In our recent Teaching & Leadership community meet-up, we asked members for their tips on engaging students and teaching online. Here’s what they said worked for them...
Learning online can be confusing for students, so invest even more in clearly signposting what students need to do.
“I’ve got my unit structured around weekly topics and what I found worked really well was having a mini lecture plus associated learning activities. So, for each weekly topic there might be between 2 – 5 activities. Students said they liked how I had really clearly signposted what they should do and in which order. I didn’t say you must do it this way, but I recommend that you ‘read this chapter, then watch mini lecture 1 and do the associated learning activities, and then post your analysis on a dedicated forum for that learning activity’. I also found it was quite useful to post answers or feedback on those tasks at the end of the week, so it gave everybody a chance to work on them.” (Phil Chappell – Linguistics)
Live or pre-recorded?
Sometimes it’s hard to decide whether to pre-record learning material or present it ‘live.’
“Live stream is excellent for interaction, and fine-grained feedback to the students, but students seem to miss more when listening to the livestream as there are more distractions. So, a pre-recorded piece allows them to watch it several times to ensure they get what they need. It also allows them to go back as revision later. Also, I find small videos (vignettes) better than 1-2-hour lectures.” (Rex do Bona – Engineering)
“Pre-recording tends to be more time-consuming for teachers. At the same time, live-streaming is more prone to connection issues, etc. so it’s stressful in its own way.” (Olga Kozar – Learning & Teaching Staff Development)
“With live streaming it can be very hard to keep track of the chat function. Prerecording is very useful in my discipline because it is important for the students to be able go back and review concepts.” (Tas Husain – Accounting)
“Prerecording does allow people to go back and review. We have a lot of international students that love pausing things and then trying to find the translation and then coming back and restarting it. I use prerecorded material for the concepts, the theories, the models, the things that aren’t going to change – that’s what goes into the prerecording. I’m a big fan of learning by doing so the actual application of things is done in smaller groups. Prerecording is one to many, so you get the advantage of scale there. With live stream, I use it for small groups and put them into breakout rooms for those more instantaneous discussions, conversations, and feedback.” (Michael Volkov – Marketing)
Less is more
Instead of traditional 60-120 minute ‘lectures’, several teachers chunked their content into smaller parts.
“10 -15 min vlogs work well.” (Maria Herke – Linguistics)
“We moved to a blended type of delivery where we had asynchronous mixed with synchronous. We made sure that no one had any 3-hour blocks. We set up a framework for every undergraduate and postgraduate unit we delivered. For the undergraduate units we had prerecorded lectures broken up into small 15–20-minute chunks that students could access when and where they wanted. We made sure that there was an activity or task following each of those chunks to create a threaded narrative through the iLearn site that students could do at their own pace. When we had the synchronous sessions over Zoom, they were about applying those concepts or reinforcing those concepts, trying to tie everything neatly together and having very active small teaching group learning sessions.” (Michael Volkov – Marketing)
Making recordings sustainable
Avoid mentioning dates or current news to be able to re-use recordings in the future
“Prerecording does tend to be more time consuming initially but you can do a prerecording at your desk, it doesn’t have to be professional or done in a studio. If you’re careful not to mention dates or assessment tasks or something that you did yesterday, you can actually make them sustainable recordings that can be used for a couple of offerings. By chunking it up into 10, 15 or 20 minute blocks I only have to rerecord those 10 or 15 minutes. So, there is a way of making it sustainable and making that initial time component usable in the future.” (Michael Volkov – Marketing)
How do you get students to watch the recordings?
Having trackable activities or tasks related to the videos is one way to encourage student engagement with the recordings
“Students can watch pre-recorded materials whenever they want. However, the standard human behavioral traits kick in where they know it’s sitting there and plan to get to it but then they don’t. I’ve been doing some analysis of iLearn analytics and looking at the watch rates and it is not good. My assessment tasks require reflecting on the prerecorded material so it’s difficult to complete the task unless they have actually watched a certain amount – so my watch rates are high. It seems that if you don’t have mechanisms to get around that problem then you can put those videos out there and they are happy to turn up to sessions never having watched it. So that’s the challenge.” (Wylie Bradford – Economics)
“Explicitly linking the learning activities including mini lectures to how they will support each assessment task helps encourage students to do them.” (Phil Chappell – Linguistics)
“Having a learning structure is recommended for prerecorded material where the students can’t do the next step, or they can’t do the next activity, without having watched or accessed or read the material. iLearn analytics was useful when a student enquired about why they did not achieve the mark they wanted to in an assessment task, I could go and see what they had (or had not) been doing.” (Michael Volkov – Marketing)
Fighting recording perfectionism
Recording videos seems to be intimidating for some of us. How do you overcome the tendency to want to make it perfect without having to re-record and re-record?
“I find creating videos incredibly time consuming because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. If I make a mistake, then I stop, go back, and edit. So, the approach I have decided to take is to do the lecture live in Zoom but then record that. I noticed that when I’m delivering the same sort of content as a lecture during a Zoom class people have the opportunity to ask questions and it’s a bit more interactive. This makes for a more interesting video for people to engage with. It caters for those students who might have questions along the way and provides the opportunity for the students to be part of a little brainstorm where we have a discussion together. So, this approach bundles together the pragmatics and the preferences of students and still provides that ability for people to watch it in retrospect.” (Matt Bower – Education)
Recording conversations rather than ‘mini-lectures’ can make the recordings more engaging and can also curb an urge to re-record.
“We created videos using multiple presenters and using a “fireside discussion” style. It allowed us to chat between the presenters, talk about the subject and drop-in real-life experiences – the students found that to be a more engaging style.” (Rex di Bona – Engineering)
Making online learning more interactive
“If you already have recordings, done via Zoom or any other method, you can make them more interactive by adding a layer of questions that students need to respond to before they can proceed watching a video. It can be done via H5P ‘interactive video’ or in Echo360.” (Olga Kozar – Learning & Teaching Staff Development)
“In language teaching you have to be creative and keep students motivated and engaged at all times. I have become a fan of H5P as it really allows you to create a lot of interactive tasks that you can do with your students. Most of it can equally well be used during live sessions as well as asynchronously, when students are either unable to join live sessions or when they revise content. Occasionally I combine it with Padlet, which makes it a practical tool set for breakout rooms, for example. H5P also enables a smooth transition between different types of the activities.” (Jasna Novak Milic – Croatian Studies)
Re-thinking large teaching blocks
“I would usually teach in 3- or 4-hour blocks. In the move to online one of the things that I did last year that worked quite well was instead of getting all the students to come together for long periods of time on zoom was to break them up into quite small groups of 6 – 7 students and meet with them for 20 minutes. It gave the opportunity for students who are less likely to say something to speak because I was able to ask them individually to say “I haven’t heard from you “. Although it was a lot of repetition for me, I received quite a lot of positive feedback from taking that approach.” (Linda Kelly – Geography & Planning)
Making breakout room activities more effective
Students can easily ‘disappear’ in the breakout rooms. How do you make the groups more accountable?
“I do tend to run my lectures still in big blocks, but within those lectures I break the students up into little groups using breakout rooms. My groups are always the same and that helps because as the students get to know each other, they are more likely to talk among themselves. I also add a Google Doc to all the breakout room groups and then as questions arise, they can all contribute to that single document. At the end, I gather the documents and collate them. That works quite well because it’s not a ‘stick your hand up and say it out loud yourself’ in front of everyone. For some of the tasks that were going to be class activities, I’m converting them into allocated tasks that I’m expecting everyone to participate in and then giving each breakout group a lead in discussing a particular topic, case, or article. As we go around each group has a turn at leading and facilitating some of the online interaction and discussion.” (Claire Layfield – Linguistics)
“I start our teaching session all together and then break up into small breakout rooms. I moved all my handouts online into Google Docs and I created different versions for each group. What I also did is color code the top or the style or the look and feel of the handouts because you get really confused when you’ve got all the Google Docs Open and you don’t know which group is which – so I would have a green one, a blue one etc. and I could follow the groups like that. The students would put their notes in Google Docs while they were in the breakout room, or they would post questions there. Then when we all came back together, we all had access to each other ‘s handouts and documents and we would use that as the basis for the discussion.” (Agi Bodis – Linguistics)
“I initially thought University students don’t really need accountability tools in the breakout rooms, but it turns out that sometimes the students might be just sitting there being quiet and not participating until the teacher jumps in and then suddenly, they’re pretending that they’re working. We hear such stories from students themselves. So having those Google documents is a good accountability instrument from that perspective as it means there is something tangible to show.” (Olga Kozar – Learning & Teaching Staff Development)
Support students and colleagues, but don’t kill yourself in the process!
Give each other a helping hand!
“Remember to do what you can do and be realistic about what is doable. If you are happy the students can tell you’re happy. If you give them time the students will be happy with that. So instead of sometimes trying to do the all the crazy stuff, just make sure you do what you can do and you’re not killing yourself. The students can feel it when you’re still excited to be there. Sometimes the students just want someone to be there to support them, to help them and to have the time to answer their emails and to talk to them – so I have Q&A sessions and I receive positive responses from the students about this. When I teach online, I prefer to have prerecorded material because that gives me the time to have more Q&A sessions with them. So, I think that’s important to remember to do what you can do – it can go really crazy.” (Marina Junqueira Santiago – Biomedical Sciences)
“I found that the students were lonely, so encouraging more group interaction between students was very helpful.” (Rex di Bona Engineering)
“Students may be lonely so having a point of connection is really important. That’s the value you provide as the teacher – you can be that point of connection. One of the things we have been practicing in the Beginning to Teach program sessions is using various zoom tools, but also doing some pre recordings of just voices, in addition to video pre-recording’s, and I think there is that real intimacy for students of hearing your voice as well, but not always having to see you, but just having that point of connection with you. The other thing to think about with students listening to your pre-recordings is the conditions in which they listen to them, how distracted they might be, what else is going on for them and their challenges. So, for our students perhaps we should not be too demanding of them. Make sure they’re engaged but recognise the context in which everyone is operating.” (Agnes Bosanquet – Learning & Teaching Staff Development)
“It’s important to help each other. We all know how hard teaching is anyway, even more so when you add a pandemic to it. So, supporting each other, having empathy, and patting people on the shoulder, trying not to be patronizing and saying yes, I get it, I understand, just being there for each other is important now that we are back in that situation again.” (Michael Volkov – Marketing)
Thanks to the members of the MQ Teaching & Leadership Community of Practice for their contributions.
Interested in some further reading? See these Teaching Online articles from the Teche blog.
Image: K Coaldrake