Familiar faces and shared goals: evaluating the impact of an open
community during the Covid-19 pandemic
The Enhancing Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning in Irish Universities (EDTL) Project was
initiated in 2019, with its objective to mainstream effective digital teaching and learning across
Ireland’s seven universities. In January 2020, the project launched an invitation to join an open
community, with the intention of sharing expertise and experience on diverse topics related to the
development of staff and student digital skills in Irish higher education.
Aimed at staff in supporting roles, such as learning technologists, librarians, educational developers,
and some teaching staff, the intention was to attract 130 members by the end of 2020. Community
webinars were scheduled to take place every 2 weeks, with all sessions recorded and made available
under an open license on the project website.
In mid-March, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, university campuses closed and all teaching
activities moved online. The project responded by using the webinar series to focus on the
challenges of teaching and assessment online during the immediate “pivot”, when the focus was on
emergency remote teaching. From June 2020 the project refocused to planning for more effective
remote teaching in the next academic year, in alignment with overall EDTL project activities.
Membership of the community grew from 60 at the end of February to 560 by mid-September, with
the majority of members identifying as teachers, tutors or academic staff. Attendance at live
webinars was regularly between 50 and 80, with many more views of the recordings afterwards.
Feedback received through unsolicited emails has been very positive.
It is clear that Covid-19 had a very direct impact on the growth of the community, in terms of its size,
its demographic and the infrastructure needed to support it. In order to understand the impact of
the community on teaching and learning, particularly during the pandemic, a survey was launched at
the end of 2020 asking about the usefulness of resources shared and changes in practice as a result
of the webinars or resources. We were also interested to learn the extent to which members
actually felt part of a community, and if there was evidence of a sense of community.
Findings of the survey indicate that members appreciated seeing familiar faces at the webinars, and
being part of a group of people who shared the same interests and concerns about having to teach
online in an exceptional situation.
In this session we will share our evaluation of the development of the community by considering a
number of data sources including: website analytics; webinar attendance numbers; and the findings
of the survey.
Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning (EDTL) (2020). The EDTL approach for effective remote
teaching’. Available at: https://edtl.blog/the-edtl-approach/. [Accessed 10 February 2021].
Hodges C., Moore S., Lockee B., Trust T., Bond M. (2020). The Difference Between Emergency Remote
Teaching and Online Learning, Educause Review. Available at:
online-learning. [Accessed 10 February 2021]
Irish Universities Association (2020). Planning for Effective Remote Teaching during Covid-19, 24th
June - Presentations & Recording. https://www.iua.ie/events/iua-edtl-webinar-planning-for-
effective-remote-teaching-during-covid-19-24th-june-12-30-13-30/ [Accessed 10 February 2021]
Rovai, A. P. (2002). Building Sense of Community at a Distance. The International Review of Research
in Open and Distributed Learning, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v3i1.79 [Accessed 15 March