The global COVID-19 pandemic is speeding up the digital leap in the academia. During the last couple of days, many universities have decided to fully transition to digital teaching until the epidemic situation has settled down. All mass events are cancelled and we are advised to avoid contacts and move to the virtual meeting and teaching environments.
After teaching courses online since 2016, Climate.now and Leadership for sustainable change, both having hundreds of students every year, I thought to share some experiences on digital pedagogy. These are my personal experiences as a teacher, no official guidelines. Feel free to criticize and add yours! I have also attended some courses and trainings, and want to thank University of Helsinki digital pedagogy support and pedagogy courses.
My tips for digital pedagogy:
- Don’t leave the student alone. Climate change as well as global pandemic are terrifying to a student, who feels uncertainty about their future. Show that you care. Personal contact to the teacher and other students creates feeling of community and belonging and keeps the student motivation high.
- Set weekly deadlines. When studying remotely, it is easy to get lost with many tasks (tell me about it, I’m also working from home with my kids around me!). Deadlines are the student’s best friend, that keeps them in the study schedule.
- Digital tools are tools, not aims. They are there to help you to deliver the message. Think always about the learning aims first, and then how you can best enable the student to learn them. There is not much difference between digital pedagogy and pedagogy in general. Good teachers are usually good teachers also online.
I have tried (at least) the following online ways of teaching:
Lecturing online – streaming lectures online from your laptop gives intimacy to the teaching, even more than a mass lecture in a huge lecture hall (half empty). With virtual conferencing tools, like Zoom, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams or Skype, you can enable student comments and questions, and small group discussions in the middle of the lecture.
Recording teaching videos – this takes some time to prepare from beforehand, but is very student-friendly, when the lectures are available online whenever and wherever they are. However, my experiences are that students do not watch long videos. So keep the videos short (max 8 mins) or have activities (like H5P) in the middle.
Online help for students – set an hour of your calendar when you are available for the students via chat and video link, for them to ask any questions related to the course. Like you would have an office hour for the students, but virtual.
Online groups – climate change, for example, is a huge topic to study and students have a lot of questions and concerns related to it. It is important to have people next to you for sharing and peer-support. In courses with hundreds of students, I don’t have the opportunity to discuss with every student individually, so I find it important for them to have groups to work together. In my courses, students do assignments, write learning diaries, or do projects in groups. Most of the online groups work fine, but sometimes it is challenging to get started, especially if the students have very different motivations and challenging schedules. Extra support might be needed.
Online discussion forums – in all my online courses I have also provided the students open discussion forums to share any ideas, thoughts or questions related to the course topics. I have wanted to give them the opportunity to share what they feel they want to share, but I have to say, those have never really worked out in my courses. However, I know other teachers have used online discussion forums successfully in their courses, when students have had clear instructions and participation to the online discussions has been part of the grading.
Peer-review – reviewing other students’ assignments is a learning experience, where the student learns for example critical thinking and different ways to approach the same problem. In mass courses it also makes the teacher work load scalable. Remember that the course grading should never be based on peer-review alone, but the teacher is always responsible of the grading. So you can use the student reviews as a guiding line, but ensure that they are fair for example by checking those where the individual peer reviews differ significantly. For that reason, it is good to ask at least three individual peer-reviews for each assignment, and to have a grading matrix for the students to base their peer-review on.
Online activities – like quizzes and polls, they are nice additions that make the online learning not so boring. Moodle has many options for that and with Flinga you can create different kind of flip charts and mind maps. Don’t take it too seriously and just try – it can be also fun!
In Climate University, we are preparing online courses on climate change and sustainability for any university or other actors to use for free by the end of 2020. By providing online education in these crucial topics we aim at building the society’s capacity to face the global challenges around us.
University of Helsinki
Figure from pikrepo.com, licensed as Creative Commons Zero – CC0