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Lecturers swap tips in webinar on online teaching

Can I record my lecture as a podcast? How do I keep my students’ attention during an online tutorial or lecture? And how do I get a discussion going with everyone sitting in front of a screen? Lecturers swapped tips and personal experiences in the ‘Digital Learning and Teaching in Times of Coronavirus’ webinar.

Every year, Leiden University organises an Education Day where lecturers come together to exchange theoretical and practical knowledge about teaching and learning. As an in-person meeting was not possible this year, the Education Day followed in the footsteps of the University’s teaching and was held online on 7 July. More than 240 lecturers joined this online event entitled ‘Digital Learning and Teaching in Times of Coronavirus’. 

 

All participants in the ‘Digital Learning and Teaching in Times of Coronavirus’ webinar were sent a parcel, containing such goodies as an ‘Online Education Bingo Card’.
All participants in the ‘Digital Learning and Teaching in Times of Coronavirus’ webinar were sent a parcel, containing such goodies as an ‘Online Education Bingo Card’.

Interaction is a challenge

The Education Day may have moved online, but the lecturers still had plenty of experiences and practical tips to share. In the ‘Interaction and Engagement’ parallel session, for example, where session leader Frank Takes explored the best ways to stimulate interaction in online classes. Takes, a lecturer and researcher at LIACS, asked the participants what they were struggling with in their lessons. A long silence followed. ‘That’s the first lesson,’ said Takes. ‘People, so your students too, need more time to answer a question online than they would in a lecture hall or tutorial. So you have to give your students more time to respond.’ 

Give students tasks

The lecturers taking part in Takes’ session opened up in the end and shared some of the techniques they use to activate and encourage students to engage in dialogue during class. For example, asking students to read texts before class and present a summary in small groups. Or testing their knowledge in a regular online quiz. At the end of the session, the participants were asked to vote for the most effective technique. The clear winner was giving students specific tasks or responsibilities: for example, making them responsible for part of an online class, asking them to give a presentation or introduce a topic, or giving them a practical task like moderating the chat.

Practical tips from lecturers

The participants shared lots of practical tips in the webinar, including the following:

  • Open your online lecture meeting ten minutes before the starting time so students have time for the informal chat they would normally have at the coffee machine.
  • If you teach a course with other lecturers, agree on which tools to use for what; this creates consistency.
  • Use online quiz questions during the lecture or post the occasional quiz online.
  • Give students a task/responsibility during the lecture, such as preparing and presenting a topic or moderating the chat.

Quiz questions during a lecture

Interaction was also the main theme of a FeedbackFruits session by Jeroen de Wilde, a lecturer and researcher at LUMC. FeedbackFruits is a set of programs available in Brightspace that lecturers can use as online teaching tools. One of the programs is Interactive Video, which allows lecturers to make their video lectures more interactive. For example, by interspersing the video with quiz questions that students have to answer before the lecture continues. Or by giving students the opportunity to ask each other or the teacher questions, or start a discussion. At present, FeedbackFruits is only available to LUMC lecturers.

Podcasts

One option available to all lecturers is to create a podcast. ‘All you need is a microphone and a telephone, laptop or recording device,’ explained Professor of Korean Studies, Remco Breuker, in his session. However, you can’t just record your lecture and call it a podcast, said the now experienced podcaster. ‘You have to substantially shorten your story; 20 minutes is the maximum, as far as I’m concerned. So kill your darlings!’ Breuker uses his podcasts in different ways: as a broad introduction, an in-depth exploration or an elaboration on a different approach to the field. He also sometimes asks his students to respond to his podcast with a podcast of their own. ‘This can be a quick recording in WhatsApp or you can ask a small group of students to formulate a more detailed response. We’ve all had fun doing this!’ And an added bonus: you know for sure that your students really have listened to your podcast!

Frank Takes’ parallel session resulted in the five top tips for generating interaction with and among your students.
Frank Takes’ parallel session resulted in the five top tips for generating interaction with and among your students.

Retain knowledge and expertise 

Vice-Rector Hester Bijl also appeared in the webinar. In an interview with host Erik Peekel she reflected on the past months and the incredible switch that lecturers and students have had to make to online education. ‘Everyone has worked so incredibly hard, and I’m deeply impressed. In order to retain all this knowledge and expertise, we’ve appointed a taskforce to collect what did – and what didn’t – work well.’ Bijl also noted that many people were positive about online teaching, ‘Of course there are also disadvantages, like the amount of energy it costs to set it up, as well as to teach and learn in this way. Another major shortcoming is the lack of social interaction in the classroom and the accompanying peer-to-peer learning.’ 

In-person teaching wherever possible

Bijl emphasised once again that she wants as much of the teaching as possible to be in person. ‘Small tutorials, tutoring; these are things that simply have to be in person. Online lectures for large groups –for now at least– is probably the least worst option. Unfortunately, we don’t know how the situation will develop.’ Preparing for this uncertainty will still take a lot of effort from many lecturers this summer. ‘But you could all use a well-deserved holiday,’ said Bijl to those present. ‘So we’re doing all we can to make that possible.’ 

Trust

A recurring piece of advice was to trust your students. They understand the situation lecturers are in, so be open and honest, for example if something does not work or is still in progress. Then students know why something is taking longer than expected. And they may be familiar with the programs that you use and might be able to help. What is more, students are also having a difficult time, and open communication will help lecturers and students to make the best of things.

Support for lecturers 

Lecturers with questions about online teaching can consult a number of resources. At teachingsupport.universiteitleiden.nl you will find information about which programs are available and how they work. You will also find step-by-step plans for converting courses or specific teaching methods to online formats. In addition, each faculty has a support team for lecturers. Finally, a series of webinars on various aspects of online teaching, which were given in May and June by ICLON and the Centre for Innovation, are still available online, as is the webinar of 7 July.

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