To start with, it is important to remember that it is not only us, educators, who may not be used to this form of teaching and learning. Students too may find it hard to transition from face to face to online environments as well as to rethink and change the learning strategies they have developed and embodied throughout the years as part of their learning careers (I have written about this here and here). As such, it is critical that we consciously take steps in both scaffolding the learning practices we now expect students to adopt and expressing our teaching and learning expectations clearly.
The ideas and examples I will outline here are meant to be straightforward and holistic strategies to teaching and learning as a way of appealing to general teaching and learning practices, especially in the social sciences and humanities. For more ‘localised’ online teaching and learning ideas please draw inspiration from the theoretical understandings discussed in my previous blogpost. In doing so, ask yourself how your online class strategy can observe one or more of the digital culture principles:
· Creation and sharing of content
· Learners’ contributions (not only in the form of new content, but also reasoned debates and commentary, and/or sharing of resources)
· Fostering of social connections (relevant to students’ study)
· Forms of mentorship and peer support
There are two essential aspects of teaching and learning online that should be put in place before or at the very beginning of our teaching:
1. The first is about welcoming students into the learning spaces we have created as part of our teaching as a form of socialising them into the learning practices you expect them to engage with
2. The second focuses on giving students some sense of ownership of the spaces they are expected to learn in
When socialising learners into a digital learning culture I tend to prepare some module pre-activities to get the students involved. These activities do not have to be exclusively scholastics, they can be mainly social. The purpose is to help students to know one another, engage in certain communication rituals and thus start to build their trust and confidence to participate. Activities could, for example, focus on one or more of the following:
· Building presence
· Connecting to one another
· Contributing information
· Discussing ideas
· Sharing resources
· Creating artefacts
Prof. Michael Wesch, from Kansas State University in the US starts his modules/courses by inviting students to create a 3 minute video of themselves where they are asked to reveal 3 things about themselves. As a form of modelling practice and encouraging contribution, Prof. Wesch also creates a video in the same style. This, he argues, opens up conversations between students and starts to create some sense of connection.
In the past I have created micro-challenges for students using, for example, Twitter which would then become an essential tool for communication in the module. For a period of a week (before the start of the module) I launched a challenge a day via a #tag for students to respond to. The challenges have included:
· Recommending 10 people working in a field relevant to the module (to demonstrate how Twitter can be used to form academic networks)
· To share a relevant resource pertaining the module
· To discuss a news item relevant to the module
· To find out how many sorts of chocolate cake a local bakery had that day (this was an odd card, you many say, but with this I was able to evidence that by connecting to people online that are relevant to our knowledge, we can develop unexpected learning experiences. The bakery did reply to one of the students who remembered to check if the bakery had an official Twitter account 🙂 )
The idea is that through creating scenarios/ activities for students to socialise, they get to know each other a bit more and ease the communication between them.
Equally important is to develop an understanding of the rules of engagement online. This encourages everyone – individually and collectively – to reflect on their own presence and activity at the same time it allows students to have a say on how they expect to work online. To start this debate you can either host an open discussion and ask students to outline their suggestions, or you can structure the discussion around specific questions you want them to reflect on. (the The Internet Society provides a good example on online conduct guidelines). When consensus is achieved regarding the rules of engagement, it is important that these are written up as the agreed Code of Conduct for the module.
Having set the ground rules and started the process of socialisation, we can also think about the ways through which we can work with students online. The ideas I am about to suggest are straightforward, but they will hopefully allow for some effective working relationships to develop. Fostering learning routines is important. Just like in face-to-face learning: online learning does rely on a lot of class preparation. This is key to keep synchronous sessions short, focused and interactive. If your module relies on students engaging with readings in advance of class, architect ways through which they can show that such work has been done:
· In the past I have devised ‘reading cards’ meant to guide students’ reflection of their readings, evidenced through short reflexive writing pieces they can use to aid their discussions
· Group work can also be called for as a way to evidence collective understanding through either the creation of a joint resource or annotation of the said readings as a way to develop a shared bibliography (several tools can serve this purpose, such as: https://perusall.com or https://web.hypothes.is)
· Assign students to groups and roles as ‘topic experts’ and ‘knowledge curators’, in that one group is in charge of searching for and discussing the evidence about a given thematic and another group is in charge of curating and summarising the topic in a collective document. Rotate the roles across the weeks. (tools such as Mendeley, Endnote and/or Microsoft Teams’ Wikis can be used for such purpose)
· Allow students to teach each other. For example, organise a role play with some students taking on the role of experts and others the role of the audience prepared to ask critical questions. Both roles require students to prepare and study the topic being discussed. Such activity can be hosted asynchronously through discussion Fora or synchronously through platforms such as Blackboard Collaborate.
Make real time interaction count
The balance between asynchronous and synchronous learning time needs to be considered. Synchronous time is precious, not only because it requires negotiating a time to meet in real time, but also because it is an activity that feels more intensive, demanding far more concentration, therefore more tiring, than face-to-face interaction. As such, try to limit the duration of synchronous sessions. Real time interactions are more effective when used for discussions and interactions than lectures. For example:
· Invite students to submit questions, comments or ‘quotes’ for discussion and make real time sessions a learning conversation
· Use breakout rooms (this is possible in Blackboard Collaborate, for example) so that they can discuss the class topic. I have also used Jamboards in breakout rooms so that students can co-create a visual representation of their discussions once they come together as a class.
At some point you will want to create your own content too. If you create video/audio content for students, condense each session into a 15-20min artefact (especially videos). Beyond ‘talking heads’ type of resources, you can also collaborate with colleagues within and beyond the institution to discuss knowledge relevant to your module. For example, you can interview colleagues about their paper/research and then use the audio/video file for your class.
Additionally, you can reuse and re-purpose content created by other academics/sources, provided it is licensed for re-use.
As we engage with the creation of knowledge for online learning, it becomes essential to acknowledge some of the movements connected to online learning, especially the Open Access Movement (OAM). The OAM will be well known to many of us in relation to research, but it also has very strong links to teaching. Two key aspects should be highlighted:
1. Creative Commons Licenses which allow content creators, including educators, to license their work in ways that open up their productions for further use and/or re-purpose by other people as part of the principle of reciprocity, and
2. Open Educational Resources (OERs) which also adopt a Creative Commons Licenses philosophy and aim to contribute to a pool of teaching ideas educators can tap into and contribute to (see for example, here: OER Commons)
Digital education is not just about imparting knowledge nor is it only about consuming information. Digital education is also and above all about drawing meaning from experiences and findings ways to communicating them. Such approach plays an equally important role in both educators’ and students’ educational practices.