Daniela Standen, ISLI

Overview

ISLI teaches almost exclusively international students. Many of our programmes run all year round, so ISLI had to move to teach exclusively online in the Summer Term. This case study outlines the approach taken and some of the lessons learnt along the way. 

Objectives 

  • Delivering a full Pre-sessional English Programme online to 100 students.
  • Providing academic language and literacy courses for international students.
  • Teaching International Foundation students, with one cohort about to begin their second term at Reading.
  • Teaching students on the Study Abroad Programme.

Context  

In April 2020 as the country was into lockdown and most of the University had finished teaching, ISLI was about to start a ‘normal’ teaching term.  The Pre-sessional English Programme was about to welcome 100 (mostly new) students to the University. The January entry of the International Foundation Programme was less than half-way through their studies and the Academic English Programme was still providing language and academic literacy support to international students.

Implementation

Moving to online teaching was greatly facilitated by having in house TEL expertise as well as colleagues with experience of online teaching, who supported the upskilling of ISLI academic staff and were able to advise on programme, module and lesson frameworks.

We thought that collaboration would be key, so we put in place numerous channels for cross-School working to share best practice and tackle challenges.  ISLI TEL colleagues offered weekly all School Q&A sessions as well as specific TEL training. We set up a Programme Directors’ Community of Practice that meets weekly; and made full use of TEAMS as a space where resources and expertise could be shared.  Some programmes also created a ‘buddy system for teachers’.

Primarily the School adopted an asynchronous approach to teaching, synchronous delivery was made particularly difficult by having students scattered across the globe.  We used a variety of tools from videos, screencasts, narrated PowerPoints and Task & Answer documents to full Xerte lessons.  Generally using a variety of the above to build a lesson.  Interactive elements were provided initially mostly asynchronously, using discussion boards, Padlet and Flipgrid.  However, as the term progressed feedback from students highlighted a need for some synchronous delivery, which was carried out using Blackboard collaborate and TEAMS. 

Impact

It has not been easy, but there have been many positive outcomes from having had to change our working practices.  Despite the incredibly short timescales and the almost non-existent preparation timel, our PSE 3 students started and successfully finished their programme completely online, the IFP January entry students are ready to start their revision weeks before sitting their exams in July and international students writing dissertations and post graduate research were supported throughout the term.

As a School we have learnt new skills and to work in ways that we may not have thought possible had we not been forced into them.  These new ways of working have fostered cross-School collaboration and sharing of expertise and knowledge.

Reflections

We have learnt a lot in the past three months.  On average it takes a day’s work to transform one hour of face to face teaching into a task-based online lesson.

Not all TEL tools are equally effective and efficient, below are some of our favourites:

  • For delivering content: Narrated PowerPoints, Screen casts, Webinars, Task and Answer (PDF/Word Documents)
  • For building online communities: Live sessions on BB collaborate (but students are sometimes shy to take part in breakout group discussions), Flipgrip, discussion boards.
  • For student engagement: BB retention centre, Tutorials on Teams, small frequent formative assignments/tasks on Blackboard Assignments.
  • For assessment: BB assignments, Turn it in, Teams for oral assessment

If time were not a consideration Xerte would also be on the list.

Copyright issues can have a real impact on what you can do when delivering completely online.  Careful consideration also needs to be given when linking to videos, particularly if you have students that are based in China.

Follow up

ISLI is now preparing for Summer PSE, which starts at the end of June. Many of the lessons learnt this term have fed into preparation for summer and autumn teaching.  In particular, we have listened to our students, who told us clearly that face-to-face interaction even if ‘virtual’ is really important and have included more webinars and Blackboard Collaborate sessions in our programmes.

Links

https://www.reading.ac.uk/ISLI/  

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