Activating working methods
How do you engage students in times of corona? Sara Brandellero, co-chair of Latin American Studies, created assignments that require a wide range of skills. And the result was beautiful.
Read the interview with Sara Brandellero Challenging the digital natives.
N=300, T=120, Proctoring: No, Remindo: Yes
Online Philosophy of Science exam, with the option of collaboration.
Due to the covid crisis, the Philosophy of Science for the Humanities examination could not take place physically. But how do you offer an online multiple choice exam for hundreds of students without encouraging all kinds of cheating?
The two forms of cheating that could easily take place are using books/literature and consulting with other students. Of course, you can try to somewhat discourage this by increasing the time pressure and randomizing the order of the questions, but that doesn't get to the root of the problem. Instead, I have chosen to embrace the new situation. I have made the exam an open book exam, with fewer questions that delve deeper into the texts the students have read. And I gave the students the opportunity to work together with up to three other students. Everyone writes their own exam, but they were allowed to consult with three others; and on the exam form they were asked to mention those other students as well.
Cheating is prevented. Students come into contact with the study material again in an educational way, by discussing it with each other. The questions can delve deeper and become more interpretative. And the grades were not very different from usual.
Of course, you have to think very carefully about the questions you ask. Anything the students can look up within a minute is not a good question - they really need to show some form of insight.
I was inspired by the clip Flipping the Class Exams by Frans-Willem Korsten. (You can watch the video in the Videoportal).
Online Examination History Courses
During the Corona lockdowns, we had to use online (remote) examinations for very large first- and second-year courses. The two main problems we were confronted with were a) (potential) plagiarism, and b) asking good questions that could demonstrate deeper understanding of the studied material (instead of mechanical reproduction of factual information).
After a bumpy first trial, we solved a) by having open-book exams, and (this is very important) by making it crystal-clear to the students which materials were allowed during the exam, and which not (and—also very important—that a plagiarism scanner was in use). We did not allow collaboration among students. When we made the terms clear (and repeated them often before the exam), we were not confronted with plagiarism again.
But an open-book exam needs different questions than what we were used to, and that led to problem b). It’s not easy to come up with questions that demonstrate insight in a BA1 or BA2 lecture course, and we needed to make a lot of these (for various exams, resits, extra resits, etc.) But we managed to come up with at least a few good insight-based questions. The best thing about them is that they were also fun (although not quick) to grade. They fell in one of the following categories:
- ‘Fresh’ comparisons: ask students to compare periods, societies, or historians (depending on the course), which had not been discussed in a comparative fashion during the course or in the book, or at least not in detail.
- A variation on 1 is the ‘imaginary dialogue’: ask students to imagine how a historian/theorist would react to the work/theories of another historian/theorist.
- Text analysis: ask students to analyze an excerpt from a primary source, academic literature, a newspaper (or anything like that, as long as it hasn’t been used in class) using concepts studied during the course.
- ‘Debate’ questions: ask students to defend and attack a statement by using arguments and counter-arguments. But it has to be something that has not been approached in the exact same way during the course or in the book. Not always easy to do.
These are just a few examples; I’m sure there are more. All of these types of questions force the students to activate their knowledge in a creative way, which can demonstrate their understanding of the course material better than a ‘reproductive’ question.
I think there is value in asking these types of questions and on focusing on understanding rather than memorization. However, some part of BA examinations should probably retain some focus on factual knowledge, at least in the first year. For that reason, but also because open-book exams are more time-consuming (both to make and to grade), we will return to on-campus examinations for these large courses.
Flipping the classroom
The challenge: take three hundred students from widely varying fields and teach them the basics of academic thinking in twelve lessons. Impossible? Professor Ben Arps and his team of tutors did it. A flood of positive student evaluations was the result.
Read the interview with Ben Arps on Flipping the classroom.
In Dan Levy's article The Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Balancing Act you can think carefully about the structure of your online education and prepare yourself with two simple questions:
- How do you divide the content of your course into synchronous and asynchronous educational material?
- How can I learn to use asynchronous teaching material so that live lecturing becomes better?
The article contains good examples of how you can split the educational content. Dan Levy speaks of the 'laundry test' for asynchronous activities. A student recently told him that if he could fold the laundry during an online lecture, he would watch the recording of the lecture and not participate live.
By building in a step between the asynchronous learning and the live session with students, you can find out more about the students' progress and what concepts they are struggling with. As a lecturer, you can also use this step to allow students to prepare the asynchronous material properly. In this way you can also adapt your live lecture to the students' reactions.
Dan Levy's general tip: start small, change a few lectures first and see if it works.
Do you know what a chatblast is? Do you encourage casual encounters between students online, now that physical chatting after class is not possible? Or do you create a playlist to make waiting until a video lecture begins more exciting? On 12 November 2020, Ionica Smeets, professor Science Communication at W&N, gave a surprising webinar about 'communicating during strange times'. She offers very useful and tangible tips for online education in the context of the new series Nuffic meets...... which she based, among other things, on Dan Levy's article The Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Balancing Act and her own experiences during her lectures.
Ionica Smeets' webinar consists of three parts of about 20 minutes. The first part (starting at 24 minutes) is about science communication, in the second part (starting at 40 minutes) Ionica offers very useful and tangible tips for online education and stimulating interaction with students. The final part is about communicating in an international context.
On the last subject, 'Internationalisation', she is optimistic. Look at what the current situation does make possible. She offers tips on how to collaborate internationally, also on education, with researchers and lecturers from all over the world. Are you already thinking about your lectures and your course in the second semester? If so, invite an international guest lecturer who can offer an interesting (perhaps non-Western) perspective on the content of your subject by having the guest lecturer teach an online lecture.
The link to this webinar will remain available until the end of December 2020.
The webinar consists of three parts
- Science Communication (starting at 24 minutes)
- Online education: good practices (starting at 40 minutes)
- Internationalisation: what is possible during the corona pandemic
The Activating Podcast Method: using blended learning to involve students
What is it?
The activating podcast method was designed for the first-year Realism and Symbolism course in the Film and Literary Studies programme, but has the potential of becoming a cross-curricular method.
How did it come about?
During the time of corona, Astrid Van Weyenberg had the idea of making an activating podcast because she wanted to increase students’ involvement and get them to work together more. The podcast includes assignments that require students to practise important skills such as critical thinking, analysing and reflecting. Lecturers can use the answers from the exercises to prepare their lectures and tutorials. That results in deeper and more interesting discussions.
How did you go about it?
The podcast was made using the Audacity programme, and there was support from ECOLe. Nathalie Muffels, student-assistant, made the accompanying film clips with animations and quotes and integrated the exercises in Brightspace using the FeedbackFruits programme. So-called ‘locks’ made sure that a student first had to do the exercise before being able to listen further. Students were given marks for a selection of the individual exercises in the podcast. There were also graded group exercises, and for the final assignment they had to record a podcast themselves. This is an intensive learning method for students, but the weekly assignments were in place of an exam.
The method offers opportunities to be more creative, for example by incorporating fragments from documentaries and inviting guests (colleagues and students) to take part in the podcast. Students are more active and better prepared during tutorials. Lecturers can tailor the tutorials to the students’ work, which can lead to more interesting and deeper discussions.
Assessment of the method: number of stars (max. 5):
**** (The production of the podcast could be improved and the process is labour-intensive.)
It can become monotonous hearing the same voice throughout a whole podcast, so try to vary things, for example by adding audio fragments and inviting other speakers.
It takes a lot of time, energy and resources to set up, but if it is done well, the podcasts can be used for several years.
Students found it difficult to find time every week to work together on the group exercise. This can be improved by having fewer group exercises and putting the groups together based on their tutorials.
No of students: 72 at the start, later around 55.
Duration: 12 weeks with 1 to 2 podcasts per week, with three reading weeks in between.
Online/hybrid: first online, but now hybrid.
With support from:
- Student-assistant Nathalie Muffels
- Thomas Vorisek from ECOLe
- Funding from LUF for freeing time to work on the project, purchasing material for a podcast studio and for a student-assistant.
Renaissance Society of America and Kaltura
Jacqueline Hylkema is assistant professor of Cultural History and Art History at LUC. When the pandemic began, she followed several external seminars and workshops on online teaching, including one with the Renaissance Society of America (RSA). The RSA focuses on academic research and education relating to the 1450-1700 period and provided support in the area of online didactics and pedagogy during the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, the RSA organised a seminar with four speakers about online teaching. This seminar took a positive approach: not so much about how to ‘keep going’ but more about how to do it well and turn it into a positive experience, for both the students and yourself. The four speakers were experienced in online teaching for a variety of reasons, such as having two jobs in two different continents, and they spoke from their own experience about what had worked well in online teaching and what had not. They gave good examples and many tips.
Why did you do this?
After the pandemic began, I realised – like many of my colleagues at LUC – that simply treading water with online education wasn’t good enough. As we know, LUC aims to provide excellent education. But how can you do that online?
What approach do you take?
The best advice from the RSA seminar was: don’t try to deliver your original course online; instead, you should thoroughly study your online medium and then redesign your course. I got to know Kaltura inside out, so that I could make optimum use of all the possibilities of online teaching. For example, with the breakout rooms, you could ask the students to choose their own reading assignments and discuss them in small groups. This immediately made the learning more personal and more tailored to students’ own specific interests. The digital format also had other advantages: my discipline involves studying images, such as historical documents, and we could use Kaltura’s zoom function to view and discuss the high-resolution images of the Mauritshuis museum and the Rijksmuseum in ways that are impossible during face-to-face seminars. I also changed the topics to suit the current situation: if we can’t hold a lecture in the Mauritshuis, then we’re going to look at how museums present themselves online.
After following the RSA seminar, I had done enough preparation to redesign my courses. LUC is an Honours College, which means small-scale classes with plenty of personal contact, and we were even able to achieve this online. Now that the pandemic seems to be over, our basic principle is again small-scale, face-to-face classes using the Socratic method. Online education is not an alternative for LUC, unless we go back into a pandemic with lockdowns.
It was certainly a challenging time and we all worked incredibly hard, but I look back positively on the education provided during the pandemic. I know that my teaching was good, not only because of the students’ positive evaluations, but mainly because I learned so much myself. I now have an arsenal of new educational skills and tactics, and that is very satisfying.
I never want to go back to completely online education, unless the situation makes it absolutely essential. But if that happens, then I’m ready for it. I actually still use some of the didactic concepts in my face-to-face classes, such as giving the students more freedom of choice in literature assignments, and I will also continue to use documentaries and podcasts in my courses.
Evaluation of learning method: number of stars (max 5):
- Think from scratch: embrace the situation and rewrite your courses
- Go for it, and make use of all the possibilities of online teaching and learning
- Get to know your medium - in my case it was Kaltura
- Kaltura: breakout rooms, zooming in with high-quality photographs of paintings
- Websites of museums with virtual exhibitions
Number of students
- Small-scale classes/tutorial – four eight-week blocks
- Completely online was necessary at that time
- Followed the Renaissance Society of America seminar
You may still have to teach hybrid classes from time to time, because students may be in quarantine or unable to attend lectures on campus for another reason. Some specific tips for improving your hybrid teaching are presented here.
Tips for more in-depth discussion and greater participation during seminars
- Make sure that the students prepare the seminars more carefully; for example, by asking them to read texts for the first two sessions in advance and then to submit short notes on Brightspace, or asking them to think of questions beforehand. These notes/questions will then be discussed in the first classes. This immediately results in more in-depth discussion during the class, especially if several groups address similar issues.
- An effective method for creating ‘group spirit’ is to give group assignments as preparation (each group reads an article and prepares a short presentation about it). One lecturer explains: ‘I read the notes prepared by the students, so that I could ask them targeted questions in the seminar, or I knew which student could introduce an original insight. I think this helps students to feel noticed, which encouraged them to participate in the discussion during later classes. It involved more work for me, but good preparation is essential for the first sessions of an online seminar. In later sessions I could be a bit more relaxed.’
- A suggestion for students following hybrid classes at home: give them a specific task to do while following the lecture; for example, to think of a question or three points that they will share with the whole group in the chat function at the end of the lecture.
- Even more important than usual: try to learn the students’ names quickly, and ask them to take turns. A frequently mentioned tip: make sure that you’re ‘unpredictable’, so that students are aware it could be their turn to speak at any time, and address students directly – especially the online students. Say that you find it extremely important that they always have their cameras switched on (this helps).
- One lecturer says: ‘In hybrid classes, you should always ask explicitly if the people participating online also want to say/ask something, and explain that they should then just switch on their microphone and say what they’re thinking; and always give them enough time, because they need to overcome their hesitation. When I ask the group a question, I quite often direct it specifically to the online participants. Try to alternate between the people in the room and the people at home.’
- Announce in advance when you will be making the lectures available, and also when access will be closed. ‘Making the lectures available for just a short time results in considerably higher viewing figures.’
- For assessments, share example questions in advance via Brightspace and state clearly how the assessment is structured and the number of questions.
- Try to repeat information several times and in different ways/platforms.
- Try to specify the structure of the tutorials as clearly as possible and remember to take a break (and perhaps use the break for an informal chat with the students).
These tips were compiled with thanks to the History lecturers. There is another article here about exchanging tips for online education.
Redesigning your course
What is it?
Online multimedia "textbook": The study material consists of twelve digital multimedia lessons with plenty of variety: texts, video-talks by the author/lecturer, case studies, reading material, interactive knowledge checks. The academic reading material is embedded in the lessons. These articles are by definition difficult. In prior, engaging case studies - short documentaries, interviews, news articles, web pages - academic issues and theoretical concepts are implicitly addressed. All of this is offered online in a format accessible on your computer, tablet or smartphone.
What was the occasion?
Threefold: (1) The lack of a general textbook for area studies. (2) The need for case studies to bridge the gap between students' knowledge and interests on the one hand and the abstract topics and concepts of area studies on the other. (3) The need for online education (Covid-19). Make a virtue of necessity!
How do you go about it?
Think in terms of Generation Z, but do not make any concessions regarding the end goal: academic reading, writing, speaking, observing, analysing. Use Rise Articulate, Kaltura Capture and reliable and interesting materials on the web.
The learning material is varied and divided into short pieces. It is accessible 24/7.
Assessment of the work format: number of stars (max 5):
Make sure that each part requires 5 to 20 minutes of concentrated work. (The reading material - academic articles - is an exception.) But avoid disorientation: indicate time and again how the section in question fits into the whole.
And: start, as an experiment, with a lesson or two. Just like making a textbook, this is very fun to do, but a lot of work.
Number of students:
- 268, from 14 different BA and pre-Master's programmes
- one semester, 12 lessons
- Online in 2020/21, hybrid expected in 2021/22
Lesson 6 from the course
- Grant provided by ECOLe: use of student assistant in designing the case studies
Online module with videos: Comparative Indo-European Linguistics
So, what is it?
The study material is presented in an online module that replaces traditional lectures in a course or course component. The module comprises reading material, short videos (up to 12 minutes long, often shorter), images with hotspots and activating exercises (matching exercises, sorting exercises, closed questions). The exercises in the module are primarily geared towards acquiring and testing knowledge. Students practise the necessary skills during the tutorials. The module consists of 14 chapters that are covered in 12 sessions, and each week students prepare one or two chapters. The course also has a syllabus with weekly exercises and some extra examples and tables. Students discuss the exercises from the syllabus with the lecturer during the tutorials, where they can also ask questions about the module content.
Why develop an online module?
The traditional lecture is a perfectly good and efficient way to convey information to a large group of students. But it can be difficult to cater for the individual needs of students, especially when they have different levels of prior knowledge. It is also difficult to keep the students fully focused for the entire duration of a lecture. Only a fraction of the information is retained, partly because students only engage with the information in one way (or two if they take notes). These downsides can be counteracted by offering the information in a different, more versatile way, where the students are more actively engaged with the material and have greater control over how they divide their attention and time.
How does it work?
The module was created in Rise Articulate and is offered via Brightspace. Students can easily navigate back to previously covered topics within the module.
The way in which information is presented can be adapted to the information type much more easily than in a lecture. Visualisation plays a key role here. For instance, information about dialects is presented on a dialect map. The shorter videos also make it easier for students to stay focused. Students can plan their time themselves, both during the week and as they progress through the module. They can revisit difficult topics and re-do the related exercises and re-watch clips, also when preparing for the exam. The main points of information are often also provided in text form after viewing the video, so that students do not have to trawl through a video to find a particular fact. Additional background information that not all students need can easily be provided at the right place in the lecture.
Assessment of the format: number of stars (max 5):
- Only create the module after you have taught it for a couple of years; this way, you will know what questions students will ask when.
- Vary the methods you use to present information.
- Also use students as presenters.
Number of students
- One semester, 12 lessons
- Flip the classroom
- Funding and support provided by ECOLe: use of two student assistants during the creation of the module and support during the making of the videos.
Have you ever caught your students playing video games during your lecture or seminar? Have you ever wondered how you can make your students more engaged and help them learn more actively? Senior University Lecturer Florian Schneider designed his MA course The Politics of Digital East Asia to include XP as inspired by Pokémon.
Gamification is the inclusion of video game elements in activities that are not related to video games. It is an innovative concept within education and includes point systems, rankings, feedback, and rewards, which ensure that students achieve their learning goals.
Skills: Creative thinking, critical thinking, communication, cooperation.
Gamification can be applied to the whole course or just one or two elements of it. If you use gamification for a whole course, consider using XP or other video game scores that can easily be translated into a grade. This ensures that there is a clear connection between the game elements and the learning elements.
Testing in a course that uses gamification works best with a lot of small assignments or larger assignments in which the students should be able to see clearly how to earn points with every component of said larger assignment. If the students have to give each other feedback or evaluations on assignments, it will help promote the engagement of students with the course, each other and the subject matter.
Various platforms such as Brightspace and Pitch2Peer work well with gamification.
A student's thoughts
Marit: I took a course that uses game elements. I was able to gain XP by doing assignments and the XP were then translated into a final grade for the course. I felt in control of how much XP I could gain, which led me to do a lot of assignments. As a result, I got a high grade for the course and I have learned valuable skills on how to present information visually.
Unfortunately, there were also elements of gamification that did not work as well for me. I'm highly competitive and, because you had to give feedback on the work of fellow students and rank them, I had the feeling that my work was never was never good enough. I struggled with these feelings a lot, because it felt like a constant battle with myself.
All in all, I thought it was an innovative way of teaching that motivated me put effort into all the assignments for the course, but because of my personality I also struggled with comparing my work to that of fellow students
Pecha Kucha (Japanese for 'chit-chat')
Explanation of presentation format
In this activity, the student gives a presentation consisting of 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each. This form of presenting has a set duration, which saves time.
The presentation is designed to focus on the visual aspects, challenging the student to engage with the material in a new and different way.
Skills: creative thinking, presenting, processing information, structuring
Group size: 1 person
Time: 6 minutes and 40 seconds
- Decide on a topic for the presentation.
- The student prepares a presentation of 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds. It is possible to attach a time limit to slides in various presentation programs (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc.). For the slides it is important that it is mainly visual, so images with occasional quotes or definitions that contribute to the spoken words.
- The student practises the presentation several times to ensure that the student is comfortable presenting within the time limit and with the transitions between slides.
- The student gives the presentation during class/tutorial.
- Optional: Other students in the class can give peer reviews as an assignment in order to keep focus on the presentations.
Andrea Giolai: Since I was a bit dissatisfied with the classroom dynamics in one of my MA courses, I decided to include Pecha Kucha to stimulate student participation. Many students have never done a Pecha Kucha presentation before, so it is a fun, new experiment: this spirit of experimentation gives a sense of ease to the whole class, which invites open-hearted discussions on how to improve specific presentation skills, master public speaking, and craft better presentations more generally. The risks of this format include the rigid timing and the possible dullness of having serval presentations in a single meeting. To try to put yourself in your students’ shoes, consider starting the course by giving a Pecha Kucha presentation yourself: it’s challenging, but a lot of fun!
How does it help students?
Marit: When I first saw a Pecha Kucha, I thought it was an interesting presentation format. The speed at which slides change makes it easy to keep attention on the presentation. In addition, the many visual elements accompany the story quite well.
I was up first when we had to give a Pecha Kucha for the first time, which was exciting but also challenging, because I was unsure of what was expected of me in this particular context. I know that I talk fast and therefore I know that I can convey a lot of information in a short period of time. However, the real challenge was to find the right balance between just talking a lot and conveying the story in a comprehensible way. The importance of images on the slides was a godsend to me, because I prefer not to have big chunks of text on a slide.
I thought that Pecha Kucha was an interesting work format because I had to be more mindful when selecting what information was important enough to include and how to structure it clearly in order to make it understandable for the audience. I had to do a peer review assignment when others gave their Pecha Kucha and because of that I paid close attention during the other presentations. I would definitely be interested in giving another Pecha Kucha.