A cornucopia of ideas: food for thought for digital education

Keep an open mind

Given the sudden shift to digital education that Covid19 has caused during the first half of 2020, we have now an opportunity to better understand digital education in order to prepare for autumn teaching.

However, first we might want to appreciate and understand how much Covid19 has affected and continues to affect both learners and educators. Part of this is understanding the nature of trauma and trauma informed pedagogy. Both learners and educators have been suddenly thrust into environments in which learning and teaching especially within higher education does not normally take place: at home.

Home can be a refuge for some, and it is often a place where we engage in our private lives with our loved ones, our family and our friends. These spaces have now, in part, been both transformed into semi-permanent learning and teaching spaces and been opened up to our colleagues and learners due to physical distancing that Covid19 has caused.

Underlying this sudden shift might be the notions of trauma and trauma informed pedagogy. I encourage you to look through the following articles in order to see how they might inform your teaching practices during and post Covid19. We aren’t learning and/or teaching in normal times, and so we should be kind to not only ourselves but also to our colleagues and learners.

Trauma Informed Pedagogy 

Readings on digital pedagogy and education

Since for some of us learning and teaching online is a new approach, taking a bit of time to get to grips with some of the thinking around digital education and pedagogy can help us to get a variety of food-for-thought. This can help us to identify potential solutions to problems that we are likely facing with both a sudden move to digital education and a longer, more (hopefully) well-considered and designed move to blended and digital education.

I have found the following texts particularly useful in understanding how to develop colleagues in terms of shifting to digital education. I believe these texts will give you ideas that can help to inform your teaching practices, whether the autumn term is blended or ends up being fully online.

One note of caution: please remember to put pedagogy first and don’t let the technology trip up your good teaching practices! Start with the learning outcomes of your module/course and consider the design accordingly.

Become a learner again, and learn from each other

Part of becoming a ‘good’ digital educator is giving yourself time to become a student again so that you can experience what it is like to learn online. This experience will give you invaluable insight into how you can design and develop your own digital education practices.

Another way is to learn from others – to learn from fellow students and educators who engage with digital education practices. The following resources might give you some ideas for both learning and teaching from the perspectives of both a learner and educator. I’d highly recommend exploring these and seeing how they might inform your teaching practice within your local context.

  • Online Teaching – learning design Pathway: https://events.educause.edu/lx-learning-experience-pathways. This is a short course on online teaching based upon the community of inquiry framework. I completed the course to experience what it would be like as a learner and to get further insight into digital education.
  • Digital Education Practices Podcasthttp://bit.ly/listentodep. I launched in April 2020 to collect, collate and share the stories of colleagues and students in terms of digital education practices. The episodes will give you some food for thought and ideas on what you could do in your own teaching.
  • How To Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/teach-online. This is one of a few online courses on FutureLearn and Coursera on how to teach online. Take one. Experience it, especially if you have little or no online learning and teaching experience.
  • Creative Assignment Ideas for Teaching at a Distance: https://eh.bard.edu/covid-19/#1584038372938-7026d698-0a95e470-b8e5. There are a lot of good resources out there related to assessment that Covid19 has motivated colleagues to write up and put on the Internet. This one talks about creative assessments that get away from the standard, in-person exams and other traditional assessments.

Community building & online inductions

One part of ensuring some success for a blended and/or fully digital experience is to create a community between the learners and educators. This should, ideally, be a considered, critical element of all programmes and/or academic modules for developing a cohort culture

One way of doing this, especially for the autumn term, is to have an online induction that begins 2 to 4 weeks prior to the start of the academic year. Using these weeks prior to the start of the academic year, especially for students leaving school and entering college/university, can allow students to form tight-knit relationships between students and lecturers that can lay the groundwork for effective working relationships while also developing students’ academic and digital literacies.

How can this be done?

Creating the online induction and creating a community can take place anywhere:

  • through structured readings, activities and discussions on the VLE/LMS such as Moodle, Blackboard or Canvas
  • through semi-structured discussions via Microsoft Teams, Slack, Facebook or even Discord
  • through structured readings, student-authored posts and blogs via WordPress, Ghost or Medium

Suggested questions to develop close communities

Dialogue with new students is one key to forming close relationships. Critical questions can help encourage learners to express themselves in a meaningful way that gets them to open up while allowing networks to form among students based upon mutual personal, academic and/or professional interests that learners share.

Below are some examples of meaningful questions that can encourage students to open up while setting the scene for close relationship formation. These questions go beyond surface level questions such as ‘What’s your favorite food/drink?’ or ‘What did you do over the summer?’ by getting students to consider at a deeper level questions that tease out meaningful thoughts and ideas.

The suggest questions for dialogue below are inspired by some introductory questions borrowed from https://www.jessestommel.courses/:

  • Where are you from? Or where have you lived? 
  • Describe yourself in 6 emoji.  
  • What are your hopes and fears for starting university?  
  • What are your passions?  
  • What would you like to know about your lecturer?  
  • What excites you most, what are you most worried about? 

Meet learners where they engage: create mobile-friendly spaces for handbooks

Meeting students where they might engaging in learning and that is inclusive of all devices that they use for learning (e.g. smart phones, tablets and laptops/desktops) is another way to ensure success for blended and digital education experiences.

As an example of this, you can modify your module/course handbook into an engaging, mobile-friendly and accessible document using, for example, Microsoft Sway. The simplest way is to create your handbook as normal in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, or similar, try to avoid tables, where possible, and then import this into Sway. One example of a course handbook in Sway is here: https://sway.office.com/W9QOna12DpBekwBQ?ref=Link.

Other good, mobile-friendly and engaging options

If you’d like to do something perhaps even more engaging, sustainable and editable year-on-year, then using either WordPress or Ghost can be used to create handbooks and learning spaces that might lend themselves to an engaging, mobile-friendly experience.

Potential concerns & suggested solutions for using WordPress and others

You maybe worried about the following:

  • access and accessibility
  • intellectual property and copyright
  • using a non-VLE /LMS system

Although these are all valid concerns, there are equally valid answers that can hopefully address these concerns:

  • WordPress-based sites often allow for both mobile and web-friendly design in line with current accessibility requirements. The options are clearly marked for authors/editors due to legal requirements.
  • EU-based WordPress sites will allow you display GDPR-compliant signposting
  • Per copyright and intellectual property, the educator(s) can choose to indicate how their materials should/shouldn’t be used with clear signposting and messages on relevant materials, whether these are copy right or made into open educational materials, such as labelling materials using Creative Commons licensing.
  • If your college/university uses WordPress on its domain, such as http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/lums-research-methods/, then you very likely have the ability to restrict access for students by getting them to log in using their university credentials. You can also assign different roles and permissions to students, such as editor, author, contributor.
  • If you use your own WordPress site, you could invite students in and get them to log in, thus preventing whatever you do on WordPress from being publicly available?

You can easily link to the module/course on the VLE on Moodle, etc.  

Why might you use this approach?

Well, in addition to giving your students ‘a break’ from the traditional VLE, you’ll also be creating a space where students can quickly access key, important information without being forced to log into the virtual learning environment, navigating to the respective module (remember, they have a few!) and then accessing/downloading the relevant information.

Examples & inspirations:

Social annotation  

No matter the subject/discipline that you learn/teach in, there are many reasons to use social annotation in learning and teaching. There is also a growing body of scholarship and research on how social annotation can help education, and select literature is listed below.

Social annotation can be used for:

  • understanding, identifying and analyzing ideas within texts, and relating these ideas to other texts;
  • interpretation and meaning-making within texts used in seminar/workshop groups;
  • breaking down, analysing and interpreting data from laboratory experiments and lab sessions;
  • co-creating and construction of ideas and text;
  • teaching the importance of attribution of ideas and literature in papers (especially using this article: https://nyti.ms/2mtgUaU);
  • and many others!

One simple way of using social annotation is to use either Google Docs or Word Online to look at a text. Either of these can work with primarily text-based information with few images. Groups can work together online to create sections of text and the educator can also ‘drop in’ to review, annotate and suggest ideas as necessary.

Annotating the web

However, you may want to annotate entire webpages, web books and articles that are already online. One way to do this is to use Hypothes.is: https://web.hypothes.is/ which allows private and shared annotation of websites and webpages, web books, PDF documents and many others.

Select literature on social annotation

Clapp, J., DeCoursey, M., Lee, S. W. S., & Li, K. (2020). “Something fruitful for all of us”: Social annotation as a signature pedagogy for literature education. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 1474022220915128. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1474022220915128?casa_token=JWqh0QLbsFYAAAAA:Y6az7TZR6nzNW3MW5-9Mc3IObkv8InoifJzQWJccU4u5LMfPdzXPixZIb4_c1ZrNIQwWL8ep8DK4

Hedin, B. (2012). Peer feedback in academic writing using Google Docs. Pedagogiska inspirationskonferensen-Genombrottet. https://sociologiskforskning.se/pige/article/download/20822/18729

Kalir, J., Cantrill, C., Dean, J., & Dillon, J. (2020). Iterating the Marginal Syllabus: Social Reading and Annotation while Social Distancing. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education28(2), 463-471. https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/216246/paper_216246.pdf

Pargman, D., Hedin, B., & Hrastinski, S. (2013). Using group supervision and social annotation systems to support students’ academic writing. Högre utbildning3(2), 129-134. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:628110/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Zhu, X., Chen, B., Avadhanam, R. M., Shui, H., & Zhang, R. Z. (2020). Reading and connecting: using social annotation in online classes. Information and Learning Sciences. https://edarxiv.org/2nmxp/download?format=pdf


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