To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, we at UACES wanted to bring our community together. And we went the same way everyone is going right now: online.
We created virtual coffee meetings to offer our community a space in which everyone can exchange experiences and ideas relating to a topic. We kicked-off with online teaching and learning. The sessions were positively received and brought a lot of different perspectives and ideas together. As everything happened very fast and teachers and students had to switch very promptly to online, everyone experienced challenges but also some good things arose from it.
Let’s start with the good things, the benefits of online teaching:
Many of the participants pointed out that teaching online is a different approach but here and there it is not so new. Some have already given online classes or had some lectures recorded. For others, this was not the case, but it offers the opportunity to learn more skills and gain a different/creative approach to teaching. Online teaching might also be helpful for more individual teaching, plus, many universities seem to take the digitalisation more seriously now. They turned it around quickly and provided licenses for online tools to lecturers and students.
Depending on the format, online teaching can lead to a more discussion-based class. It also encourages learners to take responsibility for their own participation – it can be more (not less) noticeable if someone doesn’t contribute in an online format. Online learning can also be a leveller: it creates access where there previously wasn’t any.
However, many are facing challenges:
Let’s say the challenge is called: Online. How can we move everything that is planned for face-to-face to online in only a few days? Can teachers and students feel comfortable in this environment? Some may not feel comfortable in turning their video on, or saying something through their microphone. And what about certain online norms, what is appropriate during an online lecture and what is not? Can I drink my morning coffee or have my breakfast while I am listening to a lecture? What is the online equivalent of raising my hand to ask a question?
Apart from all those questions, a university is an international teaching and learning environment and this means as well that students and teachers might now be in different time zones as many have returned home. Online lectures experience a decrease in attendance due to the schedule but also due to the circumstances. Some students have to deal with difficulties like losing their job, their accommodation and moving places very rapidly. There has also been an increase in absence due to ill health. Internet access might be an issue, too, depending on where everyone is based and even where internet is available, the quality of the connection is not always guaranteed. Even in our virtual meetings, we experienced issues with sound, the connections and the meeting platform.
Keeping students engaged is also a real challenge for teachers. Finding a balance between how much time and effort to put into recordings and preparations for an online class is difficult and everyone has to consider that it might not be worth it if student attendance drops further. Teachers face the disappointment that they prepare classes, activities and tasks and only a few students are actually following this way of learning.
As there are no guidelines or instructions in place and many teachers use the tools they know or have had recommended by colleagues; students have to adjust to many different online tools and programmes. It is not easy for them and there have been some complaints. It also turns out, that although the students are perceived as ‘digital natives’ they still need instructions on how to use all the available platforms.
All this relates to the challenge of how to deal with the students. Some students are overwhelmed, start complaining or getting impatient. It is important to find ways to maintain the community, connect at a human level but also explain them their own responsibility for their own participation. There was also some concern about how many students should ideally be involved in Zoom (or equivalent) seminars. What is the optimum number? Having run these sessions we felt that there might have to be different arrangements for 12 students than there would be for 5, for example.
Some felt, that there is a lot of advice on the practical side, but not so much on the human element. How much can we get engaged with the students to comfort them, how can we show the human perspective of online teaching and learning? Added to this is a concern around assessment and university deadlines. Should these be extended or withdrawn entirely? Is it acceptable to work within the current university frameworks when offering extensions to submissions (eg extenuating/mitigating circumstances policies) or does there need to be an entirely different approach to avoid overloading administrative staff at an already busy time.
Which tools are being used:
Adobe Connect – this seems tricky with licences for students
Zoom – seems to be very common, especially as the first 40 minutes of a meeting is included in a free version, however, privacy issues are not clear
Microsoft teams – worked well for remote lectures because it was very accessible, no registration needed
Google Docs – is great for question-answer activities following a lecture, you can track changes and interact live
Google classrooms – helps students and teachers organise assignments, boost collaboration, and foster better communication
Blackboard – online teaching tool
Ask your university or institution for the licences, or if they can get them for everyone to use.
Record your lecture to make it more accessible with tools like:
Panopto – records the lecturer and shows the presentation simultaneously
Powerpoint recording – some experienced issues with recording it, but once it works it seems to be useful
Recordings might be a good way to make your lecture accessible to students in different time zones, or if they are dealing with different situations. They can listen (and watch) the lecture whenever they are able to. This provides a unique flexibility for online learning.
The first #MidweekMeetup encouraged Rachael Dickson, Graduate Forum Committee Chair, to write a blog post about ‘Creating connection when teaching online’ which you can read on our blog.