Having spent many years teaching my students in a physical classroom space, the last 12 months have certainly been very strange. Almost all of my teaching has been online, with classes delivered using online class platforms. These have been great to use in the absence of being able to be in attendance, but they come with some real challenges in terms of engaging and interacting with students. At the same time, student – student interactions have also been hit, with regulations preventing the normal social interactions students take part in, before, during and after class.
However, has it all been bad? There are some significant advantages to online teaching. For example, a more flexible timetable for students, allowing them to balance other work and activities against their studies. A greater use of breakout rooms to encourage student – student interactions, with groupings much more mixed than if we asked them to go into groups in attendance. We have recognised the value of providing asynchronous lecture captures, and that “face to face” teaching (whether online or in attendance) doesn’t have to be a one way flow of information, but can be an interactive teaching activity that adds real value to student learning. This active approach has the potential to get students thinking critically about what they do (and do not) understand, and allows instantaneous delivery of feedback and support.
Of course, there are also the challenges. No more “reading the room”, i.e. seeing what students have got (or not) from their body language. They cannot see you (well only a part of you), and therefore they miss your body language too. The social side of class is a struggle, as the students may feel disconnected to you as a teacher, and each other, as everyone is in a different physical space. Students may not have the skillset to know how to use asynchronous resources such as lecture captures appropriately, and we might struggle to realise that they need support (particularly our first year students who are transitioning from a disrupted school year into their university studies, a transition that is hard even in a normal year).
20/21 is an academic year like no other, and it is time to start and reflect on what we have achieved. If we identify the things that worked, and what did not, there is the potential for us to harness all the amazing strategies and activities we have discovered teaching online, and embed these activities into the new normal of next academic year!
Louise Robson is an award winning senior university teacher in Biomedical Science at the University of Sheffield, with over 25 years’ experience in learning and teaching. She is known for her championing of the use of digital technologies, particularly lecture capture, and was the institutional lead for implementation of lecture capture at Sheffield. She is a firm believer in the value of active and interactive teaching approaches for enhancing student learning, and has supported colleagues across the sector in using these approaches online during the COVID-19 pandemic.