Tech rocks! Digital tools in online teaching support international collaboration

Written by the group International Collaboration for Online Education (ICOE)

25.10.2020

As we stated in a previous blog entry titled Making the best out of it! International collaboration for online teaching in pandemic times, “online teaching and studies have become a new normal during the pandemic times”. While online teaching has happened even before, the sheer number of online courses now exploded. A logical consequence of this development has been that the need for and interest in digital tools to support online teaching has accelerated. This blog entry thus build on the previous one mentioned above, and focuses on digital tools to support online teaching, in international collaboration and beyond. We present and briefly discuss four exemplary digital tools/mediums: podcasts, shared online whiteboards (focus Flinga), tools to activate students and create interaction (focus Kahoot!) and educational video games.

The increasing popularity of podcasts has made its mark also in the academic world. As a popular medium, podcasts offer a novel way for scholars to reach broader publics and popularize their research. “You can take your research to ordinary people, not just specialists, and it can be a way to make knowledge transmission more dialogic,” Zachary Davis, a scholar and a podcast producer, notes in a recent interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education. Yet, podcasts can be also a useful medium of teaching in higher education. They can be especially suitable in fields such as humanities and social sciences, as Davis points out, where audio can help students to concentrate on argumentation and narrative, and where visual elements can in fact be a distraction.

As a medium, podcasts share many of the benefits of more traditional audial education, such as lectures or class discussions. Indeed, many of the same pedagogical rules of thumb that apply to lectures also apply to podcasts. As a recent German study showcased, for instance, the teacher’s enthusiasm in reading a podcast recording was directly connected to students’ learning outcomes. A podcast with a more enthusiastic teacher’s voice helped to engage students better than a podcast with an overtly neutral tone. While podcasts have many benefits over traditional lectures, such as their accessibility, of course, they cannot replace the embodied experience of contact learning. Podcasts are a great educational supplement, as Davis notes in the Chronicle interview, but students still need the experience of reading and discussing together in a shared physical space.

To promote whole-class discussion and interaction, shared online whiteboards such as Flinga (https://flinga.fi/) or Google Jamboard (http://jamboard.google.com) are useful. Flinga and Jamboard are free, easily accessible and easy to use, meaning that the students’ attention is focused on the task and not on the application. Online whiteboards allow students to post their ideas, examples, questions and feedback, and for instance to link and sort related contents together. According to Ludvigsen et al (2019), the application of a collaborative whiteboard during classes promoted an active engagement and encouraged students to ask more questions. Online whiteboards are informal platforms and can be accessed anonymously, which further encourages students to contribute, particularly those who might be hesitant otherwise (Ludvigsen et al. 2019). From a teacher’s perspective, the use of a collaborative whiteboard can potentially change how students and teachers interact and how students’ ideas interact with each other (Ludvigsen et al. 2019). However, as the whiteboard collaboration takes place in real-time, it might be challenging to manage the numerous perspectives and to facilitate the categorization of different ideas. Furthermore, teachers need to be open to unpredictable happenings and prepared to react to content they disagree with and that are outside the learning goals (Ludvigsen et al. 2019).

Interaction between students and teachers as well as activation of students are seen as vital parts of teaching (e.g., Lindblom-Ylänne and Nevgi 2009). And it is especially important now as many teachers and students  work remotely. Based on earlier experiences which have been confirmed by the COVID-19-pandemic, teachers can be supported by tools to activate students and create interaction during online teaching. Applications like Kahoot! (www.kahoot.com) offer various ways to activate students by creating quizzes around the current topic and allow the students to act like they were participants in game-shows. With this kind of quizzes, it is for example possible to pre-assess the knowledge of students. Also, they can be useed as online tests during and after teaching sessions. Adding something extra to traditional or online lectures with such game-based applications could probably foster students’ engagement and improve their learning experience in general (Licorish et al. 2018).

Of course, commonly used learning platforms such as Moodle also offer similar kinds of tools, which can be used if all students come from the same university. However, in international cooperation, maybe more universal applications, which are not bound to any specific institution or user account, could work better. Possibly the biggest limitation of the available applications is that many have free versions (e.g. Kahoot!, Crowdsignal) or offer free trials (e.g. ProProfs), but the more advanced versions need to be purchased. This might limit their usability especially in larger online courses. On the other hand, the full version prices seem to be relatively low, and could thus be seen as a small and reasonable investment to make studying more interesting and fun for the course participants.

Video games are increasingly complex, interactive virtual worlds which, among other things, can be used for transmitting information or knowledge about certain subjects. Especially educational games do so in a very conscious and straightforward way. They are developed specifically to either teach or, in a more subtle way, to draw attention to and offer background knowledge on certain topics. Quite a number of studies speak about the additional benefit of the immersion and emotional factors of educational games which they offer as additional value in education as compared to traditional teaching. Educational video games and their research and development have thrived as an academic field in the past ten years. Mishra and Foster (2007) in the possibly first comprehensive publication on the subject make five still today relevant claims for using games for learning purposes: development of cognitive, practical, physiological and social skills and motivation. Game-based learning and utilizing game-based environments for teaching have since been increasingly discussed. Sometimes we find the term “edutainment” which was introduced by Michael and Chen (2006) who examine specifically educational games development and games as edutainment. Increasingly, also academic events worldwide are bringing together scholars from the disciplines of technology and education. Among other things, many aim for establishing dialogues with the business sectors.

Let us briefly present an example for educational games, from our own context. Grounded in the wish to extend the benefits of educational games to South Asian Studies, a member of this group initiated a collaboration with an Indian game development studio, with Flying Robot in Kolkata. With funding from the University of Helsinki digiloikka initiative and the University of Helsinki Faculty of Arts Future Development Fund, we set out to develop an educational game introducing selected core aspects of Indian culture and society by taking the arguably most popular Indian festival Durgapuja as a content example. This game is targeted at university students with little or no background knowledge on the subject yet; that is, it is designed as an introduction to contemporary Indian culture and society. In the open access game The Durga Puja Mystery, the player is subjected to educational tasks and investigative puzzles gradually informing about Durga Puja. During the game, the player collects various items, including reference books, texts, images and objects, that can help with the investigation and play a key part in winning the game. Simultaneously and as characteristic for educational games, these items introduce various key themes related to Durga Puja, and support the player in their educational and academic quest. They are selected with the aim to transmit information about and inspire further interest in Indian culture at large.

 

References

Alvarez, M. (2020) The Podcast University. Available at https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-podcast-university/, accessed 22 October 2020.

Licorish, S. A., Owen, H. E., Daniel, B. and George, J. L. (2018) Students’ perception of Kahoot!’s influence on teaching and learning. RPTEL 13, 9. Available at https://doi.org/10.1186/s41039-018-0078-8, accessed 22 October 2020.

Lindblom-Ylänne, S. and Nevgi, A. (2009). Yliopisto-opettajan käsikirja. Helsinki: WSOYpro.

Ludvigsen, K., Ness, I. J., & Timmis, S. (2019). Writing on the wall: How the use of technology can open dialogical spaces in lectures. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 34, 100559.

König, L. (2020) Podcasts in higher education: Teacher enthusiasm increases students’ excitement, interest, enjoyment, and learning motivation. Educational Studies, https://doi.org/10.1080/03055698.2019.1706040.

www.crowdsignal.com

www.kahoot.com

www.proprofs.com

2 Replies to “Tech rocks! Digital tools in online teaching support international collaboration”

  1. I found your post to be really useful! The overview of the tech tools for education is handy, and made me reflect to my own teaching, and which one of the tools have been in use. I have been using different videos with students (usually short ones), but haven’t yet tried the podcasts. Now this is on my mental list. I found it really interesting that listening can be more productive in certain disciplines, while images would only distract. Also, you actually inspired me to try out google jamboard, and it seems like it provides more space for creativity – so I plan to it for implementing the assignment which makes use of the students’ linguistic repertoires. And finally (and very importantly), I am very intrigued about the game you described in the post. In fact, our group made a point in our own blog entry (“Is being international problematic for sustainability?”) about the importance of localizing sustainability and getting to know local ways of living, traditions and practices, that are very valuable for supporting sustainability transformations in the context of a given city or country. Education has a role to play in bringing up the local traditions and knowledge, and therefore making their value more apparent. To me it sounds like the Durga Puja Mystery is an exciting educational tool, which is doing exactly that. I will try it 🙂

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with the utility of different interactive digital tools to enhance international collaboration and online teaching. These will be extremely valuable especially now that a lot of courses (including my own) will be offered only online in the spring term. Will definitely employ some of these! I think a growing complaint from students and staff is that the online lectures become monotonous – for which these offer a welcomed solution – and I have already earlier in contact teaching seen that an activating assignment like a Presemo quiz can make all the difference in perking up the students during the lecture. Gamification is also a growing trend – my unit for example has an ongoing EU project on VR and gaming approaches to chemistry education – but being somewhat familiar with the importance of game and participatory design, these warrant serious collaboration with experts in these areas in order to achieve the goals of the educational game.

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