Face to face teaching occurs synchronously, either on campus in a physical space or online through tools like Collaborate. Traditionally, face to face has been used to both impart knowledge (lecture) and to provide interaction between students and the teacher (tutorial). With the rise of digital learning there are now more opportunities to use technology to improve learning experiences, increase engagement and interaction, improve flexibility for students, increase efficiencies for the digital teacher and most importantly provide the space to really make the most of the face to face time you do have with your students.
Working through the knowledge and skills your students will need to meet their learning outcomes and how you’re going to deliver this should help you identify which aspects best lend themselves to synchronous and asynchronous activities. FLO is a fantastic platform for bringing both styles together seamlessly. Independent activities or tasks (listening, reading) can be set up asynchronously and then referred to or built upon during face to face time. A great example of this is where lectures are chunked and pre-recorded. This teaching content is then uploaded to FLO and used in conjunction with readings and other online activities. Short videos produced for this purpose can be reused each year provided the practices are still current.
Jackie Cornell, one of our friendly Learning Designers, recently asked Shelly Abbott, Topic Coordinator of a large first year nursing topic (855 students, 26 staff, 2 concurrent availabilities) how she adapted to less synchronous time on campus and greater use of digital learning due to the COVID19 restrictions.
Read what Shelly had to say.
JC: What type of things did you move online instead of on campus?
SA: As NURS1001 is a theoretical topic with no clinical psychomotor skills teaching, there has been little change to the activities we run online as opposed to on campus, with the notable exception of reduced time (1.5 hour synchronous online tutorials vs 3 hour synchronous on campus tutorials) we now concentrate on core components of curriculum during our synchronous time and have designed asynchronous activities to explore and reinforce key learning.
To address this reduced tutorial time, we introduced module based discussion forums for tutorial groups in FLO to pose key questions each week so that students could further explore core curriculum aspects that were not able to be addressed in depth during the tutorial. Students post responses to these questions, pose their own questions around their learning and engage with each other to further explore the relevant concepts.
We use Collaborate for our synchronous online tutorials and found that these often generated more group discussion. We made good use of the tools in Collaborate such as polling. Students appear to really like in-class polls and engage well with these, and this has been a good way to drill down to the specific learning requirements of individual classes and generate engagement and interaction.
We traditionally provide students with a weekly opportunity to meet with each other and their tutor outside of class. In the online environment, we attempted to replicate this with a period of ‘informal’ time at the end of each synchronous online class. These became quite important in the initial stages of our transition to online teaching. Many students were feeling understandably isolated and I remember one student stating ‘this is the only conversation I have had with anyone else all week’.
JC: Are there activities that you shifted to an asynchronous mode using digital tools that you would usually do synchronously on campus?
SA: NURS1001, along with the majority of other nursing program topics, has a flipped classroom design. Students are expected to undertake module-based readings and engage with pre-tutorial activities to provide a foundation for their learning before coming to their tutorial. The key teachings from these activities, aligned with the module learning outcomes, are then further explored and built upon in the tutorial classes. We were able to maintain this during the move to online.
The asynchronous module-based discussion forums for each tutorial group were an important component of the core teaching given the time reductions to the tutorials. This also provided a further ability for students who were not able to attend their regular class (due to illness, etc) to stay connected with their classmates and tutor.
JC: What types of things did you include in synchronous face to face Collaborate sessions to ensure engagement from students?
SA: At the commencement of each online tutorial, we had a ‘How are you travelling’ activity where students were invited to raise anything they needed to discuss or had questions around. During the tutorial, depending on the Collaborate capability of the tutor (some were very experienced, while others were brand new), we introduced polls, break out groups, interactive whiteboard activities and various activities that involved tutors sharing their screens. We also incorporated a digital version of the class meet up at the end of each tutorial to encourage students to connect with each other.
JC: How did your students respond?
SA: The first couple of weeks were difficult with students and teaching staff alike working through the technology, the requirements, and the ever-changing environment in which we all found ourselves. It was, however, quite a bonding experience overall, with the students and teaching team all finding their way together. Therefore, I would say the students responded positively and were very engaged with providing important feedback to optimally support their needs. It also needs to be said that some students struggled with this unexpected change and took some time to adjust.
The synchronous online tutorial classes have been consistently well attended with many students stating a preference for this class structure. The online asynchronous module based discussion forums for each tutorial group have had varying success and we are evaluating the key factors. Essentially, the students need to value this as an additional learning opportunity and this relies on inputs from the tutors, including regular checking and the provision of feedback. The value of a tutor mentioning a post from a student on the forum during an online class cannot be overstated.
JC: Are there things you’ve recently introduced online due to COVID19 that are now here to stay, even when you’re able to transition back on campus?
SA: There are a number of aspects that I will retain for NURS1001. The use of an informal online synchronous session for students to meet with their classmates and tutors has been an effective way to manage the importance of making connections and networks for commencing first year students. The module-based tutorial discussion forum is an asynchronous way of supporting learning but needs to be done well and including the teacher-voice in the discussion is critical, so again, this is likely to remain in some form.
Shelly’s experience is testament to getting the mix right and how this can have a positive effect on your students and teaching teams.
Tip sheets are currently being developed which will provide more information on utilising tools and activities in FLO to enhance your asynchronous teaching in a way that benefits your synchronous face to face teaching (either online or on campus). Keep an eye on the Good practice guides and tip sheets website.
Learning Designer – CILT