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

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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

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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!

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

Book Event: L-PEG Seminar

I am very excited for my upcoming seminar with the Leiden Political Economy Group. I will be presenting the introductory chapter of the Routledge International Handbook of Financialization. It’s the first of hopefully many book events in the coming months!

L-PEG poster

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Live Transcription

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]

YouTube plaatje

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…

 

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Senior Kwalificatie Onderwijs

I’m very pleased to be one of the five faculty members of the Faculty of Governance of Global Affairs – and the first at the Institute of Public Administration! – to have been awarded the Senior Kwalificatie Onderwijs (senior teaching qualification, SKO) by Leiden University’s Executive Board. The SKO is the highest teaching qualification for academic educators in the Netherlands. It is awarded to academics, who ” play a role in the development and innovation of education at a higher level than that of their own discipline.”  According to the SKO selection committee:

SKO“Natascha van der Zwan pays a lot of attention to activating teaching methods in her courses. In recent years, she has been making frequent use of blended learning and flipped classrooms (clips)… She finds it is important that students dare to make mistakes and have the opportunity to do so. Students have freedom of choice in which methodological tools they use. This makes both broadening and deepening [of the course content] possible…”

“She also tries to enthuse other teachers for the forms of education that she experiments with and publishes on… She has developed her own online environment to promote transfer to other teachers.”

To read more about my teaching projects, see here.

 

 

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Join Our SASE Mini-Conference!

 

IMG_20180914_115959_935Together with Jeanne Lazarus and Daniel Mertens, I am organizing a mini-conference on The Welfare State in Financial Times for the 2020 SASE conference in Amsterdam (July 18-20). Paper abstracts can be submitted from November 25, 2019 until January 10, 2020.

In this mini-conference, we hope to explore the complicated new ways in which social and financial policies have become entangled in contemporary welfare states. Particularly, we are interested in the question of how processes of financialization are shaping welfare state development. On the one hand, the contributions to the mini-conference would map the ongoing financialization of the welfare state in contemporary political economies, both historically and comparatively, by focusing on the introduction and expansion of financial tools and mechanisms in public and private welfare provision. On the other hand, we welcome contributions that study how welfare states and other social groupings have debated and introduced new public policies and financial tools that promise to protect against growing financial risks in everyday life. Looking at these promises of protections through the market requires a fundamentally different understanding of the nature of the welfare state than the scholarship’s traditional focus on decommodification.

This mini-conference has several aims. First, we hope to reintegrate scholarship on welfare and finance to come to a better understanding of how the welfare state and the financial system are mutually intertwined, both historically and comparatively. Second, we hope to approach the mini-conference theme using a broader conception of finance: to include not just financial actors and their interest organizations, but also financial ideas and narratives, norms and practices that interact at different scales of the modern polity. Third, we would like to reflect on how the use of financial tools can be considered as a tool to protect household living standards and economic stability. Finally, we hope our mini-conference forms the basis of new conceptualization of welfare state development under financialized capitalism.

We welcome papers with varied disciplinary backgrounds discussing the following issues:

  • Variations of finance-welfare interactions across political economies and over time;
  • Lineages and linkages of institutional/ideational change in social policy areas and financial systems;
  • State experiments with financial and technological innovations to fund and manage welfare programs;
  • Political coalitions undergirding or confronting the welfare-finance nexus;
  • The distributional and political effects of financial market-based social policies, particularly on class, gender, and race;
  • The relationship between financialization and contemporary paradigms of social policy analysis such as marketization, privatization and social investment;
  • Histories and narratives on the mutually constitutive nature of the financial system and the welfare state;
  • Conceptual and methodological discussions that offer new research strategies to study financialization within the welfare state.

More details can be found on the SASE website (scroll all the way down for our mini-conference).

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Forthcoming January 2020

Handbook Cover

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November 11, 2019 · 2:54 pm

Out Now: Activating the Research Methods Curriculum

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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. 

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CES Political Economy and Welfare Research Network

I’m currently one of three candidates nominated to replace Julia Moses as co-chair of the CES Political Economy and Welfare Research Network. As requested, I had written a few words on my vision for the network, when offering my candidacy. If you’re a member of this network and the ideas below appeal to you, please vote for me! Voting is possible until Wednesday, October 23.

“The strengths of our network are its openness to theoretical and methodological pluralism as well as its broad comparative approach to the study of political economy and the welfare state. If elected co-chair of the Network, I would like to strengthen ongoing activities in the three focus areas of this network (education and social policies; the comparative political economy of regime formation and change; cross-border connections). At the same time, my own interdisciplinary research interests make me particularly well-suited to appeal to colleagues working on new approaches to political economy, including junior and emerging scholars. As our profession is rethinking its strong reliance on face-to-face meetings for scholarly exchanges, I’m interested in developing new and inclusive ways in which our members can engage with or participate in this network, such as through social media. I would also like to continue ongoing collaborations with other CES research networks, including those currently in formation. Having divided my professional life between the United States and the European continent, I feel particularly well-suited to foster the ongoing dialogue between our network’s members on both sides of the Atlantic.”

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Upcoming Talk: Open University, London

Philip Mader and I will be presenting (for the first time!) the introductory chapter for the Routledge International Handbook of Financialization, which we wrote together with Daniel Mertens, on May 23 in London. Our talk is part of a one-day workshop at the Open University, organized by Pauline Gleadle and Stuart Parris, on the conceptualization and operationalization of financialization.

More information, including the possibility to register for the workshop, can be found here.

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Out Soon: Business Interests and the Modern Welfare State

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I’m very happy to see the new edited volume by Dennie Oude Nijhuis, Business Interests and the Development of the Modern Welfare State, is coming out in July 2019. The volume offers “a synthesis on the question of business attitudes towards and its influence over the development of the modern welfare state.” Chapters consist of both historical country case studies and comparative chapters with country focus on Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Policy aras covered include active labor market policies, educational policies, employment protection legislation, healthcare, private pension programs, and work‐family policies.

My own chapter in this volume explores how the financialization of the political economy during the last quarter of the 20th century has influenced business preferences for occupational pensions. I argue that capital funding has important ramifications for business preferences towards occupational pensions. With capital funding, the extent to which these plans can protect against the social risks associated with old age has become partially dependent on the financial risks stemming from capital funding. Financialization thus turns an influential argument in the business interests scholarship on its head, namely that, depending on size and industry, employers might be willing to incur higher risks to gain more control over social welfare provisions: as financialization reduces the possibilities for control over occupational pension provisions, employers will be more likely to adopt political preferences aimed at risk reduction. My argument builds on a comparative case study of business groups in the United States and the Netherlands.

 

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Filed under Financialization, Pension Funds, Publications, United States, Welfare State