Advice to lecturers, from students, ahead of an academic year like no other
Featuring contributions from the EDTL student intern in each of our member universities
The EDTL Student Interns have been hard at work in their respective university, and if you haven’t already it is definitely worth following the EDTL Project on Instagram, where the team have some exciting plans for the upcoming year. For this newsletter, we asked each of the student interns to give a piece of advice to lecturers who are looking for the student perspective on online learning for the year ahead.
Katharina Kurz, Maynooth University
My primary tip for lecturers about online learnings is to make sure you know where your students are at and let them know where you are at. Simply feeling acknowledges as an individual instead of being treated as one of the members of a uniform cohort – ‘the students’ – might be the secret game changer, especially for online learning.
How to connect? There are many ways – start with whatever you feel most comfortable. For example, share something personal. Your hobbies, something fun or interesting about yourself on your VLE introduction (in written form or record a video) and ask us to do the same. You could also make time for virtual check-in circles or coffee mornings outside of regular classes or even start the class with little ice-breakers and connect in with us at the end again. There are many great resources out there that give practical advice if you’re new to this idea, such as the ones found here.
Ben Ryan, Trinity College Dublin
Firstly, set the tone of the lecture early on. Establish some ground rules at the start of a lecture/module regarding questions, queries and issues. If students have questions should they use their mics to interrupt, ask a question in the chat or message you directly? Clearing these things up makes it more likely students who have an issue will come forward and seek clarification.
It would also be helpful to acknowledge the situation makes contribution difficult. Students are hesitant to contribute at the best of times and online lectures makes things even more daunting. Remind students that you are aware of this fact and encourage them to do their best to contribute. Reinforce contributions by praising those who get involved, as this may encourage others to do the same.
Lastly, it is very reassuring to hear lecturers ask if we are all right and that they hope things are ok, however, they must remember we hear a similar message in almost every lecture. The words ‘new normal’ become old very quickly. Oftentimes it may be better to get on with things without spending too much time discussing the current situation. Don’t worry, we know you care, and we truly appreciate the kind sentiment.
Lauren Muldowney, NUIG
One useful thing for lecturers to note is that if you are used to teaching in a didactic lecture-style format, this might not have the same impact on your students in a virtual environment. A pre-recorded lecture without opportunity to interact live and ask questions may leave your students feeling a bit lost. There are lots of ways to combat this, the most straightforward way could be to use virtual classroom tools, such as Blackboard Collaborate.
One aspect of an online learning environment I’ve noticed is that there can be a deafening silence during a tutorial when a lecturer asks a question to the group. I can just imagine my fellow classmates stop in their tracks, as I sometimes do, and wonder how I can make it stop without risking giving a wrong answer. Your students may well be enjoying your teaching so don’t take the radio silence to heart. Try to encourage students to speak up even using a chat function, respond in a constructive way to their incorrect suggestions and most of all, don’t be disappointed with the number of broken microphones in your class cohort!
Aoibhinn Nic Giolla Mhartain, UCD
When the pandemic hit, I was just three weeks into a study abroad program in Brisbane. Unfortunately, this meant leaving Brisbane, almost overnight to return home to Ireland. Due to the time difference between Brisbane and Ireland, I had some of my lectures and exams in the middle of the night. This made the transition to online learning even more difficult. Although lecturers were sympathetic, one was unwilling to change and post a recording because she wanted students participating and the other, as it was his first time using Zoom simply didn’t have the skills to record and then post the lecture.
If I could give one piece of advice to lecturers for this coming semester it would be to consider whether synchronous meetings are really required. Covid-19 has significantly impacted students schedules and availability and it has further marginalised disadvantaged students and requiring students to log in at a certain time may further debilitate these students. Having said this, I see the merit in live classes due to the participation and discussion element. This semester, many of my lectures are live, and the recording is posted after the lecture. This is a perfect solution as it allows students who may benefit from the increased engagement of synchronous learning while simultaneously provides for students in less fortunate circumstances.
Catherine Dawson, UCC
Feedback is essential so allow openings for students to give input as regular as possible. You have spent years and years honing your teaching style to face-to-face teaching, and now you have to do something different. Give opportunities for students to anonymously give feedback on anything new you are doing and how you are doing it. You can provide a short ungraded MCQ on your VLE at the end of the week, regular meetings with your class representative, or general questions at the end of a set of notes. Learning online is your chance as a teacher to try something new, and if something isn’t working, you will need to know to correct it as soon as possible.
Alice Hynes, UL
Although many lecturers may not be used to this wholly different new method of teaching, neither are the students. There may be a perception that because we are young and spend a considerable amount of time on our phones each day that we are pretty tech savvy. Well, it may be true. But please don’t confuse ‘tech savvy’ with the ability and skills required to learn online. Most of your students have probably spent their entire educational journey, right from primary through to secondary school and beyond, learning in a face to face situation, with the face-to-face interaction this entails. But now, many students will not only be facing their first stab at independent learning, but they will be doing it in a format totally unbeknown to them; through a screen.
One of the main factors of students’ stress at this time is being confused about when classes are taking places, which classes are synchronous and which are not, and what material must be prepared beforehand. Being as explicit as possible about this information will ensure students feel in control and do not get penalised for missing classes unintendedly. Consistency in your delivery methods, class times and announcements will also massively help to reduce stress for students at this time.
Michaela Waters, Maynooth University
Firstly, the delivery of asynchronous learning (pre-recorded videos) can be very engaging for students, with the inclusion of interactive activities. Interactive activities students benefit from could include a quiz, a quick poll or external “fun” resources relevant to the material such as YouTube videos or news articles. The activities should require applying concepts learned to specific scenarios or questions.
Another thing which I loved was having a guideline weekly, where my lecturer would put up the material and a checklist which included all the work to be completed that week. The simple instructions allowed me to work ahead if I wanted or to follow my original timetable, I enjoyed the freedom of my learning.
Lastly, I use these 3 C’s to ensure a smooth relationship between lecturer and student. Communication: Many students do not see or are aware of how much work is involved in the background, keep your communication channels open for students, for example be available through email or on your LMS. Co-operation: Allow for students to understand and relate – we are all in the same position learning how to learn online. Collaboration: Work effectively to benefit the student learning experience. Lecturers, listen to the student’s voice and liaise with academic staff.