This week (Feb 15-19), I’ll be taking over the Teaching@Leiden account on Twitter. Teaching@Leiden is the official Twitter account of the Leiden Teachers’ Academy, which I joined in September 2020. I’m looking forward to tweeting about the courses I teach, my teaching innovation projects and anything else that comes to mind.
Category Archives: Open Education
When my co-teacher Janna and I set out to redesign our normally face-to-face course to accommodate the pivot to online learning this past semester, we were not sure what to do. The Covid-19 lockdown seemed to call for an altogether new approach to online teaching. In three blogs posts, we’ll describe how we revised our course design, the practicalities of lockdown teaching, and why our students called our course “the gold standard of online teaching” by the end of the semester.
Part 2: The practicalities of lockdown teaching
In Part 1 of this short series, I outlined our approach to course design, which combined synchronous and asynchronous forms of learning. Our aim in the course was to create an inclusive learning environment for those students able to attend our weekly online seminars as well as those students who followed the course asynchronously. In this post, I will address how we put our initial ideas into practice. In short, we found out that three things proved to be particularly important when teaching online during a lockdown:
- Take the small talk seriously: making space in our course for chitchat and non-teaching related banter helped create an online community between us and our students. It made students more at ease, when participating in the online chats and breakout sessions. They also indicated feeling more comfortable signaling to us, when they were struggling with the course.
- Make connections between synchronous and asynchronous learners: having to take a course remotely is difficult enough, let alone doing mostly on your own. We wanted to make sure that asynchronous learners did not feel as if they were excluded from what was going on in the online seminars. We made use of the interactive features on the course management page (discussions, blog posts, Wikis) and created joint exercises for synchronous and asynchronous learners to overcome this obstacle.
- Make sure to check in: in our department, few students make use of office hours. We therefore feared that remote learners might not contact us, when struggling with the course. Our solution was to make attending our office hours part of the participation grade. This way, we gave a strong signal that attending office hours was expected from students. It helped us give extra attention to students who needed it.
Running the live seminars
Each week, we would meet our students for three hours during an online seminar. The seminars took place in a Kaltura Live Room, the online teaching platform acquired by our university. The Live Room made it possible for us to show slides, use a whiteboard, share our screen, have students work in break-out groups, and several other things that helped approximate a face-to-face classroom setting. Managing multiple functionalities at once proved difficult. Since we were co-teaching, one of us would lecture or lead discussion with the students, while the other person would monitor the chat or activate tools when needed.
We made sure to start each seminar with some small talk, with topics ranging from Netflix recommendations to the small joys of freshly baked pastries and park picnics during lockdown. Small talk proved to be important for our seminars for several reasons: it introduced a semblance of normal social interactions in our course; it opened the discussions in the chat, making students more comfortable to contribute; and it allowed us to do a quick check before each seminar to see how everyone was doing.
It is important to note that we did not shy away from sharing our own experiences with the students. After one of us had a bad day, about half-way into the course and into the lockdown, and expressed as much during the small talk, several students expressed feeling more comfortable admitting that they were struggling as well. In hindsight, this became one of the most appreciated features of our course (see also below on course evaluations).
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Our seminars then followed a standard structure. Having three hours at our disposal, we would dedicate the first hour to a short lecture. One of us would talk, supported by slides and other visual aids. The other would monitor the chat. We made sure to make the lecture interactive by including brief surveys, pose questions for students to answer in the chat, or share links to additional online resources. The lecture would end with a short assignment, related to the week’s lecture topic. During the second hour, students worked together in break-out groups to do the assignment. While the assignment would rarely take a full hour to complete, we wanted students to have enough time to take breaks and to chat amongst themselves. For this reason, we did not enter the break-out groups, unless invited by the students (for instance, when they had a question). The third hour then was dedicated to presentations: the various groups would report back on their completed assignments and some students would present their blogs. We would end each seminar with a general discussion, to which students could contribute via webcam or chat.
For the asynchronous learners, we recorded the lecture component of each seminar. Break-out groups and class discussions were not recorded. We feared that students present in the online classroom would be more reluctant to actively participate, if their comments and remarks were ‘on-the-record’. After each seminar, we would post the lecture video on our learning management system (Blackboard).
We added also several features on our learning management system that would help asynchronous learners understand the learning materials and keep engaged with the course. First, we created several discussion threads, where students could pose questions. One thread was dedicated solely to organizational matters to the course; others were structured around each course week and invited questions of a substantive nature. Second, we created a glossary of difficult terms and concepts from the course readings, for which we used the Wiki function in our learning management system. Students were asked to post any terms they were struggling with or to post definitions of listed concepts that they already knew. Finally, we posted students’ blogs on the course page and asked students to use the comments function to ask questions or provide feedback on the blogs.
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While we designed our course page on the learning management system predominantly with the asynchronous learners in mind, we were pleasantly surprised to see it helped forge connections between synchronous and asynchronous learners in our course: students answered each other’s questions in the online forums and they engaged in lengthy discussions around the blogs, sometimes over several weeks. To a large degree, these interactions were unforeseen. While we had aimed to incentivize students to interact with each other by giving them a participation grade (weighed at 20% of the final grade), our students had initially misunderstood our instructions to mean they were assessed either on synchronous learning activities or on asynchronous learning activities. When synchronous learners used the interactive features on the learning management system, they told us they did so for their own enjoyment of communicating with other students.
One of the mechanisms at our disposal were the exercises that we gave students in the online seminars to work on in breakout. We would distribute the same exercises to the asynchronous learners, who would e-mail us their completed work. The exercises always involved a small research task, that helped connect the themes from the course readings to current events. To give an example: in our week on corporate social responsibility, students explored public corporations’ charitable giving and other responses to the corona virus pandemic and compared these against the measures taken to benefit the corporations’ shareholders. During the live session, each breakout group had done research on some of the world’s largest firms. We collected the results in a shared Google Drive file, to which asynchronous learners would add the findings from their own self-study efforts. The result was a collectively assembled dataset. Curious about other exercises? Click here.
Finally, we wanted to create a welcoming environment for students to interact with us, the course instructors. Again, we predominantly had asynchronous learners in mind. Since we would not meet our students in person for the duration of the course, we were afraid that we would not be able to find out, when students struggled with their coursework during these strange times. We therefore included attending online office hours in our participation rubric, hoping to incentivize students to reach out to us. This worked out as expected: over the course of seven weeks, we spoke with almost all asynchronous learners in a one-on-one setting. While most conversations initially covered assignments or other substantive questions related to the course, they also provided an opening to talk about the – sometimes very serious – situations in which our students found themselves during the lockdown. In some cases, we were able to direct students to support services provided by our university; in other cases, we simply offered a listening ear. All in all, our office hours resulted in very meaningful conversations with our students, that we may not have had under normal circumstances.
Up next: how students experienced our online course
The corona crisis is posing unique challenges to teachers and students as traditional courses are redesigned for online teaching. Some students lack the time and resources to participate synchronously (e.g. attend live seminars), while others prefer the structure and sense of community that synchronous teaching brings. To make our course inclusive of both groups of students, my co-teacher Janna Goijaerts and I have chosen to combine synchronous and asynchronous forms of participation. So far, we have found that this combination helps students stay engaged and connected, even when at a physical distance from us and from each other.
On Wednesday, May 20, we will be hosting a webinar on how to improve student engagement through sychronous and asynchronous teaching tools. The webinar is organized by the Center for Innovation and the ICLON at Leiden University.
For information on how to join, click here.
It’s been a week since many of us made the pivot to online teaching. Since then, I have been figuring out which form of online teaching (I outlined five options in my previous blog) would work best for my courses at the Institute of Public Administration at Leiden University. Because I teach small-scale seminar courses, I was particularly excited to learn that our university had acquired a new platform to teach interactive online classes (option 5 in my previous post). Having never used the platform, I figured this called for a practice session.
Preparing to mess up
Using the department’s app group, I asked which of my colleagues would be interested in joining a practice session with the new platform. Two days later, I found myself fumbling with slides, tools and chats in a newly assembled online classroom, while 30 colleagues from 3 different departments and a reporter for the university newspaper looked on. I had decided that I should focus my session on what would be most useful to the participants: a brief outline of how colleagues could use the new platform as teachers, while simultaneously having them experience it as students.
We kicked off with an icebreaker quiz consisting of a few silly questions, that allowed me to set the tone for the session: serious overall, but slightly giddy at times. I then continued with a brief lecture, using slides I had prepared earlier. The lecture covered what kind of preparations are necessary to organize an online seminar, how to build the online classroom, and how to lead the seminar. I interrupted the lecture with short interactions to highlight some of the features of the platform: one colleague made a drawing on one of my slides, while another responded to a question by using the digital hand raising tool. I also shared my desktop to show the contents of one of my browser tabs (it was a video of two swimming sea turtles, which I found relaxing to watch). Towards the end of the session, participants formed small breakout groups to think about how they could use this platform in their own classes. We ended with a group discussion, sharing the results from the breakout groups.
Most importantly, I prepared to mess up. Few of us will be able to smoothly run an online seminar under present circumstances and our teaching will involve a lot of trial and error. Why postpone the inevitable? When I set up the online classroom, I had noticed a few tools (video!) did not work for me. So I included these tools on purpose to try out during our trial run. And then, of course, lots of other things during the online session did not go exactly as planned. We were lucky to have our ICT & Education coordinator present to help out with problems, as they occurred in real time. Here’s what we learned:
Lessons from the practice session
1) Minimize multi-tasking. I love all the tools for communication and interaction that our online system offers: I can see the participants through their webcams, but they can also communicate via chat and by digitally raising their hands. When I was leading the practice session, however, I noticed it was impossible to keep an eye on all those tools at the same time. While giving my presentation, participants raised their hands to pose questions but they were outside my focal point on the screen and I did not notice. The same applied to the chat function. So when I teach my first online seminar with students, I’ll avoid multi-tasking by giving them clear instructions on when to communicate and how.
2) Take the student point of view. As the person leading the session, I did not see the same things as the participants. This may seem commonsense, but it is surprisingly easy to forget in an online classroom. In a face-to-face setting, we read our students’ body language to intuit how they are responding to our teaching. In an online setting, we cannot use our senses in the same way. At the beginning of my presentation, for instance, some participants experienced delays in the connection and were unable to follow me. From my end, everything seemed fine and I continued speaking. Only later did I see their chat messages notifying me of the connectivity issues. It made me realize I need to communicate to students beforehand how they can solve common problems rather than me trying to fix it for them (see also: avoid multi-tasking).
3) Assign roles. Another issue was about the roles we take on in the classrooms. Even colleagues, who are used to standing in front of a classroom, confessed to me they found it daunting to visibly participate in the online classroom. Participating online means that your face is projected onto everyone’s computer screen, which can make you uncomfortably self-aware. In the break-out groups, participants found it difficult to self-organize without a teacher present. So they resorted to silliness. When I visited these rooms, I found pictures of monkeys, games of tic-tac-toe and really anything but a serious discussion. In a face-to-face setting, I would notice this. Here, I had to enter each break-out room separately to check in and that took time. In future online seminars, I’ll therefore make sure to assign clear roles (e.g. moderator, note-taker, reporter) beforehand, so students know what to do. And perhaps accept that an occasional game of tic-tac-toe won’t hurt anybody…
4) Share knowledge. Immediately after our practice session, I created a Google Doc to share with my colleagues. In the Google Doc, we write down tips and tricks for using the online classroom. We cover things that are not part of the technical instructions, but rather focus on the use of the online classroom in real life. One of the participants observed, for instance, that the screen briefly turns black, when the teacher activates a new tool. She had initially mistaken this for a connectivity issue and had logged off, but later realized it was a quirk of the platform. The solution to the problem was to simply wait it out. We also discovered we could avoid awkward silences, if participants were in charge of turning their microphones on or off. When I did this for them, the platform took much longer to respond. Observations like these led us to the final lesson:
5) Write a protocol. When people signed up for the practice session, most of them did so out of a lack of familiarity with the technical features of the platform. They simply wanted to know how it worked and if they possessed the skills to use it. After our practice session, however, we realized that running an online classroom has only partially to do with mastering technical skills. It’s also – and perhaps even more so – about clearly communicating how we can all contribute to making the online classroom a success. One of the best suggestions coming out of this trial run was to create a protocol for students, detailing such things as how to communicate during the different segments of an online seminar (e.g. raise a hand or post a chat message), how to solve common problems with the platform, and when to adopt which role in the online classroom.
In the past week, the online classroom has become a space for us as colleagues to come together and reflect on how we can collectively manage the pivot to online teaching. Looking back at our impromptu practice session, I feel more confident in being able to handle the uncertainties of the next few months, at least when it comes to my teaching. I hope you will as well.
By Natascha van der Zwan & Andrei Poama
On February 24, 2020, Dr. Andrei Poama (Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University) visited our course on Research Methods (Master of Public Administration) for a guest talk on research ethics. Dr. Poama is a well-known expert on the ethics of criminal justice. He is also a member of the Ethics Committee at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. In our conversation with Dr. Poama, we discussed the ethical dilemmas confronting researchers in the social sciences, possible solutions to these dilemmas, and how the codes of conduct for Dutch researchers apply to graduate students. This is Part One of two blog posts, in which we present the highlights from our conversation.
Please note: The guest talk has been modified to a question-and-answer format for easier reading. The spoken words have been edited for length and readability.*
Q: Andrei, you started our conversation today by asking students to what extent they thought of themselves as doing scientific research, on a scale from 0 to 7. Most students here gave themselves a 4, stating that they didn’t feel as if they were doing real research. They mentioned various reasons for this, for instance because they studied a limited number of cases or because they experienced a lack of data availability. This outcome surprised me, because these issues struck me as being normal parts of the research process, regardless of who the researcher is. I myself tend to view my thesis supervisees as actual researchers and I expect them to behave as such.
A: For me, it depends on the motivation that the student has. In terms of expectations, I would say something like a 6 or a 7. I don’t really draw any kind of distinction between what [students] are supposed to be doing and what we are doing. The questions that [students] have – problems with your database, you don’t find [particular sources], you don’t have enough material or data – those are recurring questions for actual researchers as well.
I think it’s important [for students] to understand that you’re not doing this other thing. It’s not about doing your homework or writing an essay for class or something, you’re actually producing knowledge. You are supposed to be doing research, even if you’re not in the classroom. And that’s the way I would see it. But, of course, [as students] you don’t legally fall under the standards from the codes of research ethics. So, if something goes wrong – plagiarism aside – then you’re not going to be sanctioned.
Q: So what do you tell your own supervisees, when they don’t see themselves as researchers?
One thing that I’m doing for the first time in my thesis capstone this year is a small workshop, where we just meet and everyone reads each other’s two-pager with a research question, the hypothesis and broadly the literature. Then we’re supposed to briefly give feedback to each other. And the reason I introduced that [element of peer review] was that I really did feel there was this kind of student-teacher relationship in some of the supervision processes. It really depends on the student. So you have very proactive students, who just draw on the literature. They have an idea, they have a method and they just go for it. Then there are students, who think they are doing their homework.
I guess what I’m going for is that when you’re going to do [research] and write your thesis, but also in other courses, you should be thinking about it as the real thing and not some kind of second-rate task.
Q: Andrei, you showed us a short video about a documentary called Three identical strangers (see trailer below). Can you tell us a little about what we just saw?
A: So yes, this happened in the 1960s. There were a series of so-called twin experiments. Sometimes they involved twins, sometimes they were triplets. This happened throughout the 1960s, when the ‘nature versus nurture’ hypothesis was at its peak. What happened was that an adoption agency – the Louise Wise adoption agency in New York – started a collaborative project with a couple of psychologists and psychiatrists at New York University (Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard), who wanted to test the ‘nature versus nurture’ hypothesis.
So in this particular case, the mom had died at birth after having quadruplets. One of the kids had also died at birth, so then they were triplets and they were put up for adoption. Now, without telling the [adoptive] parents, one child was given to a blue-collar family, one to a middle-class family and one to an affluent family. Then the adoption agency, in collaboration with the researchers would just call up the adoptive family on regular meetings for check-ups, to see whether the kid was doing all right. But what they actually were doing is that they were measuring each of the triplets on these dimensions to be able to compare them.
Q: Was this a typical way of conducting these twin studies?
There were many other twin studies in the 1960s and the 1970s. But most of them were observational, in the sense that you had [children] who were up for adoption and then the [researchers] did a series of observations, interviews, personality tests and so on to see if being raised in a particular family with a particular socio-economic background made for different personality traits. This is one of the few actual experiments. So what happened in the 80s and up until the 90s, as you see in the trailer, is that it just blew up, because [the triplets] realized what had happened and that obviously became a big scandal.
And, you know, in a sense it was a happy moment for them, to find each other. But they also struggled with depression, identity problems and so on. What happened in the end is that one of the three guys committed suicide. So the question I’m posing here is what do you think is the problem with this? After all, you know, these kids had families that cared for them.
Q: Purely from a gut feeling response to seeing this video, I’d say this constitutes a very straightforward breach of research ethics. But you seem to hint that it’s more complicated.
A: You know, from the researchers’ perspective, everything was almost spot on. It was single-blind. You know the research design, research methods… perfect or almost perfect. So how is this worse than from, for instance, experiments in social psychology, where you go to a lab? Deception happens all the time, you’re being debriefed at the end of it. There is a sense [in this case], that the experiment was not over, when [the triplets] found out about it. You could imagine that they would have been debriefed after 20-30 years, because the experiment is a long one. So, we use deception all the time in experiments. This is different. So the question is: why is it different?
Q: One of our students said that this is different, because you are changing the lives that these people could have had. There is a status quo: there are triplets. You split them up and there can never be this status quo again.
A: Yes, it troubling, even the idea of watching it. There is something voyeuristic about it. It’s not like physical suffering, as in the case of a medical experiment. There were no substances involved. But there is a sense in which stopping the experiment, disclosing the experiment to the participants, is what is doing the harm. Because imagine that they would have never found out. All the depression and so on actually kicked in, when they found out what was happening. So what I find very troubling about this is that the bind of the blind experiment, if I may put it like this, is complete in a way. Once the experiment has started, there is a sense in which you can’t make it right again. All the options that you have at your disposal are wrong in some dimension. There is a sense in which minimizing the harm that it can do to participants in social science studies, especially when it comes to psychology, means that you try to keep the degree to which the participants take part in the experiment localized and limited. So don’t involve all of the person’s life into the project.
Q: What about studies that are not experiments? I think many of our students would instead do interviews or conduct surveys. How do research ethics apply to these kinds of studies?
A: There are many ways in which ethics is typically involved in our research activities. We have all these codes that we’re supposed to be reading and be aware of. And when we conduct research that actively involves human and non-human subjects, then we fill in these forms and we send them to the Ethics Committee. I’m also a member of the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs. And then the ethics committee looks at the project and the informing consent documents, using the codes of conduct as a standard. Then they say: well, you have a problem with your informed consent form. Or: everything is perfect and you’re good to go. These documents also apply to you as students. You are not on the payroll of the faculty, but you still count as individual researchers. So if you take anything out of [our conversation] take this idea, that you are actually doing research. You are not a student writing something for a course. You are a graduate student, who is also a researcher.
Stay tuned for Part 2…
*With thanks to Brecht, Edo, Meike-Yang and Nev for their insightful comments and questions.
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:
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.
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:
- Can you divide a longer lecture into shorter recordings?
- Can you visualize content that is normally spoken or written down?
- Does your course material need to be downloaded or can it be embedded in the learning management system?
- Can you add interactive features to your videos or engage with students during a live stream using a chat function?
- 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)?
While I enjoy doing interviews, there are few research chores I dislike more than transcribing. Everything about it I find awful: never being able to type as fast I want to, having to listen to the same sentences over and over again, hearing my voice on the audio, you name it. It’s just such a drag.
My profound dislike of transcribing leaves me with dilemma, when teaching interviewing skills. On the one hand, I do find transcription an important step in the research process. Writing down the spoken words creates familiarity with the data and stimulates initial analysis. Even though transcribing is incredibly boring, it does have a way of getting the creativity flowing. On the other hand, I feel that I should not downplay these negatives to my students and I strongly emphasize the time investment that transcription requires. Students should know what they are getting themselves into, before deciding on interviewing as their method of choice.
Needless to say, when a colleague mentions new tools to make our lives as interviewers a bit easier, I am all ears. Now of course, for me it is possible to hire someone (a student assistant or a professional company) for this part of the research process. My students, however, do not have the resources available to do so. So I am always on the lookout for short cuts that are not just functional, but also accessible.
I recently stumbled on this thread that outlined a number of useful alternatives to professional transcription services. As it happens, I was just preparing my interviewing workshop for the following day, so I decided to make my experimentation with these transcription methods part of my lesson plan. When students were doing mock interviews as part of the workshop, they recorded the first few minutes on my cell phone. I then e-mailed the audio file to myself and downloaded the file on the classroom computer. I projected my computer screen onto the white board, so students could see what I was doing.
I decided to try out two recommendations from the online thread. [Sidenote: at home, I also tried the voice type option in Google Docs. This seemed to work, when I clearly spoke into my computer’s microphone. Unfortunately, when I played an interview recording from my laptop or cell phone, the software did not pick up on the spoken words. So I decided not to recommend this method to my students].
The first was to upload our audio file onto YouTube and to turn on the transcription option. You can find this option, when you click the three dots and select ‘open transcription’ (see also image below > small yellow circle). YouTube then automatically transcribes the audio and provides time stamps as well. You can copy-paste the text and enter it into a word file (see image > large yellow circle). The big advantage of this option is that it’s entirely free to use. You only need to create a YouTube channel. You can keep your channel private, so other people do not have access to your audio files. A downside is that YouTube does not make a distinction between different speakers, so you still need to specify who is saying what, after you copy-paste the transcription in your own text file. [Update March 3: after checking with the Information Manager at our faculty, it has been confirmed that uploading interview recordings to YouTube violates the EU GDPR]
The second option we tried was AmberScript. AmberScript is an online transcription service. It’s incredibly easy to use: you simply create an account, upload your audio file, you wait a few minutes and… voilà! There’s your transcript. Even though the transcript was not flawless in our classroom experiment, my students and I all agreed that the quality of the transcript still exceeded expectations. Since we only uploaded a few minutes of audio, AmberScript also worked incredibly fast. It did not take more than 5 minutes! Unfortunately, the service does come at a price. Users pay a fee per minute of uploaded audio. The first 30 minutes are free, but it can become expensive very quickly: Amber Script charges 90 euros for 10 hours of audio via Surfspot.nl (website that sells software at a discount to students at Dutch universities) and 15 euros per hour of audio via its own website. I asked my students if these prices would prevent them from using this service and their responses were mixed: some would, some wouldn’t.
All in all, I found this to be was a very useful classroom activity to introduce students to online solutions for transcribing interviewing. Transcribing parts of a practice interview that students had carried out only a few minutes prior was not just educational. It also added a bit of fun and suspense to the class, because nobody (myself included!) was sure how the experiment would play out. It was exhilarating to see how both online platforms created pretty decent texts in real time. Of course, both texts would still need to be improved before being able to use them for further analysis. However, even when taking editing time into account, this would still save you quite some time ,when compared to manual transcription.
A final word of caution: my colleague rightfully pointed out that uploading audio to online platforms such as YouTube and AmberScript might be problematic in light of the EU GDPR. On GDPR compliance by AmberScript, see this webpage. I’m going to ask our privacy officer at the university for additional feedback. To be continued…
For our course on social science research methods at the Institute of Public Administration (Leiden University), Alexandre Afonso and I have created a flipped classroom with blended learning, in which we reversed the traditional set-up of a university course. Basic knowledge transfer takes place via an online environment, where knowledge clips, reading materials and exercises are located. This has freed up class time for active learning exercises, through which students practice with new research methods and techniques. We have found that this course design improves students’ performance, because they gain a better experience of what it is like to do research.
We have described our experiences in the article “Activating the Research Methods Curriculum: The Blended Flipped Classroom,” which has now appeared in Vol. 52, No. 4 of PS: Political Science & Politics. When we designed this course four years ago, we were purposively looking for a form of education that was in line with our own experiences of the research process. And that was not the traditional way of teaching: listening to lectures, reading from a textbook. Our own experience as students-turned-scholars was that real-life learning is a matter of doing, which usually means muddling through, making mistakes along the way, and sharpening your skills accordingly. So we decided to design a course in which this type of learning-by-doing research is central, facilitated by the new possibilities that online educational resources bring to the university classroom: the blended flipped classroom.
We hope that our experience might inspire others to undertake similar projects, while also offering guidance on how to do this effectively and efficiently. Setting up a blended flipped classroom takes time, technical skills, and at times a thick skin when encountering resistance from students and colleagues. We describe how designed and implemented our blended flipped classroom, including the mistakes we have made along the way. We also share a few active learning exercises that we have used in our course and that other teachers may find useful as well.
Click here to learn more about our article, to receive extra information on how we experienced designing and teaching a blended flipped classroom, and to find some active-learning exercises that we have used in this course.
I am back at the Institute of Public Administration as of this week, after an amazing stay at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study. And the new semester is immediately off to a good start: this week, I am giving two talks on the flipped classroom on research methods I have been developing and teaching with my colleague Alexandre Afonso.
On Wednesday, January 30, I will kick off the first of a series of upcoming LunchTalks on online education at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs (don’t believe the text posted on the university website, after the link; it won’t be boring).
And on Thursday, January 31, Alexandre and I will be presenting during the symposium “Best of both worlds: adding online experiences to on-campus education,” where we will be sharing our experiences with the flipped classroom format of teaching.
For more information on the flipped classroom, click here. Or otherwise, just enjoy this great “flipping” gif:
When we designed our RM course, we very consciously included modules on finding primary and secondary sources. Of course, our students should already possess these skills. Nonetheless, we were often still surprised to read papers in which a student had missed a major author on a topic of interest or had used a wildly unreliable source as evidentiary basis for a research paper. While it’s quite easy for a university teacher to be appalled at reading such omissions or errors, we figured it would probably be more productive to offer students a refresher course in how to find high-quality and relevant primary and secondary sources.
Developing this curriculum meant also increasing our own understanding of how the current generation of students use the vast amount of online resources that are at our disposal. As someone who was introduced to the internet somewhat later in life (by which I mean, as a teenager) than my students were, I will find and use sources for my research in a much different way than many of my students – something I did not fully understand until watching videos like these. It’s a point that is also central to Andrew Abbott’s wonderful book Digital Paper, which translates the old skill of locating books in a brick-and-mortar library to the online environments in which we often work today. Celebrating the antiquated pastime of browsing through library stacks without being snobby or nostalgic about it, the book offers very practical advice on how to locate and use online resources. It’s a great book and I often assign chapters from it in my courses. It also shaped the development of some of the assignments I currently teach in Research Methods, one of which I will describe below.
Credit: Niki Odolphie from Frome, England (Longleat Maze) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
As part of the workshop for our module on “Working with documents,” students need to carry out an in-class assignment. The assignment is a simple one: go online and find primary sources that will help you write a research paper on a historic event. The students can find actual primary sources online or they may find the location of where these sources are kept (e.g. a historical archive). Seems easy, right? Here comes the catch: the historic event the students need to research predates the internet, reducing the odds that actual digital primary sources will be available. During the last few workshops, for instance, I chose the 1909 shirtwaist workers’ strike in New York City as topic for this assignment.
Students will need to do a focused search, using specialized search engines and databases to find the sources they need for this assignment. I don’t share this information with the students beforehand. After explaining the assignment, I give students some time (15 minutes or so) to find anything they deem relevant. I walk around the classroom, often a computer lab, looking at the students’ computer screens to see what they are searching for and how. The typical search looks something like this:
- The student googles the strike and reads basic information on Wikipedia.
- The student uses the university library’s catalogue and/or Google Scholar to search for secondary sources on the historic event.
- The student googles “skirtwaist workers’ strike 1909 sources” and checks the first few pages that come up.
This is a completely reasonable search strategy when your instructor confronts you with a historic event you have never heard of, you quickly need to find material related to this event, and you have no idea where to start. I do exactly the same when, for instance, I am asked to teach about a topic I know very little about (this happens sometimes unfortunately). The problem is that this search strategy very rarely results in sources, primary or secondary, that are relevant and reliable. In the case of the skirtwaist workers’ strike, for instance, most students will find a few photographs taken during the strike, a diary entry, and perhaps a New York Times article or two, but not enough sources to write an in-depth case study on the event.
Credit: Bain News Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Students generally reach this conclusion themselves. After their initial search, we discuss their findings with the entire group. I ask the students not only what they have found, but also how they found it. Since I have observed them doing the assignment, I can call on specific people to share specific search strategies. After discussing a few of these strategies, an inevitable question is raised: what could we have done better? We then spend the following 30 minutes or so discussing the alternatives. Often there is a student present during the workshop who has made good use of specialized databases. I often ask that student to show the others what they could have done better. On other occasions, I do this myself.
The central message of the assignment is this: 1) know which databases are available to use, for which purpose and what their limitations are; 2) know how to work with them. The graduate students in our program (a MSc in Public Administration) will be most familiar with LexisNexis, because it stores Dutch newspaper articles from the 1990s until today. Since our program is international in orientation and courses are taught in English, LexisNexis will not be of help for many of the cases we study. I therefore also make sure to mention other databases that Dutch students are often less familiar with, such as Delpher, ProQuest Historical or Factiva. Finally, we use WorldCat to locate archival collections around the world.
By the time students leave the workshop, we will have discussed a number of ways in which they could have found primary sources on the 1909 shirtwaist workers’ strike. I often carry out these searches on the instructor computer in the lab, which is connected to a projector and thus allows students to follow along. After the workshop, students need to repeat the skills we have practiced in class as part of a graded assignment.
While the in-class exercise has certainly been very useful to serve as a refresher course on one of the most basic academic skills students need to possess, it has also been incredibly useful for me as the course instructor. Seeing in class what students normally do at home has helped me better understand why some research papers draw ‘evidence’ from unreliable websites or grey literature and why others do not. It made me realize that simply dismissing students who produce such work as ‘incapable’ is doing them injustice. Ultimately, this is about habits and not about capacities, and that is something I can help them with.
If you would like to read more about this in-class exercise or use it for your courses, click here.
Dit werk valt onder een Creative Commons Naamsvermelding-NietCommercieel 4.0 Internationaal-licentie.