Thanks to the coronavirus (COVID-19), what EdSurge has termed the world’s biggest experiment in online learning is underway as schools and universities in many different countries resort to online teaching to ensure continuity during closures. A rushed move online comes with many challenges and some risks but this article will offer 4 practical tips to get you started and some video resources that you can use in your LMS right now to keep your students engaged.
Academic staff, many of whom are already having to strike due to excess workloads in the UK, are understandably concerned about the further increase in pressure this may bring, even if it does mean they can now teach in their pyjamas.
Faculty now face the mammoth challenge of moving classes online, quickly, without compromising learning outcomes. The most obvious solution is that being embraced by many universities is also arguably the “easiest” option, namely to live stream or pre-record lectures than in every other sense are identical to classroom lectures (bar the pyjamas) and therefore not designed for the online environment. Convenient, in relative terms, as this approach might be, it brings with it many problems.
Bandwidth may not be an issue for those lucky enough to live in areas with good internet speeds but if like me you live in the West of Ireland or anywhere with similarly poor broadband watching streamed lectures, or trying to download them, will prove a frustrating and often futile experience. This will immediately draw a line between students that have and those that have not got access to fast and affordable wifi
Unintended Consequences of Lecture Capture
Faculty who might be as engaging as Ricky Gervais in a classroom might feel uncomfortable and awkward talking into a camera or standing at the front of an empty lecture theatre. This in turn makes the viewing and learning experience for the student uncomfortable and less effective. This study reported in Times Higher Education highlights some of the unintended consequences of lecture capture.
It is now well established that one of the downsides of online education is the potential for students to feel isolated, if the learning is not well designed and delivered. This sense of isolation will increase by multiples if students are learning online during a period of quarantine or self-isolation, and more so if online learning during this time is confined to recorded or streamed lectures.
Tracking Student Engagement
Let’s be honest, what are average attention and engagement rates in classroom-based lectures? How often are students checking their social media feeds while “listening” to a lecture? How many are asleep? Attention, as distinct from attendance, rates are difficult enough to measure in the classroom, and even more difficult online. Can you confidently say how many of your students will watch a one hour recorded lecture without checking instagram, making a cup of tea or patting their dog during that time?
These few examples are indicative of a potential unintended consequence of the current, unplanned global experiment in online learning – that the online experience for students – and faculty – as a result of the speed at which this switch had to happen, will be less than optimal. For many, it will be their first experience of online teaching and learning, and they may well be put off. Poorly planned, rushed and badly produced online learning will impact on learning outcomes and student and faculty confidence in the efficacy of online learning.
This need not be the case. Even with time and resource constraints, here are a few suggestions for improving the online learning experience, even if lecture streaming and recording is the main method of delivery.
1 Keep it short.
There is ample research now to state conclusively that shorter videos work better than longer ones. Our previous post How to Design Great Educational Video talks about the optimal time for educational video. TED talks, for example, are not allowed to be longer than 18 minutes. So take your one hour lecture and break it into 3 or 4 shorter ones. This makes it easier for students to engage and stay focused, and is much less intimidating for the person recording the lecture. (It is easier on the vocal cords too).
2 You don’t have to do everything yourself
The internet is abundant with digital resources. Look for online providers like ourselves who have ready-to-go content available.
On this site over the next days and weeks we will be digging deep into our archives and releasing some of our original ‘long-form’ expert video interviews together with appropriate exercises and activities as a digital resource that students can do at home. Just post the link on your LMS, set a task completion date and away they go.
You can also use other resources such as TED talks, infographics, audio clips, blogs and podcasts. Variety keeps learners engaged and encourages critical thinking. Just make sure you have permission to use and share whatever resources you intend to include.
3 Make it active
Online learning does not have to be passive. Nor is special technological acumen or a host of different apps required to do this. This will be a great opportunity to discover the range of functionality in your institution’s LMS – greatly under-utilised by the majority of faculty, in my experience. An LMS is not just a place to post articles, it can be used for engagement, discussion, assessment, exercises and interaction. Post activities, challenges and tasks for your students to complete on the LMS to help students apply and contextualise their learning from lectures. Third party discussion apps can also come in handy.
4 Stay connected
There is no reason for students to feel isolated from one another or from their tutors. Video chats, tutorials, Q & A sessions are all feasible if internet speeds permit, and if they do not, synchronous and asynchronous text, audio and video chats are a great alternative.
For maximum success and engagement these should be structured and moderated by faculty by setting specific questions and topics, encouraging and monitoring peer to peer groups and helping students support and stay engaged with each other. Tutors can share the load of this with student mentoring and buddy systems.
Innovation can strengthen teaching and learning
The coronavirus will – hopefully – run its course and disappear into the shadows again, but online teaching and learning is here to stay and a great majority of staff and students will be required to engage with it in the weeks, months and years to come. This will require planning, resources and training, and a move to innovation and new ways of teaching and learning.
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”― Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Faculty and university leadership must face this challenge head on, lean into this new reality and up-skill their staff, upgrade their technology and partner with new providers that can solve these problems with them.
Embracing online learning can bring many benefits – new courses, new students and new skills, provided we see this threat as an opportunity.
To get immediate access to resources and learning activities to help through the coming weeks, subscribe to this blog and check back regularly as we’ll be posting some of our archived long-form expert interviews on a range of topics from mediation, ADR, Restorative Justice and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR).
Online Course Content Available
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