  involved with the network for a number of years, it is so wonderful to see the passion that the organization has been able to maintain, supporting both students, and members of the industry,  through their online events and bringing everyone together at a time when everyone needs it the most.  

I have found strength through my colleagues and my students and am proud to be part of an industry which is creating leaders of the future.

Coming into the start of 2021, when I reflect on 2020, I realized just how much I have grown as a person, and how resilient one can be. I have found strength through my colleagues and my students and am proud to be part of an industry which is creating leaders of the future. We all now have an opportunity to sit back and reflect and think about how we can do things differently? How can we learn from the experience we have all had in 2020? To empower each other and create a future which might be different to what we imagined although will be a space where People and Places can come together to create a sustainable future for an industry which is the most resilient one of all. 

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