Phil Chappell is a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics, teaching postgraduate domestic and international students in the Graduate Certificate of TESOL and Master of Applied Linguistics and TESOL courses. His students claim him as another very helpful ‘knowledge-master‘ when it comes to online learning.
Here Phil shares how both communication and flexibility is key to caring for students during a crisis; how a complete redesign of your unit is sometimes the only way to go; and how a cat that likes to be on camera can take your zoom classes to the next level. As told to Kylie Coaldrake and Karina Luzia
How did your approach to learning and teaching change in Session 1?
The main unit I teach – a postgraduate unit usually with about 60 students – has an online cohort (domestic students) and an internal cohort (a mix of international and domestic students). The online learning was all set up for asynchronous activities, as it’s difficult to find one time for all students to be available. So, with the sudden switch to online synchronous learning for the internal students, I decided to redesign the unit for both cohorts, in order to ensure all students were able to experience an equally effective learning experience.
So, the change in my approach was to move to a more “flipped” approach for the internal cohort. I recorded a series of mini lectures for each weekly topic that the students needed to engage with, as well as readings, before coming to a 2-hour zoom session, where they undertook small group learning tasks and activities. For the external students, I re-worked the series of asynchronous activities so that they could also use the mini lectures and the same learning tasks and activities. All this using the same iLearn site! I must admit that it took up a significant amount of my working week.
Now I have an iLearn site and a syllabus that can handle any situation that I can think of, except an NBN outtage!!
What did you do to support your students during the COVID-19 situation?
I’ve been teaching students in distance mode for over twenty years, and the golden rule I’ve learned is that regular communication with the students, and a flexible approach to their circumstances is essential. I followed this golden rule last session during COVID-19 (and continue to do so). I was especially attentive to the 30+ international students in my class. I held an “RU OK” zoom session, outlining all the support available, and in one distressing moment when the government’s message to international students was to “go home” if they couldn’t cope, I wrote to each of them stressing that this was not the kind of message that I supported and I acknowledged all the (non-monetary) benefits that Australia gains from hosting international students. I received several notes of thanks, so I know that it was a timely piece of communication to them.
The other thing I did that students told me they appreciated was to provide a very clear list of what the students needed to do for each weekly topic. I carried this forward to this session (I teach this unit in session 1 and 2) for both cohorts and had a student say how useful she has found it – and this is a new student who has commenced her course while home in China.
What do you think made a difference during this time?
This may sound a bit corny, but being genuine. Genuinely concerned for each student’s wellbeing. Genuinely concerned for each student’s pace of learning and constraints that COVID-19 was subjecting them to. Genuinely concerned to do what I could to unshackle those constraints and support each student to reach their full potential. And share a few of my own issues, including a nosey cat who likes to get in between me and the camera!
What would be your number 1 tip for other teaching staff?
Actually, I have two number 1 tips! The golden rule already mentioned, which is to have regular communication with the students, and a flexible approach to their circumstances.
And second, avoid a “deficit view” of your students.
If you start to see them as bringing all these problems to your working day, you’re already in a negative position. See them as bringing their unique set of circumstances to the learning and teaching side of your work that you need to understand and respond to.
Is there anything you would do differently next time?
Not really. Hopefully there won’t be a “next time” like last time! Although now to think of it, I think I’d probably run two shorter synchronous sessions – one earlier in the day and the other in the early evening – to enable more students to join in.
Are there any particular resources you used that you found helpful?
I really liked using Screenflow to make my mini lectures. It allowed me to have a presence in my mini lectures, and I could move myself around and point to things on the slides. Here’s an example of what that looked like:
Any other comments about your experience of teaching in S1?
I have an amazing group of teaching colleagues in Linguistics. We have regular “swap meets” via zoom where staff take 5-10 minutes to present an idea, a tip, a use of a digital tool, and the like. I learned so much from them, and I’m proud to be a part of such a great teaching team.
Dr Philip Chappell is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head (Learning and Teaching) in the Department of Linguistics. His interests are in various areas of learning and teaching, including dialogic pedagogy, and he loves nothing better than to head for the hills on his mountain bike. View his Research Profile