Dear lecturer, you are not alone
Are you (also) in doubt about how to deal with your distance teaching? Then read the specific advice from two colleagues on what you should be aware of before, during and after teaching your students online.
Exactly a week after Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen shut down all physical activity at the country's educational institutions, Ole Bækgaard – head of the Department of Public Health – received a call. The call was from a colleague at the Department of Public Health, Sanne Angel, who together with Mads Ronald Dahl from the Centre for Health Sciences Education (CESU) had just finished a joint research article on digital teaching.
New times call for new approaches
"We were just about to send the article to peer review when it struck us that we would be able to help more people, not least among our closest colleagues, if we shared our knowledge faster and through other channels than normal. These unusual times call for unusual initiatives. So I called Ole Bækgaard," says Sanne Angel, who is a lecturer on both the Master's degree programme and the professional Master's degree programme in nursing as well as on various PhD courses.
Mads Ronald Dahl, who teaches on the senior pedagogical training programme and works with EDU-IT in Health's educational research and development centre CESU, adds.
"Virtually all teaching staff find themselves in an unfamiliar situation right now. Time is crucial and the fact that teaching staff and students are unable to meet physically at any time is a big barrier. This is a challenge which Sanne and I would like to contribute to solving – and preferably as pragmatically as possible," he says, with reference to the readily accessible advice that forms part of the guide they have developed in connection with the article.
Technology is not always to blame when things go wrong
The guide is intended for the less experienced user of distance learning and focuses on technical, pedagogical and practical challenges.
Sanne Angel explains that teaching online is not just a question of location. She found that teaching via video conference changed all the things she was familiar with and altered both her own and the students' expectations of the teaching. Her own role and expertise were also challenged in the switch from traditional classroom teaching to online forms of instruction.
"The hardest thing for me is probably the uncertainty connected with the technology. Is it working now? Have I remembered everything? I want to maintain my role as an expert, and that can be a challenge in a situation where you’re struggling with the technology,” she says.
Practice makes perfect
“The first time I used Zoom in my teaching I mistakenly ended up logging in as a participant because I used the link I’d sent to the students. That meant that Zoom didn’t record the lesson and that was annoying. There’s a lot to remember in addition to the academic stuff, so I have to practice a bit more. You need to know your platform really well," says Sanne Angel.
As a concluding point, the two point out that the transition to online teaching can only succeed when both the lecturer and the students take the time to understand that teaching via digital platforms requires a different kind of behaviour and culture which needs to be respected.
"The learning outcomes are the same, but things need to be done in a different way and that requires a change to normal patterns of behaviour. For example, the students have greater shared responsibility for the quality of the teaching, and the lecturer needs to be ready to let go of some of their control and accept help from co-instructors, student teachers and the students," says Mads Ronald Dahl.
Read the (as yet non-peer-reviewed) research article in its entirety: ”Synchronous Distance Learning (SDL); an integrated course design using video conferencing in student-centered learning” (opens as a PDF). The guide for teaching staff and students forms appendix 2.
10 tips on technology, pedagogics and the practical
1. Set-up your workstation somewhere with minimal interruptions and noise.
2. Ensure that you have a stable and reliable internet connection, a web cam placed in your eye height, a headset with microphone and the Skype/Zoom/Adobe Connect app or a browser with Flash Player. Test your set-up and meeting room.
3. Prepare and send clear instructions to the students in advance and make sure that you have reconciled expectations for e.g. outcome, dialogue and time use before the teaching begins.
4. Plan short intro-sessions, also for tests, and generally make sure that there is ongoing meeting activity. This helps to facilitate the cultural change that is necessary when you transition from the physical to the virtual classroom.
5. Prepare and follow a teaching plan (agenda) so that the students can keep track of where they are and what remains. Allocate time for student activation using e.g. Mentimeter or Padlet and also time for evaluation and feedback.
6. Agree upon how and when you will continue the session, if any technical problems arise along the way, so that everyone knows the situation.
7. Assume the responsibilities of your role chairing the meeting and be prepared to interrupt and move on in the agenda, as well as being aware of anything else that may counteract the agenda or meeting flow.
8. Designate one of the students as an e-moderator, and involve the students to the extent allowed by the circumstances. An e-moderator can make the teacher aware of questions or sound problems, and generally make sure that minor things do not interfere with the teaching.
9. End the meeting with a summary of what you have talked about and what was agreed. Also refer to what is on the agenda for the next session.
10. Reflect on what is required to improve your online teaching. Follow up on whatever was agreed with the students, and show them that you have a plan using regular information, evaluation and recognition. You need to 'take your students by the hand' and guide them towards the desired learning and reflection.
CESU is available if you feel you need some professional sparring and feedback on how to reorganise your teaching, and you are welcome to visit the centre's website to register for the workshops on lectures as distance learning, read more about distance learning in general and find inspiration for alternative digital teaching activities (available in Danish only). You can also find relevant information on AU Educate: Inspiration for your teaching and read more in the article ”Status: Health’s teaching is being reorganised”.
Finally, AU’s Corona site on Transition to remote teaching and learning contains more information and inspiration on how you can reorganise your teaching and transition to distance learning, as well as guidelines for the various platforms that are available. From here, you can easily carry on to the faculty's website with the necessary general information and contact information.