Moving Our Courses Online

So it happened: we have been asked to move our courses completely online for the foreseeable future. For many of us, this is quite stressful, because we are venturing into unfamiliar terrain. Understandably, much of the focus now is on the technologies of online teaching. When teaching online, however, it is also important to consider how pedagogy is affected by moving our courses online.

Having acquired some experience with online and blended learning, I have received some questions from colleagues on how to best approach it. Below I have listed some of the available options to transfer F2F course content online. Each of these options, as I have experienced them, has pros and cons. Which technology is appropriate for your course depends on what you would like to achieve pedagogically. Please note that I don’t want to tell you what to do under these exceptional circumstances. It’s fairly simple. The best choice is whatever works for you and for your students.

Here’s a quick menu of 5 online teaching options that you may consider in the days or weeks to come:

auditorium benches chairs class

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

1. Pre-recorded lecture: The most straightforward option is to simply record your lecture,  as if you’re giving it face-to-face to a group of students. You can do this at home or even in an empty lecture hall. You can opt for a video or only record the audio. This option is attractive for its simplicity: it requires limited technological skills and preparation time, especially when you already have your lecture prepared.

That being said, I have never been much of a fan of pre-recorded lectures myself and I still find them quite time-consuming. I rarely write out F2F lectures, relying on improvisation instead. But I feel less comfortable improvising during a recorded lecture, so I still end up writing a full script. Then I start recording, inevitably fumbling half-way through. Then my perfectionism gets in the way, which usually makes me start the recording over again. For students, this is also a demanding format, because let’s face it: who can pay attention to a talking head on-screen for more than just a few minutes?*

Example of how to use this format: You pre-record your (already prepared) lecture, but in multiple short videos. For instance, you record six videos of 10 minutes each instead of one hour-long lecture. Making multiple, shorter videos makes it easier for your students to pay attention and digest the content. It also makes it easier for you to re-do part of your lecture, should something go wrong during the recording. To sum up: short pre-recorded videos are safer for you to do, and more enjoyable for your students.

*To me, this also applies to listening to podcasts, but I recognize this is a popular technology among academics and it is also reasonably accessible to students.

2. Slides with voice-over: You can avoid the ‘talking head’ situation of the pre-recorded lecture by adding slides (for instance, using a split screen) or by adding voice-over to your slides. Read about how to do this for Microsoft PowerPoint and for Google Slides. This teaching method has many benefits: we often already have slides available for our lectures, it doesn’t require sophisticated technological skills and it makes visualizations possible. This last point is important: it is simply much easier to pay attention to an online lecture, if there is something else to look at besides a talking head. One caveat: don’t fill the slides with text, which makes it easier to lose attention.

You may also want to think about how you will deliver the slides with voice-over to your students. The most common option is for you to upload the file to the course management system, which students then download and view. Since these files are quite large, students may encounter difficulties downloading the file. And you may not want them to have the possibility of downloading (and sharing!), especially if you are rushing to create the online lesson, as many of us currently are. In that case, you could save your slides in a video format. This will allow you to embed the slides-as-video in your course management system, making downloading impossible. We did this for our flipped classroom videos:

 

Example of how to use this format: You are using an existing slide presentation. Using your lecture notes, you decide to add voice-overs to each slide. You notice that your current slides are largely filled with text. You therefore decide to reduce some of the text and instead add a few images, which you discuss in the voice-over. You also embed a YouTube video into your slides. When you’re finished, you save your revised slides as a video and upload the video to the course management system.

3. Interactive video: Many of us worry about the lack of interaction with our students, when we move our courses online. Luckily, there are several ways to incorporate interactive features into pre-recorded videos. At Leiden University, our course management system gives us access to Kaltura, which allows you to record videos with interactive features. You could, for instance, pause the video and ask students a question, using the “video quiz” option in Kaltura. You can add different types of questions: multiple choice, true/false questions, reflection points and open-ended questions. It’s a good online alternative to tools such as Kahoot or Mentimeter, that we often use to test retention or to kickstart a discussion.

Example of how to use this format: You decide to replace your one-hour F2F lecture with four 15-minute videos, taking existing slides to which you then add voice-over and save as video file. You still find the 15-minute videos quite long to watch, especially since the material is quite complex. After each difficult point in the lecture, you therefore add a multiple-choice question that quizzes on what you have just discussed. At the end of the video lecture, you discuss a concrete example and ask students how the example speaks to the course material. You end the video lecture with an open-ended question, that allows students to type in their answer.

4. Live streams: Of course, interactive video still requires pre-recording rather than interacting with your students in real time. There are plenty of reasons to want to avoid online teaching in real time. Moving classroom discussions, for instance, to an online discussion board in your course management system gives you (and your students!) more flexibility to decide when to engage with the course content plus some time to reflect on what has already been discussed. That being said, I also find online discussion boards labor-intensive, because as the teacher/moderator I feel obligated to check them regularly and respond to students’ questions or comments.

If you prefer to stick to a fixed meeting time for your course, you may want to consider a live stream. Again, several course management systems provide this option. If they don’t, you can use open web conferencing platforms. In this case, you simply lecture online in real time. You may record your live stream, so students can re-watch later. You can add a chat feature, so students can ask questions or provide comments. Or you make students co-presenters in the live stream, so they can answer questions or give short presentations. Many platforms offer these options, allowing you to run your course almost the same way as you do a F2F seminar. Of course, this option requires time investment, especially if you still need to learn how these tools work.

Example of how to use this format: Say you normally teach a two-hour seminar. You don’t want to record a lecture beforehand, but instead meet with your students in real time. To make sure your students stay focused and engaged, you replace your seminar with two online meetings of one hour each, using a video conferencing platform. Each meeting starts with a short, live-streamed lecture on the assigned readings. Using the chat function, students ask you questions, which you answer during the live stream. You then switch the presenter’s role in the live stream to one of the students, who has prepared a few slides on a recent case. This is followed by a discussion among the entire group of students. If each component takes around 15 minutes, you have one hour of teaching right there.

macbook pro on brown wooden table

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

5. Chat rooms: There are also web conferencing tools that do not only allow you to do a live stream with your students, but also to have your students work in small, break-out groups using chat rooms. Some of these tools can be incorporated into the learning management system [and it looks like Leiden University will make this option available to us soon]. This gives you the option of incorporating more elaborate active learning techniques into your online classes. Again, using these options requires some technological savvy and probably a few trial runs.

Example of how to use this format: You do a live stream lecture (supported by slides) for about 10 minutes, followed by a short assignment. You then divide the students into small groups and you give each group access to a chat room for a period of time, in which they can together work on the assignment. After the time has passed, you continue your live stream for the whole group. You use the web conferencing tool to switch the focus of the live stream to a representative from each group and you have them discuss their assignment. You conclude with an online discussion involving all students.

If you already have active learning exercises incorporated into your lesson plans, you may find out that it is easier to use the interactive features offered by most web conferencing tools than to translate your current lesson plan into a different kind of class format. If I think of the course I am currently teaching (Research Methods):

  • My interview bingo activity can be done using web conferencing tools: two students play out a mock interview during a live stream, while others observe and play the bingo game. We can use a chat function to discuss our observations.
  • Students can play a detective game, inspired by David Collier´s use of a Sherlock Holmes story in teaching process-tracing, in small groups using online chat rooms. I normally give students the available evidence on a printed hand-out, which they need to arrange and assess. I can now give them the same material on a slide or in a digital file. Students can discuss the different pieces of evidence amongst themselves in the chat rooms. I can enter each room to see what they are working on and to answer any questions they may have.
  • Instead of giving my F2F ‘Working with Documents’ workshop, I can give students the exercise beforehand and ask them to present it during a live stream on a web conferencing platform. If the platform has a whiteboard option, students may be able to write or draw on the document that is projected on the screen.

To sum up, there are a lot of possibilities to take your F2F course online. Which option(s) work best for you depends on many variables, including what you already have prepared and how much time you are willing to invest. Keep in mind though: the most straightforward options are not always the least labor intensive!

Here are a few questions you may want to keep in the back of your mind, when re-organizing your courses:

  1. Can you divide a longer lecture into shorter recordings?
  2. Can you visualize content that is normally spoken or written down?
  3. Does your course material need to be downloaded or can it be embedded in the learning management system?
  4. Can you add interactive features to your videos or engage with students during a live stream using a chat function?
  5. Can you give students active learning exercises in between online class meetings (to do at home) or in real time (to do in online chat rooms)?

Good luck!

1 Comment

Filed under Flipped Classroom, Institute of Public Administration, Open Education, Research Methods

One response to “Moving Our Courses Online

  1. Pingback: Trial and Error in the Online Classroom | Natascha van der Zwan

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