Teaching Online, easy. Right?

It’s been a few weeks now since we’ve moved our teaching online. That was a tumultuous week. Tuesday 17 March, we got the directive to pause all campus teaching; and I wondered what was going to happen to the MWL101 seminar I teach on Wednesdays. I was quite impressed that we were able to move online so quickly, and the next day I was running my seminar online for the first time, using BbC Ultra.

That first session was a little messy and very experimental. It was clear to me within the first 20 minutes of class that the usual activities needed to be adapted for an online context. While I didn’t need to create entirely new activities, I did need to rethink how to run them in an online environment. Here are some principles that I have been using to help me transition to teaching online.

Everything needs to be student-centred. As Mike Ewing said in his last town hall meeting, all students are someone’s child. Our students are studying in very uncertain times, their anxiety and stress levels are high, and we have to be very careful about the assumptions we make about their progress:

  • Have you clearly explained what adjustments are being made to your unit, and provided clear instructions on where to access their cloud seminars?
  • Communicate regularly with your students (e.g. news posts, discussion posts), ask them how they’re going, ask if they have any questions/concerns

Where possible, keep your teaching low-bandwidth. Is your unit accessible to students with unreliable internet connection? One of my students doesn’t have internet at home (let’s call him Zac), so every few days Zac logs on using his phone’s data, downloads what he needs, and studies offline. How would Zac fare if he was in your unit?

Rethink those long lectures. Back in my undergraduate, I took a Cloud unit over T3. I was listening to my lecture recording but noticed I was too distracted by social media. So, I laid back, closed my eyes and tried to focus on the lecture… 90 minutes later, I woke up from a very refreshing nap. Might this be a similar experience for Zac and other students?

  • Consider ‘chunking’ your lectures into short videos. One 5-10 minute video per primary concept; then break up these videos with some text explaining that concept’s relation to the rest of the unit, and how it links with other concepts. Consider also threading through articles, industry reports and your weekly readings.
  • Also, that would make your unit site much more accessible to students like Zac.

But most importantly, be kind to your students. University is all about pushing our students’ intellectual boundaries, but we need to recognise that students will be facing many struggles in continuing their studies during isolation. Consider this article on a pedagogy of kindness, and how we can build trusting relationships with students as we guide them on a journey to broaden their horizons and challenge their thinking.

Supporting students isn’t something that unit chairs are solely responsible for, and there are many services available for students, including:

You can also find further support on DLF’s DTeach page, particularly their teaching and learning resources and more in-depth strategies in their checklist for online learning.

Of course, Learning Innovations is also here to support you, check our events page. We’ve been offering more workshops to support the Faculty in moving to online teaching. Of course, you can also get support in managing your unit site, from rubrics to videos to assignment drop boxes.

Teaching in this new context isn’t something we should be doing alone, and I encourage you to share ideas and experiences with your colleagues. Learning Innovations is working on supporting online teaching, and I would love to hear how you’ve been supporting your students and adjusting your teaching practice. Please do reach out to me <>, and let me know what you’ve been doing.

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