Moving to digital education

The purpose of this post is to shed some light on some thoughts to consider, good practices and tips for moving from face-to-face teaching to digital education.

NB: These are suggestions to help you to move to digital education. These solutions depend on your own abilities, desire and time. You have the support of your colleagues both in-intuition and beyond – you only need ask. The solutions here are informed suggestions.

No perfect solutions exist.

The purpose of this document is to shed some light on some thoughts to consider, good practices and tips for moving from face-to-face teaching to digital education.

The impetus for sharing these ideas comes in light of the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which has reached the status of a pandemic on Wednesday, 11 March 2020. Various countries reacted in different ways. As of the time of writing this document, several UK universities (London School of Economics, Durham University, University College London, Lancaster University and Glasgow University) have suspended classroom-based teaching effective either immediately or from Monday, 16 March. More universities are expected to follow the steps of other schools, colleges and universities that have already taken steps in other countries.

NB: These are suggestions to help you to move to digital education. These solutions depend on your own abilities, desire and time. You have the support of your colleagues both in-intuition and beyond – you only need ask. The solutions here are informed suggestions.

No perfect solutions exist.

NB: I may update sections of this post in the coming days as developments take place.

Developing pedagogy for digital delivery & communities of practice

There are a lot of networks out there that are discussing this right now.

One of those networks is on Twitter and you can find out more by following the Learning & Teaching in Higher Education Chat by looking for #LTHEChat and/or by visiting the following link: https://lthechat.com/2020/03/11/covid19-special-edition/ or by following @LTHEChat on Twitter.

Due to the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19, there is a daily chat on Twitter where you can meet and network with colleagues from across HE who are facing the same issues as you. In addition, you’ll also find a lot of ideas directly related to pedagogy, learning and teaching.

Pandemic Pedagogy

Another space that has sprung up is a large, interdisciplinary community on Facebook called Pandemic Pedagogy that has nearly 15,000 members and is constantly growing. You’ll meet colleagues from almost every discipline that universities tend to offer.

Considering this group was set up on Thursday, 12 March, it’s very quickly becoming a space for educators especially within higher education to ask questions and get and offer solutions on a grand scale.

NB: you will need to request to join but this should be approved within an hour or so!

Taken from a user on the Pandemic Pedagogy group.
My own take: This is highly relevant and we should maybe think of this while transitioning our teaching. Things won’t be picture perfect and we’ll be learning as we go!

Repurposing existing content – thoughts to consider

Review what content you have; if this is video content such as a pre-recording lecture that was captured earlier, ask yourself:

  • What, if any, improvements need to be made?
  • Is the content still relevant? Do parts of it require an update?
  • What needs to be cut/curtailed?
  • Can you tolerate sitting through this content for an extended period of time?

As an example of this, if your content has been recorded through lecture capture software you might have to consider the following:

  • does the content have good audiovisual quality, or will this impair the learning experience for students?

What to do with existing slide decks from presentations?

Some of you may have a slide deck that has slowly grown over the last few terms or semesters that have become potentially invaluable teaching tools. It’s tempting to take an existing slide deck and place it online without any changes as this might be considered a path of least resistance.

However, even with your voiceover and a recorded video, students might benefit from a bit of structure that neatly breaks down the content. If we refer back to our earlier principles, we need to consider relevance and timeliness. So, when we look at a giant slide deck we’ve prepared over the years, we should reflect and ask ourselves:

  • How much of the content is suitable for this particular course or module?
  • What needs to be cut?
  • What can I do to make the content more engaging and/or interactive for the students?

Solution: Repurposing existing slide decks

One way of taking a slide deck and making it more engaging is to neatly divide content into easily digestible sections; most good slide decks will have a clear enough structure that this won’t present an issue.

The next step is to insert an activity slide or two that gets students to think about the issue, problem, or topic at hand by constructing a task or problem for students to consider, process and/or solve in a meaningful way that helps connect what they’ve learned to practice.

The activity slide(s) can then be followed up by a worked-out solution (or more, depending upon the subject) that looks at the different solutions and provides some commentary/analysis that break the solutions down.

Of course, adding an activity slide and solution will take some time and this is perhaps a drawback. The advantages, however, are numerous: you will have created a reusable learning resource that students can use to learn, apply, practice and check their learning. Whether or not they do this is a different question! 

How to structure content for effective delivery online

Structuring online learning and teaching is absolutely key to a successful experience for all stakeholders. Although it may seem obvious, since a significant part of learning online takes place without a teacher/lecturer in the room, students must be shown the path(s) to learning in an explicit manner. This path must be shown within the course/module handbook and through a mixture of audiovisual and visual signposting within a virtual learning environment, such as Moodle. 

One way of creating an effective design for learning is to include, at the very least either a video or audio recording that introduces the module/course in brief. A recording of about 5 minutes should generally suffice. The message is best if it’s clear, succinct and on point.

A screenshot of a social media post

Description automatically generated
Structuring an online module – an example

Developing netiquette & nurturing a community of online learners

Learning online often entails an increase in text-based communications. In 2020, with a lot of text-based communication already happening via WhatsApp, iMessages and other apps, understanding how to author written messages in an understandable, diplomatic manner is as important as ever.

Therefore, netiquette and how to communicate effectively in text when no visual or body language clues are present is important. This link gives a brief guide on developing good netiquette: https://sway.office.com/ObLxmwHTMKZE4vRB?ref=Link

As far as developing a community of online learners, the link in the post below by Sarah Honeychurch neatly encapsulates a few good thoughts and practices of how to do this. There are a few points to consider when fostering a community of online learners – have a read in the link below!

What to do with seminars?

Although lecture sessions may be recorded and previously recorded lectures may be archived, some of you may be thinking about how you will have seminars.

Seminars are where students get more personal, face-to-face contact with peers and their instructors as these offer an opportunity to discuss, analyze and operationalize concepts and ideas presented during the lectures. There are a few potentially actionable and valuable solutions with the main drawbacks relating to Internet connectivity and access to devices. 

Hosting digital seminars

Live seminars can be conducted through using web conferencing software such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Hangouts. Think of your digital seminars as webinars for your students. If your students already work in small groups, then they could form their own private chats to discuss ideas during the seminar.

Questions prior to moving to digital seminars

  • What type of connectivity do your learners have access to?
  • What can be pre-recorded?
    • What can be broken down into smaller bites?
    • What interactivity can be built in?
    • Worried about video size? Handbrake (https://handbrake.fr/) can help to shirk file sizes while maintaining audio-visual quality
  • What would be best delivered live?
  • What do we want students to work on together – regardless of when the learning takes place?
  • What type of discussions do we want?
    • Asynchronous vs synchronous?
  • What technical tools do we have at our disposal?
    • PowerPoint presentations – recorded with audio
    • Presenting via Teams – and having this recorded
    • Collaborative documents for team-based group work
      • Invite specific members into each group-specific collaborative document

Practicalities

  • You can schedule an online meeting in Teams that will allow your learners to join a digital seminar – make sure that you invite them or send them a link!
  • You can record a meeting in Teams by using the red record button, and this will allow others to take part in part of the session and catch up if they weren’t able to attend.
  • Make sure that you lay out expectations:
    • Have all learners downloaded and signed into Teams successfully?
    • Have learners had a chance to ‘get to know’ and play with Teams?
    • Do you want students to mute their microphones?
    • Do you aim to have a member of each group participate and/or represent their group?

Tips on good practice for online seminars

These tips below were kindly shared by a couple of colleagues I work with – Emma Watton and Florian Bauer:

  • Make a note of key messages in advance to give attendees a clear direction of where the webinar is going;
  • Keep sentences short and avoid jargon;
  • Use slides/diagrams/models to help communicate ideas;
  • Signpost to follow up web content/reading etc.;
  • Use a booster plug-in speaker if available to improve sound quality, book a room if your office is by the building works;
  • Consider a guest joining on a webinar to add different perspectives;
  • Be mindful of the length, 10 minutes is a lot of content to listen to online so create more shorter webinars rather than one long one;
  • Don’t wear heavily patterned/checked clothing as this can cause pixellation on the screen especially for slower connections;
  • Request students to mute their own microphones when they aren’t speaking to reduce feedback caused by mics.

Meme shared by a friend.

Remember: when you’re joining a web conferencing video, especially if you’ll be speaking, take a moment to adjust your web camera and the level of your seat height. Don’t sit too close to the web camera and make sure the lighting is decent!

Traditional online discussions

One simple way of creating a longer, asynchronous (not live) discussions around content is through the use of online discussions, such as the use of discussion forums on Moodle. You can assign content that students can access prior to engaging in the discussion.

Tips for successful discussion forums:

  • Ask open-ended questions that foster critical thinking and analysis
  • Ask questions that get students to reflect and relate their learning back to their own unique contexts (where appropriate)
  • Avoid yes/no questions
    • Yes/no questions can encourage simplistic answering and thinking.
  • Set parameters
    • what do you expect of students in terms of behavior and responses?
    • How often do you want them to post?
    • Will you respond to each and every post?
  • Don’t expect everyone to participate
    • lurkers gain a lot by silently reading what others are posting; these posts can give them food for thought and cause for writing about their own perspectives

Of course, there are tips for students, too. They can get a lot out of discussions in terms of critical thinking, idea development and written communication and abilities development by taking part in online discussions:

What to do with exams?

Exams are often held in person in rooms with an invigilator. Exams can be held online with some limited oversight.

Perhaps more importantly, in light of the circumstances, you might wish to ask yourself:

  • Have students already met their intended learning outcomes through other tasks? If so, then is an exam still necessary?
  • Why is the written exam still necessary?
  • What’s the scope for making the exam ‘open book’?
  • Can time parameters for exam be flexible?

Online exams – one way to do it

If you have an exam that consist of short or longer text-based answers, multiple choice questions (MCQs) or mathematical equations, then you can re-create this exam using Google Forms, Microsoft Forms or using the Quiz feature in Moodle.

One simple way I’ve recently tested with success is to use a Microsoft Form to replace a traditional, face-to-face exam:

  • the exam consisted of relatively short answers of less than 200 words per question;
  • each question was assigned a whole-number mark;
  • the online version was set to start and finish at specified times;
  • the students were required to log in using their normal university login and password which meant that we could identify

Other tips for doing online exams with Microsoft Forms:

  • send students the exam link prior to an online exam with clearly set time parameters;
  • send students an exam link immediately prior to the exam – and set no time limits
  • build in some leeway which often standard with Moodle exams in other faculties, departments;

Advantages of using Forms for quizzes/exams

  • students are required to log in using their university credentials;
  • time restrictions can be set to allow for clear start and end dates and times;
  • questions and submitted answers will be collated into an Excel spreadsheet for easy marking;

Example of how an exam or quiz looks in Microsoft Forms

An example of a quiz/test/exam using Microsoft Forms

Want more information?

To find out more about how to build effective and authentic quizzes and exams, then take a few moments and follow this link that has more information https://education.microsoft.com/en-us/course/ac59d6bc/overview

Summary & kudos

These are just a few suggestions that I decided to add to the ever-growing amount of solutions that people are putting together after reading inspiring posts by Dale Munday and Kyungmee Lee (see below).

Selected ideas, guidance and readings for designing for learning online & communities of practice

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