The Open Umbrella

Welcome to the Open Umbrella

The “open umbrella” is a professional learning project intended to enhance educational technology capacity within the post schooling education and training system. This resource aims to offer readers a more coherent and sustainable approach to the use of technology in enabling education.

Emergency Remote teaching

Circumstances for teaching and learning are very different, due to COVID. Much has changed in a very short period of time. Especially for those who would traditionally be on campus or school premises, in classrooms or lecture halls.

The "Open Umbrella" is for those who want to be pro-active and look ahead, beyond the immediate crisis. It is for educators who would like to be be better prepared as they “pivot” online. This resource aims to offer readers a more coherent and sustainable approach to the use of technology in enabling education. It suggests eight practice areas for those who recognize the need to shift their focus. The open umbrella is based on evidence based practice. It foes beyond the current and unexpected changes and the ideas herein can be applied in any hybrid or blended setting.

Using the umbrella

The guide is arranged around eight elements (or practice areas) associated with a positive online education experience. These elements are expressed as separate panels of an open umbrella.

  1. Assessment
  2. Teaching and learning strategies
  3. Learning activities
  4. Content
  5. Communication
  6. Administration
  7. Design
  8. Support Strategies

Each of the eight panels contains a series of statements, opinions or evidence based approaches that provoke, trouble and prompt the reader to re-consider their classroom practices, their use of online tools or teaching techniques.

Educators, instructional designers, teachers, academics and other practitioners are welcome to explore the open umbrella and choose and select resources that may improve their courses, where they see fit. If you are in the position to be an agent of educational change and are prepared to take manageable steps towards the enhancement and development of courses while using digital means, then the open umbrella should be useful to you.

Since the guide is licensed under Creative Commons, readers are encouraged to retain, revise, remix reuse and redistribute the resources under the given conditions. You are also invited to respond , comment and improve the site using Look for the icon on the top right hand side of your page.

The Umbrella App

The field guide is accompanied by an Umbrella Application (App) hosted at Pretoria University. This app is a self assessment tool that repeats the eight different panels of an umbrellas. At present, the app has been designed for a university setting. Academics can consult the eight dimensions within the app and use this structure to

  • record existing practices;
  • self-identify features of their course within the eight categories; and
  • create a record of the current practices to be used as benchmarks for future reference

This app is designed to prompt reflection on a current course. After working through the app’s eight dimensions and identifying the types of implementation, a picture of the width and depth of digital adoption, in the form of coloured panels set into the umbrella, will emerge.

The ultimate intended beneficiaries of the guide are students, whose school, departments subject or faculty are switching accross to a hybrid approach to learning.


The Open Umbrella is based on a framework developed by the Department for Education Innovation at Pretoria University after shut campus down across South Africa in 2015. Wendy Kilfoil and Detken Scheepers initiated the guide with Derek Moore as we all became aware of the increased technology. Estelle Drysdale created the app.

#Feesmust fall initiated a crisis management approach to using digital to address an access problem. #Feesmustfall forced academics to deploy digital resources in a manner that make sense for students within their unique particular contexts. This situation necessetated that univerities leveraged technology for teaching and learning. The crisis also highlighted the need to extend staff members digital education competency levels.

Forging ahead on the fly

Teaching and learning, in any circumstances, is a challenge. Within a crisis, it is especially difficult to conceptualize a digital approach to education, especially when many are struggling with isolation, uncertainty and fear. Many mitigation steps taken by management, administrators and educators to respond to present circumstances are heroic. But any short-term emergency efforts should, at best, be seen as a rapid response to an immediate difficulty.

“Locked down learning” cannot be equated to good digital education. Covid classes are a response to an immediate and unexpected emergency. A distinction between a digital pedagogy and a distressed response to course continuity needs to be made. It is not our intention to prescribe to educators what they should do now (within the pandemic). Or in the future, as the shift to digital becomes normalized. Rather, we hope to offer a managable framework to those who seek to offer quality education. We hope that this resource will be approached critically, prompt thought and inspiration and offer pragmatic steps to take for those who want to take a better informed approach to online teaching and learning.

Are you ready for the storm?