Distance teaching: so how’s it going for you?

Bhavik Patel, professor of clinical and bioanalytical chemistry at the University of Brighton shares his experiences of distance teaching

The transition to teaching and assessing students at distance practically over the course of 24 hours has certainly brought out many mixed emotions.

There is the concern of how this format of distance teaching and assessment will be received by the students and that we have limited experience of distance learning. A part of me is up for the challenge of exploring creative ways to teach and assess our students.

Distance teaching – what I’ve learned

There are so many different modes of teaching conducted (tutorials, lectures and workshops) and, therefore, trying to find the right combination of digital platforms for effective delivery is essential. This is coupled with staff having varying familiarity with these different platforms.

We are planning to use Microsoft Teams as a platform to conduct any live-streaming activities. Additionally, we can pre-record content using MediaStream and, lastly, we can use varying functions of our VLE StudentCentral.

So, based on running a few different activities, here is my take on what I’ve tried, the good and bad bits as well as my thoughts on the best approach

Long-distance lectures

I decided to first give live streaming of a lecture using Microsoft Teams a go but found this quite a difficult experience. It’s vital that if you are to use live-streaming you set some ground rules such as making sure students switch off their microphones – unless they wish to ask any questions. Otherwise, this creates significant background noise and ruins the experience for all.

It’s a slightly eery feeling without the buzz of a face-to-face lecture

The real benefits of this mode of lecture delivery is that students can listen and learn spontaneously.

However, for the lecture, it is so hard to read whether the audience has learnt the concept. When you have so many distance learning students listening in, it’s a slightly eery feeling without the buzz of a face-to-face lecture. Therefore, to make clear transition, I decided to present five slides and then leave some time for students to ask questions either by unmuting their microphones and asking a question or posting a question on the chat site.

Therefore, my preference is to run a flipped learning model.

I will be using MediaStream to pre-record the lecture and provide this to the students via the VLE, so they have ample time to digest the material. However, to ensure you close the loop and make sure the students have understood the content of the lecture, it’s important to host a dedicated time for either a blog/chat where students can ask questions, or to run a live stream.

Bhavik with his window ‘white board’. Photo by his seven-year-old daughter Diva

Workshops that work

Given that these are spontaneous interaction activities, I tried to do this via Microsoft Teams live-stream meetings. I provided students with worksheets in advance and spent time going through the activity so that they could have a go at the tasks required.

I think it’s useful when the task has been explained to leave the meeting but explain that students can stay on and use this as a potential means to have a peer-learning process to support one another and conducting the activities within the workshop or tutorial.

I provided a time for when I would return, and students were free to post any question on the Microsoft Teams channel, which I responded to.

The real challenge was how I would explain some of the processes I took to get to the answers of the workshop, so I prepared additional slides which I could share and which  showed processes – processes I would normally have explained on a white board. These were a real advantage – it helped those students who couldn’t see how we reached some of the solutions of the activity.

This format worked well, and students found this useful as they could interact with one another and work through the problem. The forum was interactive, with students feeding in thoughts. This approach for workshops and tutorials is powerful.

I have realised my white board marker is perfect for my patio windows

Moving forward, I have realised my white board marker is perfect for my patio windows, so now they are serving to be my new white board. So that should be fun, showcasing some processes that would take much time to transition into slides.

Additionally, I shall be racking my brain on alternative forms of assessment, as this will be a far greater challenge with the cancellation of examinations.

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