Needs Must: Let’s be real about teaching online during COVID-19
By Clíodhna O’Callaghan (@cliodhnacal), Project Lead for UCC
I started a new job in UCC last December working on the exciting EDTL project by the IUA with the ultimate goal of enhancing the overall digital experience and attributes of our third level students through supporting staff with their professional development.
However, due to our current reality, my advice may contradict some of what we are advocating for nationally in our work. We are not working or living in anywhere near normal circumstances right now and so our typical expectations of ourselves in the context of teaching online, putting content online, etc. do not apply. What we need to do right now is what works best given the circumstances. Please relieve yourselves from high expectations right now because that will be the best thing you can do for your students, and for you (and yours).
Yes, there are some pretty amazing online learning tools on Canvas, and Microsoft Teams has been there all along (and works great for collaboration and video by the way) but stop and ask yourself what is absolutely essential right now as I move my lecturing & assessment online –
- Your students know less about technology than you think. Many of them know less than you and do not feel at all confident digitally in third level (even though they are younger than you!). This was evident in the data we recently gathered in the INDEx Survey.
- Many students will be accessing the internet on their phones. They have limited data… keep this in mind.
- Students who did not sign up for an online course may not have a computer, high speed wifi, a printer/scanner, or a camera. And even if they do (which we do recommend), that doesn’t mean that they will when something breaks and they can’t afford to fix it because they just lost their part-time job.
- Students will be sharing their technology with other household members. They may have less time to do their study and not more.
- Think of your students who are caring for their elderly parents at home, and if those close to them do get ill, and if your students themselves get ill.
- Many of our students are parents and now without any support whatsoever for childcare. This is exhausting for them.
All of these factors, and more, mean that your students are facing unprecedented challenges (I realise we all are) and so accessing your lecture online might not be top of their priorities.
- There are three new pages designed for you and your students available on the UCC website which are incredibly useful:
- a) Keep Teaching b) Keep Learning c) Keep Assessing
- Keep it Simple. Use the technologies that are available and supported by UCC, specifically Canvas.
- Ideally, right now, do not organise your teaching/revision classes online to demand synchronous work. If students need to show up at a specific time for something, it has a hugely negative knock on effect for everyone. Firstly, life just doesn’t run in straight lines, and more than ever, we cannot rely on tomorrow. Secondly, this asks for trouble in terms technology crashing, poor connection to wifi etc. (We appreciate this has to be the case for some assessments but ideally not).
- You have already built up a strong connection with your students – they know and trust you. Therefore, the need to record your lectures for the remainder of the semester isn’t there. This will be a low priority for your students right now. Ensuring they have access to the resources they need to complete the remainder of your module is what is important right now.
- Of course, it may be absolutely necessary and sensible to record your lectures when information cannot be learned otherwise. Panopto is your ideal resource for this and AVMS in UCC list lots of other video options available to you here. A good way to record is one topic per lecture (trying to keep it short and sweet). Don’t worry about editing – just be yourself. It does not need to be perfect. Especially right now.
- You can organise MCQ’s through the quiz function in Canvas, and this works really well as a form of assessment. Ideally allow every exam or quiz to be taken at least twice, and tell students that this means that if there is a technical problem on the first attempt, the second attempt is their chance to correct it. The invaluable part of MCQ’s is that they are self-grading (no corrections for you!) and the students get immediate feedback.
- Communication is key right now with your students as well as managing each other’s expectations. I realise it can sometimes feel like handholding and I know this is not the culture you wish to foster amongst your cohort. However, there’s a lot going on now for everyone. Reminders are invaluable. Remind them of deadlines, and assessment dates etc. A lot. Personally, these days, I need a reminder for everything whether it’s a submission deadline date or an appointment for my children.
There are lots of invaluable supports out there for you and for your students so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. Remember that you can contact me and/or book a consultation with a member of our team of instructional designers in the Centre for Digital Education in UCC for support with teaching and learning online.
I personally moved from traditional class based teaching to teaching online in 2014 and this was a planned and supported move when I was lecturing in law. A very different experience to what you are going through right now and I appreciate that. However, I have to say it was one of the best professional experiences of teaching and learning I ever had. So, when you have a moment, embrace it and see what potential is out there for the future.
Bí cúramach amuigh ansan.