Higher Learning Research Communications

Digital Object Identifier



Objectives: The purpose of the study was to illuminate and assess the experiences and feelings of the staff of a center for teaching and learning at one South African university during the early months (April–June 2020) of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns when it switched from face-to-face teaching to emergency remote teaching (ERT). It explores the practical, operational, ethical, cultural, and emotional questions that the staff of this center dealt with as they supported the university in ERT provision.

Method: This paper draws on in-depth interviews with 23 staff members of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) who revealed not only the logistical, technical, and administrative challenges faced during the ERT rollout period but the efforts they made to ensure that their efforts promoted equity (for students), agility (for the university), and psychological sustainability (for themselves).

Findings: Using cultural historical activity theory as a lens to assess CILT staff activities, findings indicate that a number of contradictions and tensions emerged during this period—concerning exacerbated inequities, pedagogical compromises, cultural anxieties, and psychological pressures—that could not be fully resolved but only managed.

Implications for Research: CILT staff are interested not only in providing logistical, technical, and practical support to a university but also in dealing effectively with the ethical, cultural, and emotional concerns that arise in times of crisis and transition, such as the current one. Understanding what happened during COVID-19 may offer insights into how other centers for teaching and learning can adjust to what will likely remain an unstable future in higher education.

Conclusion: The pandemic ruptured the previously organic change and growth that characterized CILT development, transforming it as the staff responded to this South African university’s need to provide support to academics and students engaging with ERT.