In light of the current situation, you may be poised to cease campus teaching and look at ways to support students remotely.
Communication is of paramount importance at this time and your institution will be supporting students via various communication channels to keep them up to date on the ever-changing situation. Your communications and/or marketing teams will no doubt be working tirelessly to be sure that the right information is shared at the right time.
Separate to communicating updates and ensuring that students feel that they are being supported, your academic teams may be wondering how they can support student’s learning effectively during this period.
Fortunately, there are lessons from the world of online learning that can be shared to assist academic teams in moving toward remote support which encourages connection and engagement between instructors and students.
The first step is to connect with your on-campus learning technology team. They are likely to be very busy at the moment, but sitting down to discuss the digital technology options, training materials and practical support available will help you understand what you have and what you might need.
Your institutions VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) may already be organised by cohorts or classes and support an announcement function. Announcements are a great tool for motivating students, maintaining momentum with course activities and sharing important information. With one announcement, you can be sure to reach all students in a cohort/class as they will typically also receive an email notification that the announcement has been posted.
To begin with, you can use announcements to share an overview of your new teaching and learning approach such as key contact details, any changes to assessment approaches and to encourage students to work together and support each other in their learning. As you move beyond the initial transition, you can use announcements for a weekly welcome and motivation message and highlight key activities that students should be completing and to highlight where online resources are being shared.
For regular communication, such as weekly welcome announcements, you can schedule your announcements to be sent to students on a particular time and day. However, be careful to not plan too far in advance, as the situation changes, you may need to change how and what you need to communicate.
If your VLE is not already organised by cohort/class, contact your learning technology team to support this organisation. If you do not have an announcements function, you could consider asking for support to set-up group emails which could be used as an alternative. Be careful to ensure that you are adhering to your institutions’ data protection policy.
Academics should make sure that VLE profiles include up-to-date contact information and a profile picture so that students can easily recognise messages from their instructors.
"You can use announcements for a weekly welcome, motivation message and highlight key activities."
Discussion forums can replace classroom discussion, group work and peer-review activities. You can use discussion forums to simulate seminar discussion by setting questions and encouraging debate. You can ask students to work on discrete tasks in remote groups and share their progress and outputs via the discussion forum.
Discussions don’t have to be simply text-based exchanges. Video and audio can be shared via discussion forums. Leading by example and encouraging students to share their thoughts via video/audio messages can make discussions much more engaging.
Consider setting up distinct discussion threads to help organise discussions and avoid this space becoming messy and cluttered. For example, you could have separate threads for assignment questions, general questions on a week by week basis, content queries and space for students to chat informally.
Students won’t always automatically receive email notification of a new discussion thread or post and so you may need to encourage students to subscribe to threads and check in regularly.
Contact your learning technology team if you need help with setting up threads or advising students on how to set-up their notifications.
Well organised live sessions can be a powerful tool when supporting students remotely. Live sessions, sometimes referred to as webinars or virtual lessons, are an opportunity for instructors and students to connect in the same place and time. Here, instructors can emulate most campus teaching and learning activities.
Instructors can deliver virtual lectures, seminars, flipped classroom approaches, assignment preparation sessions and live discussions. Live session software can also be used for hosting instructor ‘office hours’ either as a virtual drop-in session or for planned one-to-one meetings just as you might on campus.
Most live session software allows you to break up larger groups into smaller break-out groups to support small group activities and encourage those who might not speak up in larger online groups.
You may need to ask your learning technology team to identify what live session software is available to you.
Live session practical tips
- First, ask your learning technology team for support with the practicalities of setting up and delivering a session.
- Stick to your usual timetable where possible to maximise attendance.
- Record the session for those who can’t attend, setting up the recording and slides early to help your session run as smoothly as possible. Ask permission from the students to record.
- Find a quiet place to deliver your session and be conscious of your background and potential for interruptions.
- Ask students to mute their microphones to reduce background noise. Most software includes a function to mute all which can be very useful for large groups.
- Switch your webcam on and encourage students to do the same.
- Add a slide at the start which explains that it will be recorded and set out your expectations for the session, e.g. that you want students to turn on webcams, ask questions and be engaged.
- If you are new to live sessions, keep it simple to help the session run smoothly.
- Engage students actively with chat/polling/voting/answering questions to increase interaction.
- Where possible and if you feel confident, use breakout rooms to divide your attendees into smaller groups for discussion and discrete activities to allow students the chance to get know each other.
Moving from face to face teaching and learning to remote methods is likely to seem daunting and complicated.
There is a wide range of support available from the digital learning community and from this series of blogs from Pearson Higher Education Academic Services.
For more support with moving courses online and digital teaching and learning approaches, please feel free to contact the Academic Services team of Pearson UK HE Services.
You can contact the team directly via PDSD@pearson.com.