How COVID inspired greater connection between Deakin staff and students

Already proficient at online education, Deakin was able to adapt to COVID-enforced education parameters to create a richer, more intimate experience for all.

Adapting to COVID-safe teaching was a relatively straight-forward adjustment for staff at Deakin University, where more than 60,000 students were already learning remotely thanks to Deakin’s well-established online Cloud Campus.

‘All of the necessary infrastructure was there; the online architecture already existed,’ explained Professor Matthew Delbridge, Head of School, Communication and Creative Arts.

Which isn’t to say there weren’t challenges, he added. ‘There were elements of the program that normally were delivered face to face, and all of a sudden they had to go into an online mode.

‘Initially that was challenging, and everyone was scratching their heads, and wondering: how do you deliver dance training online, or how do you get filmmakers to make graduating films without having access to an extraordinary  collection of gear because they can’t come on campus?’ Delbridge explained.

‘But actually, what happened was that the staff rose to the challenge and the students – and all credit to them – made extraordinary work that they probably would not have been able to make otherwise. COVID pushed them in a new direction and forced them to make wonderful things.’


One particular trend Delbridge and his colleagues noted among the students’ work this year was that their COVID-shaped creative responses were uniquely intimate, even in group-devised pieces.

‘When a young artist’s home turns into their studio, there’s something really fascinating about that. Perhaps because the location is such a personalised space and place for those students, it actually brought a completely different context to place-based making and as a result there was something more personal about the artist’s work,’ he said.

Rhymney shares her experience about choosing and studying Drama at Deakin University. Via YouTube.

The unique challenges of 2020 have also resulted in Deakin staff developing stronger connections with their students, Delbridge continued.

‘One of the things that the staff have shared is that there is an even greater rapport with the students because of this,’ he said.

That sense of connection and closeness will surely benefit future students at Deakin, especially the current crop of secondary school students who have been navigating this turbulent year.

Delbridge looks forward to welcoming them. ‘There has never a better time to flex your creative muscles. Because while it may seem that the world is a little bit turbulent at times, a little bit unsure, the best thing that any young person can do, in my opinion, is to keep forging forward and to chase their dreams. And now more than ever, we need as many voices telling their own unique stories to as many people as possible.’

Deakin photography student work. Alicia Flegeltaub Dad, from the Deterioration series, Chemically manipulated inkjet print on transparent paper. View more student work on the Faculty of Arts and Education Content Hub.


Delbridge hopes that the spirit of change resulting from the challenges of 2020 will have a lasting effect on the tertiary sector.

‘When you give artists limitations, there’s actually something that is freeing about that … and I think that sort of mentality is something that’s going to carry on across the whole sector.

‘We will, of course, go back to face to face teaching, but we’d be crazy if we didn’t keep exploring the opportunities for what this new way of working can be,’ he said.

Learn more about Deakin’s creative arts courses.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts