Breaking the (Virtual) Ice
If there is one thing many of us are missing at the moment it is social interaction. One of the greatest challenges of virtual lectures is no doubt trying to create an environment where students want to interact and contribute like they would in a traditional setting. Here, our EDTL Student Interns offer their advice for lecturers to try and encourage contributions from students in the online environment.
There is a certain sense of camaraderie between students and lectures since we have moved to online learning, no doubt due to the fact that these are new waters for so many of us. Despite this, it can be hard to create a connection when students are just grids on a square. Engaged students who feel confident and able to contribute during lectures make the learning experience more worthwhile and beneficial for all, so read on for some tips from our student interns on how you can break the (virtual) ice.
Katharina Kurz – MU
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I mainly had live-lectures. We are a small group in my Masters class, yet also a group with students coming from diverse backgrounds. Our challenge is: ‘How to establish a common ground between students of different age, coming from different countries, some completely new to the discipline of Anthropology?’
One thing that definitely helped was switching on our cameras. This was achieved best when lecturers explained the benefits of it, instead of ‘prescribing’ to do so. Approaching this subject could sound like: ‘I know you must be exhausted from staring at screens for so long. However, it would be very helpful for me if you could switch on your camera during this class. If you cannot, that is understandable, but if it is somehow possible, please do. This helps create a safe space for us all, and it makes us feel a little more like we are actual people instead of little dots on a screen.’
Another thing that helps keep everyone engaged is to connect the content of the lectures to actual circumstances that we are currently facing. Use real-life examples to illustrate your points where possible. Ask questions that allow us to bring our own experience to the shared virtual space. Leave enough room for discussion and exchange of personal anecdotes. Remember, it is tough for us to stay motivated, I am sure for you too. During these exceptional times it is especially challenging to find meaning in class content that is detached from our actual experiences. If you find a way to connect your teachings to real-life events, it will be easier to realise the relevance of it.
Aoibhinn Nic Giolla Mhartain – UCD
Since returning to college for this semester I have noticed that lecturers are attempting to be a lot more engaging with their lecture delivery. I have found this to be a positive strategy so far. Although I enjoy the efficiency of pre-recorded lectures as you can pause, rewind, or refer back to them when you want to, I am also enjoying the increased engagement this semester. Some lecturers have employed a strategy which I believe is the best of both worlds where they deliver the primary content/notes in the form of a pre-recorded lecture which allows students the flexibility to make their notes at their own time, but also arranging a weekly Zoom/discussion seminar which allows us to interact with the lecturer, discuss the topic and ask questions if there are any problems.
This has been great as I love the opportunity to interact with my peers and lecturers daily and I feel far less isolated. These discussion zooms and seminars are also reassuring – if I am struggling with content, from the interactive zooms it is evident that I am not alone and any issues students may be having with the content can be brought up and explained by the lecturer. This practice will hopefully improve the student experience of online learning for Semester 2.
Ben Ryan – TCD
1) Devote sufficient time to student introductions
While lecturers frequently mention the importance of introducing yourself to your colleagues in a breakout room, there is often not enough time to introduce everyone and complete the required task. For many students, the idea of formally introducing themselves (‘Hi my name is X and I study Y’) and immediately proceeding with the required task is clunky or awkward. Instead, students have a much more informal chat to introduce themselves and get to know one another. Lecturers and session leaders should account for this by giving increased time for introductions in breakout rooms or even devoting an entire breakout session to introductions if the groups will remain somewhat consistent. This way students don’t have to make the choice between rushing introductions or not finishing the required task.
2) Minimise ‘cold calling’
For many students, the thought of being called on by name for an immediate response or answer is extremely daunting. This feeling is often exacerbated in an online environment. Calling on individuals by name does have its advantages such as increasing overall attentiveness and allowing everyone to contribute. As a compromise, try ‘warm calling’; instead of calling on certain individuals for an immediate response, select one or several students to respond to a question at the end of the class or a certain section of the presentation.
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