Misconceptions About Flipped Learning

Misconceptions about Flipped Learning

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, colleagues in UoR are called to adjust their courses almost overnight from face to face teaching and to fully online ones. As the immediate future is still full of uncertainty, UoR (2020) teaching and learning framework are asking us to be creative in our pedagogical teaching approaches and to come up with strategies that would make courses stimulating and engaging. Flipped learning is one of the approaches suggested in the framework. With that in mind, I have written two articles about flipped learning published here and here.

Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach which comes timely during Covid-19. The advancement of internet technology, online learning platform and social media combined with growing exposure to flipped learning pedagogical approach promote the adoption of flipped learning during this pandemic. However, despite its popularity and published literature about flipped learning, it is evident that there are many misconceptions about it as it remains a somewhat poorly-understood concept among many.

In this last article, I thought I write and share with you some of the misconceptions about flipped learning that I resonate most. At the same time, let us reflect on them and see how we can overcome them if possible. Your feedbacks are always welcome and please do send me your thoughts via w.tew@henley.ac.uk

 

Misconception 1: Flipped learning is about putting video contents online

Reflection: This can be the most popular format to do flipped learning, but it is NOT about putting videos online and having students do homework in class (or online during this pandemic time). Referring to UoR (2020) Teaching and Learning: Framework for Autumn term 2020, we are encouraged to prepare our teaching and lectures in a video format. This format works well with flipped learning instructional strategy for delivering our teaching contents but flipped learning can be about much more than that. Colleagues can opt for videos or just text (readings) materials if they flip their lessons. For example, we can make good use of BB LMS platform to include online reading materials using talis aspire, journal articles, case studies, news that are relevant for our students. In another word, flipped learning does not necessarily use videos entirely.

 

Misconception 2: You need to be in the video

Reflection: This is not necessary the case especially so many of us are just shy and ‘unnatural’ in front of the camera, just how I feel for myself. This is why voice recorded PowerPoint format can be a ‘lifesaver’ to many of us. Having said that, having you in the video adds a personal touch to the learning materials for students. For example, wearing different hats when you are filming your videos make it more interesting to ‘draw’ students’ attention to your contents and lessons. Try it, you probably earn a “Mad hatter” title from your students. Just one of my crazy ideas.

 

Misconception 3: You need to flip your entire module 

ReflectionMany of us assume that we need to flip it for our entire module for entire academic year. NOT entirely necessarily so! The whole idea about flipped learning is to foster student-centred learning and teaching can be personalised to suit the students’ needs and learning pace. Therefore, you can flip just one concept or topic, one entire term or some weeks. Remember, the focus is on the students’ learning needs – one size fits all approach definitely does not fits in a flipped learning environment.

 

Misconception 4Flipped learning is a fad and people has been doing this for years in the past

Reflection: This is what my initial thought when I first come to know about flipped learning. A fad is defined as “a style, activity, or interest that is very popular for a short period of time”, an innovation that never takes hold. Flipped learning is anything but this. The evidence that it is still actively studied and researched today proves that it is not just a fad. Talbert (2017) argued that flipped learning is not just rebranding of old techniques. Flipped learning has its pedagogical framework and values in its effects on learning. In brief, the definition of flipped learning (refer Flipped Learning Network, 2014) has differentiated it with any learning theories.

 

Misconception 5: Flipping the classroom takes too much time

Reflection: To be honest, I do think this is true. Preparing for flipped learning and flipping the lessons involve a lot of energy and time. Based on my own experience, I personally can testify that it can take a significant amount of time. This also subjects to how tech-savvy is the teacher and how much of the teaching content needs to be flipped. However, the fruit of the hard labour and time investment, once designed, it will save time. Irony, isn’t it. That’s my experience. What I am trying to show you that once you have it done, you will be able to use the same content over and over again, year after year. Then, any updating and changes to the contents will not take as much time as creating everything from scratch again.

Finally, I hope you enjoy my series of flipped learning published on this platform. I sincerely urge you to consider flipped learning pedagogical approach during this pandemic and please do not hesitate to be in touch to continue this conversation.

References

Flipped Learning Network (FLN). (2014) The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™ , Reproducible PDF can be found at www.flippedlearning.org/definition.

Talbert, R (2017) Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty. Stylus Publishing, LLC

UoR (2020) Teaching and Learning: Framework for Autumn term 2020, available at: https://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/leadershipgroup/autumn-teaching-proposal-v11.pdf

 

Running Virtual Focus Groups – Investigating the Student Experience of the Academic Tutor System

Amanda Millmore, School of Law

Overview

I wanted to measure the impact of the new Academic Tutor System (ATS) on the students in the School of Law, and capture their experiences, both good and bad, with a view to making improvements. I successfully bid for some small project funding from the ATS Steering Group prior to Covid-19. The obvious difficulty I faced in the lockdown, was how to engage my students and encourage them to get involved in a virtual project. How can students co-produce resources when they are spread around the world?

Objectives

I planned to run focus groups with current students with dual aims:·

  • To find out more about their experiences of the academic tutor system and how we might better meet their needs; and
  • To see if the students could collaboratively develop some resources advising their fellow students how to get the most out of tutoring.

The overall aim being to raise the profile of academic tutoring within the School and the positive benefits it offers to our students, but also to troubleshoot any issues.

Implementation

After exams, I emailed all students in the School of Law to ask them to complete an anonymous online survey about their experiences. Around 10% of the cohort responded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within that survey I offered students the opportunity to join virtual focus groups. The funding had originally been targeted at providing refreshments as an enticement to get involved, so I redeployed it to offer payment via Campus Jobs for the students’ time (a remarkably easy process). I was conscious that many of our students had lost their part time employment, and it seemed a positive way to help them and encourage involvement. I had 56 volunteers, and randomly selected names, ensuring that I had representation from all year groups.

I ran 2 focus groups virtually using MS Teams, each containing students from different years. This seemed to work well for the 11 students who were all able to join the sessions and recording the sessions online enabled me to obtain a more accurate note which was particularly helpful. I was pleasantly surprised at how the conversation flowed virtually; with no more than 6 students in a group we kept all microphones on, to allow everyone to speak, and I facilitated with some prompts and encouraging quieter participants to offer their opinions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The students were very forthcoming with advice and their honest experiences. They were clear that a good tutor relationship can make a real and noticeable difference for students and those who had had good experiences were effusive in their praise. They were keen to help me find ways to improve the system for everyone.

Results

The students collaborated to produce their “Top Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Academic Tutor” which we have created into a postcard to share with new undergraduates, using free design software Canva https://www.canva.com/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The students also individually made short videos at home of their own top tips, and emailed them to me; I enlisted my teenage son to edit those into 2 short videos, one aimed at postgraduates, one for undergraduates, which I can use as part of induction.

From the project I now have useful data as to how our students use their academic tutor. A thematic analysis of qualitative comments from the questionnaires and focus groups identified 5 key themes:

  • Tutor availability
  • Communication by the tutor
  • School level communication
  • Content of meetings
  • Staffing

From these themes I have drawn up a detailed action plan to be implemented to deal with student concerns.

Impact & Reflections

One of the main messages was that we need to do better at clearly communicating the role of the academic tutor to students and staff.

The students’ advice videos are low-tech but high impact, all recorded in lockdown on their phones from around the world, sharing what they wish they’d known and advising their fellow Law students how to maximise the tutor/tutee relationship. The videos have been shared with the STAR mentor team, the ATS Steering Group and the MCE team now has the original footage, to see if they can be used University-wide.

I am firmly convinced that students are more likely to listen to advice from their peers than from an academic, so am hopeful that the advice postcards and videos will help, particularly if we have a more virtual induction process in the forthcoming academic year.

Ultimately, whilst not the project I initially envisaged, our virtual focus group alternative worked well for my student partners, and they were still able to co-create resources, in a more innovative format than I anticipated. My message to colleagues is to trust the students to know what will work for their fellow students, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

 

How ISLI’s Assessment Team created an online oral exam for the Test of English for Educational Purposes (TEEP)

Fiona Orel– International Study and Language Institute (ISLI)

 

Overview

ISLI’s Test of English for Educational Purposes (TEEP) is administered at the end of pre-sessional courses as a measure of students’ academic English proficiency. The speaking test has traditionally been an academic discussion between two students that is facilitated by an interlocutor and marked by an observer.

This case study outlines the process of creating a version of the TEEP speaking test for 1-1 online delivery.

Objectives

  • To create an online TEEP speaking test that could be administered at the beginning of June to 95 students
  • To ensure reliability and security of results
  • To support students and teachers with the transition

Context

The Pre-sessional English course 3 (PSE 3) started in April during the period of lockdown.  At the end of the course all students sit a TEEP test which includes a test of speaking skills. We realised that we wouldn’t be able to administer the usual two student + two teachers test given the constraints with technology and the changes in teaching and learning which reduced to a certain degree the students’ opportunities for oral interaction and that we would need to develop a new 1-1 test that maintained the validity and reliability of the original TEEP Speaking test.

Implementation

We had two main objectives: to create a valid online 1-1 speaking test, and to make sure that the technology we used to administer the test was simple and straight-forward for both teachers and students, and would have reasonably reliable connectivity in the regions where students were based (China, Middle East and UK).

The first thing we needed to do was to return to our test specifications – what exactly were we hoping to assess through the oral exam? The original face-to-face test had five criteria: overall communication, interaction, fluency, accuracy and range, and intelligibility. We knew that interaction had been impacted by the move online, but decided that the aspect of responding appropriately to others was a crucial aspect of interaction that needed to remain and included this in the ‘overall communication’ criteria. Recognising also that interlocutors would also need to be examiners, we worked on streamlining the criteria to remove redundancy and repetition and to ensure that each block contained the same type of description in the same order thereby making it easier for tutors to skim and recall.

We then worked out exactly what functions and skills in speaking that we wanted to test and how we could do that while mostly working with existing resources. We aligned with the original test specifications by testing students’ ability to:

  • Provide appropriate responses to questions and prompt
  • Describe experiences and things
  • Give and justify an opinion by, for example, stating an opinion, explaining causes and effects, comparing, evaluating.

The test format that enabled this was:

  • Part one: an interview with the student about their studies and experience of studying online
  • Part two: problem solving scenario: Students are introduced to a problem which the teacher screen shares with them and they are given three possible solutions to compare, evaluate and rank most to least effective
  • Part three: abstract discussion building on the talk given in part two

The final stage was trialling a platform to conduct the tests. We had considered Zoom due to its reliability but discounted it due to security concerns. BB Collaborate had connectivity issues in China so we decided to use Teams as connectivity was generally better and students and teachers were familiar with the platform as they had been using it for tutorials. Due to the spread of students over time zones, we decided to spread the speaking tests over three mornings finishing by 11:00 BST on each day. We kept the final slot on Friday free for all teachers to enable rescheduling of tests for any student experiencing issues with connectivity on the day.

Finally, we needed to help teachers and students prepare for the tests. For students, learning materials were produced with videos of a sample test, there was a well-attended webinar to introduce the format and requirements, and the recording of this webinar was made available to all students along with a document on their BB course. This instructed them what to do before test day and what to expect on test day.

The test format and procedures were introduced to teachers with instructions for tasks to do before the test, during the test, and after the test. There was also an examiner’s script prepared with integrated instructions and speech to standardise how the tests were administered. Each test was recorded to ensure security and to enable moderation. All students had to verify their identity at the start of the test. The test recording caused some problems as we knew that the video would have to be downloaded and deleted from Stream before anyone else or the student in the Team meeting who had been tested could access it. For this reason we allowed 40 minutes for each 20 minute interview as downloading was sometimes a lengthy process depending on internet speeds. We had 2 or 3 people available each day to pick up any problems such as a teacher being unwell or having tech issues, and/or a student experiencing problems. This worked well and on the first two days we did have to reschedule a number of tests, fortunately, all worked well on the final day. The teachers were fully committed and worked hard to put students at ease, informal feedback from students was the appreciation of an opportunity to talk 1-1 with a tutor, and tutors said that the test format allowed for plenty of evidence upon which to base a decision.

Impact

The test was successful overall and there were fewer technical issues than we had anticipated. Teachers and students were happy with it as an assessment measure and we were able to award valid and reliable grades.

Working together collaboratively with the teachers and the Programme Director was incredibly rewarding and meant that we had a wide resource base of talent and experience when we did run into any problems.

Reflections

Incredibly detailed planning, the sharing of information across Assessment and Pre-sessional Teams, and much appreciated support from the TEL team helped to make the test a success. Students and teachers had very clear and detailed instructions and knew exactly what was expected and how the tests would be conducted. The sharing of expertise across teams meant that problems were solved quickly and creatively, and it is good to see this practice becoming the norm.

We need to work on the issue of downloading and deleting the video after each test as this caused some anxiety for some teachers with slower internet connection. We also need to have more technical support available, especially on the first day. Most students had tested their equipment as instructed but some who hadn’t experienced issues. It would be even better if a similar activity could be built into the course so that teachers and students experience the test situation before the final test.

Follow up

ISLI’s Assessment Team is now preparing to administer the same tests to a much larger cohort of students at the end of August. We will apply the lessons learned during this administration and work to make the process easier for teachers.

Flipped learning revisited

Dr Edward Tew – Lecturer in Accounting, HBS.

 

Flipped learning revisited

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us in UoR moved to ‘emergency’ remote teaching at the end of the spring term. Colleagues across the university were developing instruction using VLE platforms such as UoR Blackboard and students were studying and working online at a distance.

At the same time, we are urged to use different ways to provide meaningful online learning. In response, UoR has recently published a Teaching and Learning Framework for Autumn 2020 intending to balance the online delivery with interacting teaching. One particular point to note is that this framework is “influenced by pedagogical approaches used in flipped learning” (UoR, 2020). With this in mind, I thought of sharing with you my reflection on the Flipped learning, particularly on the framework proposed by Flipped Learning Network (FLN) (2014) and its application during this Covid-19 pandemic.

According to FLN’s (2014) definition, flipped learning is:

“a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

With this definition, the flipped learning /classroom is built around the four “pillars” F- flexible environment, L- learning culture, I- intentional content, and P- professional educator (Flipped Learning Network, 2014). I believe these four “pillars” can be applied in online flipped lessons which students learn either synchronously or asynchronously. To meet the demand for distance/online learning, especially given the current pandemic, I hope to share my reflection on the use of flipped learning by considering the four pillars accordingly.

 

  1. F – Flexible Environment

In this pillar, educators allow a variety of learning modes in which students choose when and where they learn either group work or independent study.

Application: Select a platform that will be the hub of your online classroom and for all your instructional activities and resources.  In my module, I stick to use the Blackboard (BB) as my core online learning platform with students. Don’t be afraid to be experimental and mix the available tools on the BB, such as wikis to upload students’ group work, presentations, and research activities. There are many other platforms available such as Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Webex. The key is to use what is already familiar to students so that the learning process and activities are made easier for them to navigate and participate effectively.

 

  1. L – Learning Culture

The learning culture in flipped learning has shifted the traditional teacher-centred model to a learner-centred approach. As a result, students are actively involved in knowledge construction as they participate in and evaluate their learning in a personally meaningful manner.

Application: Once you’ve chosen your platform, decide how you will organise learning to encourage a learner-centred learning culture. To do this, communication is the key. In my module, I made sure the module was easy to navigate. I made sure the learning aims and objectives are clearly stated so students can see what they were learning for each topic/ lesson. I also made use of the BB’s module page with folders created to indicate my teaching materials, learning activities and presentations etc. Next, I tried to encourage collaboration in learning using tools such as discussion boards, wikis, blogs or online meetings (i.e. WhatsApp, Team, Zoom). These would provide user-friendly spaces to get my students to work collaboratively and sharing ideas. With all these tools, I have constantly made it clear that students were expected to do their learning first before coming to meet together for critical discussion and interaction.

 

  1. I- Intentional Content

In this pillar, educators decide what they need to teach and what materials students should explore on their own. This pillar aims to maximise classroom time to encourage student-centred learning as considered in pillar 2 above.

Application: Intentional learning occurs when we purposefully select and deliver the content to actively engage students in learning. In my module, I always leave a ‘gap’ for students to further explore and research the subject topic in a group or individually. I used the discussion board and wikis to see their collaborative work and research on the subject matter. I also made sure they could apply what they have learned in an assigned case study. I intentionally used the assessment strategies that test students’ ability to conduct their research and critical thinking. Textbook’s resources and library learning resources are particularly useful in this respect.

 

  1. P – Professional Educator

FLN (2014, p.2) proposes that “Professional Educators are reflective in their practice, connect with each other to improve their instruction, accept constructive criticism, and tolerate controlled chaos in their classrooms. While Professional Educators take on less visibly prominent roles in a flipped classroom, they remain the essential ingredient that enables Flipped Learning to occur.”

Application: The teacher’s role in an online flipped classroom is to facilitate learning as in a physical classroom. In this case, it means it is essential to be available to your students virtually, providing instructional support and feedback. In my module, I monitored the online discussion board and provided feedback promptly.  I also used BB Collaborate to have 1-2-1 and group sessions with students to moderate students’ learning progress and provide constructive feedback.

This is a challenging time for numerous reasons particularly the anxiety of the unknown surrounding the virus. Given the current situation under the COVID-19 crisis, implementing online flipped learning/classroom makes sense so students do not fall behind in their learning. However, barriers and challenges to develop an effective one must be acknowledged. In this view, I resonate with FLN’s (2014) quote for Professional educators above as I need to be agile and robust to improve my instructional strategies, accept constructive criticism, and welcome controlled chaos in this online flipped classrooms. We must adapt, change quickly and moving forward effectively to counter the challenges in this unprecedented time.

 

References:

Flipped Learning Network (FLN). (2014) The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™ , Reproducible PDF can be found at www.flippedlearning.org/definition.

UoR (2020) Teaching and Learning: Framework for Autumn term 2020, available at: https://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/leadershipgroup/autumn-teaching-proposal-v11.pdf

 

 

How ISLI moved to full online teaching in four weeks

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/  

Taking Academic Language and Literacy Courses Online

Dr Karin Whiteside, ISLI

Overview

Alongside its embedded discipline-specific provision, the Academic English Programme (AEP) offers a range of open sign-up academic language and literacy courses each term. This case study outlines the process of rapidly converting the summer term provision online, and reports student feedback and reflections on the experience which will help inform continued online delivery this autumn term.

Objectives

Our aim was to provide academic language and literacy support which, as far as practicably possible, was equivalent in scope and quality to our normal face-to-face offering for the same time of year. In summer term, our provision is particularly important for master’s students working on their dissertations, with high numbers applying for Dissertation & Thesis Writing, but courses such as Core Writing Skills and Academic Grammar also providing important ‘building block’ input needed for competent research writing.

Context

Prior to the COVID crisis, our face-to-face courses on different aspects of written and spoken Academic English have been offered for open application on a first-come-first served basis, with a rolling weekly waiting list. With a maximum of 20 students per class, we have been able to offer interactive, task-based learning involving analysis of target language and communicative situations in context, practice exercises and opportunity for discussion and feedback within a friendly small-group environment.

Implementation

Within an extremely tight turnaround time of four weeks to achieve this, we determined a slightly slimmed down programme of five ‘open-to-all’ online courses –  Academic Grammar, Core Academic Writing Skills, Dissertation & Thesis Writing, Essays: Criticality, Argument, Structure and Listening & Note-taking – and replaced our normal application process with self-enrolment via Blackboard, meaning uncapped numbers could sign up and have access to lessons.

Time restraints meant we had to be pragmatic in terms of where to focus our energies. Conversion of course content online needed to be done in a way that was both effective and sustainable, thinking of the potential continued need for online AEP provision going into 2020/21. We predicted (rightly!) that the process of initially converting small-group interactive learning materials to an online format in which their inductive, task-based qualities were retained would be labour-intensive and time-consuming. Therefore, for the short term (summer 2020) we adopted a primarily asynchronous approach, with a view to increasing the proportion of synchronous interactivity in future iterations once content was in place. In terms of converting face-to-face lessons to online, we found what often worked most effectively was to break down contents of a two-hour face-to-face lesson into 2-3 task-focused online parts, each introduced and concluded with short, narrated PowerPoints/MP4 videos. We determined a weekly release-date for lesson materials on each course, often accompanied by a ‘flipped’ element, labelled ‘Pre-lesson Task’, released a few days prior to the main lesson materials. We set up accompanying weekly Discussion Forums where students could ask questions or make comments, for which there was one ‘live’ hour per week. Apart from Pre-Lesson Tasks, task answers were always made available at the same time as lessons to allow students complete autonomy.

Moving rapidly to online delivery meant not necessarily having the highest specification e-learning tools immediately to hand but instead working creatively to get the best out of existing technologies, including the Blackboard platform, which prior to this term had had a mainly ‘depository’ function in AEP. To ensure ease of navigation, the various attachments involved in creating such lessons needed to be carefully curated by Folder and Item within BB Learning Materials. Key to this was clear naming and sequencing, with accompanying instructions at Folder and Item level.

Impact, Reflections and Follow-up

Positive outcomes of taking the summer AEP provision online have included noticeably higher uptake (e.g. in Academic Grammar, 92 self-enrolments compared to 30 applications in summer term 2018/19) and noticeably higher real engagement (e.g. with an average of 11 students attending the 2018/19 summer face-to-face Academic Grammar class, compared to a high of 57 and average of 38 students accessing each online lesson). Running the courses asynchronously online has meant no waiting lists, allowing access to course content to all students who register interest. It also means that students can continue to join courses and work through materials over the summer vacation period, which is particularly useful for international master’s students working on Dissertations for September submission, and for cohorts overseas such as the IoE master’s students in Guangdong.

In survey responses gathered thus far, response to course content has been largely positive: “It provided me an insight into what is expected structure and criticality. Now that I am writing my essay, I could see the difference”. Students appreciated teacher narration, noticing if it was absent: “I would prefer our teacher to talk and explain the subject in every slide.” The clarity of lesson presentation within Blackboard was also noted: “I think the most impressive part in this course is the way these lessons were arranged in BB as every lessons were explicitly highlighted, divided into parts with relevant tasks and their answers. Thus, I could effectively learn the content consciously and unconsciously.”

There were a range of reactions to our approach to online delivery and to online learning more generally.  52% of students were happy with entirely asynchronous learning, while 48% would have preferred a larger element of real-time interactivity: “Although this lessons ensured the freedom in dealing with the material whenever it was possible, the lack of a live-scheduled contact with the teacher and other students was somewhat dispersive.”; “I prefer face to face in the classroom because it encourages me more to contribute”. In normal circumstances, 34% of students said they would want entirely face-to-face AEP classes, whilst 21% would want a blended provision and 45% would prefer learning to remain entirely online, with positive feedback regarding the flexibility of the online provision: “it’s flexible for students to do it depending on their own time.”; “Don’t change the possibility to work asynchronously. It makes it possible to follow despite being a part time student.” Going forward, we plan to design in regular synchronous elements in the form of webinars which link to the asynchronous spine of each course to respond to students’ requests for more live interactivity. We also plan to revisit and refine our use of Discussion Forums in Blackboard. Whilst engagement of lesson content was high, students made limited use of Q&A Forums. It is hoped that more targeted forums directly linked to flipped tasks will encourage greater engagement with this strand of the online delivery in the future.

Links

The AEP website ‘Courses, Workshops and Webinars’ page, which gives details of this summer term’s courses and what will be on offer in autumn: http://www.reading.ac.uk/ISLI/enhancing-studies/academic-english-programme/isli-aep-courses.aspx

Still Learning Together

Professor Cindy Becker, School of Literature and Languages

Introduction

One of the most difficult aspects of lockdown has been the sense of disrupted conversations: the students you wanted to remind about how to plan an essay, the query you heard in a seminar discussion that you want to answer now that you have thought about it. For me, this was more troublesome than the empty corridors as students started to leave.

As lecturers, our whole lives are run to the rhythm of academic terms, and so to have ‘term’ still happening when I was stuck at home seemed like a daily set of missed opportunities, which led, inevitably, to increased anxiety about how my students were doing and how they could prepare well for the challenges ahead. Of course, I was not alone in this; we all felt it and found different ways to resolve that niggling feeling of unfinished business.

What was needed?

I realised that I needed to find a way to stay in touch with students, not just those who I would meet online as part of online teaching and formal meetings, but also those who might be worried but who would not know quite where to turn. Perhaps more important than that, I wanted to reassure students that we are still here, we still want to teach them, and we are as keen to stay in touch as they are.

From a teaching perspective, I also saw this as an opportunity to help students with some of wider aspects of learning and of assessment, rather than focusing just on subject specific material.

How I responded

I set up a YouTube channel, called Still Learning Together, and then, over the course of a month, I uploaded short screencasts to the channel three times a week. I thought it important that we stayed in touch when there were no scheduled activities, so I ran this project over the Spring vacation.

The screencasts covered a range of areas:

Still Learning Together: Eight things we do not need in an unseen exam answer

Still Learning Together: Five memory techniques

Still Learning Together: Ten things at the start of an exam

Still Learning Together: Seven fixes for writer’s block

Still Learning Together: Six rehearsals for a great presentation

Still Learning Together: Four thoughts on primary and secondary sources

Still Learning Together: Three fixes for a comma splice

Still Learning Together: Six steps to calmness

Still Learning Together: Five ways to conquer reading lists

Still Learning Together: Six things you need not include in your essay

Still learning together: Four steps to semi-colons

Engaging with students

Because I could not know which of our students might be feeling isolated or anxious at any point, I wanted to reach the widest range of students for each screencast. I used BB announcements, with email, for each year of each programme in our School. I also asked students to let me know if they would like me to make any screencasts especially for them, so some of those listed above were produced on request.

Students engaged with the resource, with more than 870 views of the channel since I created it, which I found pleasing. I am keeping my ears open for any requests for guidance from students that might be answered through future screencasts.

Looking ahead

Our Outreach Officer, Dr Neil Cocks, sent links to the channel to some local schools with which we have relationships and received a positive response (especially to the grammar help!). We have also added them to our Literature Launchpad YouTube channel.

I am planning to develop the channel later in the summer with our Foundation Degree students in mind, so that we can put links to the channel on their central BB sites. I am also trying to think of other ways in which we might develop and use the material. We might, perhaps, include links to the screencasts as quickmarks on turnitin, or perhaps have the links as a central resource on our BB sites…

I would also like to continue to involve students, and to help them remember that we really do want to stay close to them and to keep developing their learning skills with them. I am considering how to do this, including asking students for more suggestions and boosting usage of the YouTube channel over the summer and just before the Autumn Term.

I am enjoying mulling this over from time to time, and happy to hear any suggestions from colleagues about how I might develop the channel. As with everything to do with Teaching and Learning, as soon as you think a project is finished you find a little thread leading you on to the next part of the path…one of the joys of our profession, even in lockdown.

Update 31/07/20

It occurred to me that, if students have to self-isolate in the coming months, they could be left feeling a bit lost, especially if they had assumed that they would be on campus throughout the year. With this in mind, I created the following document which shows students where they can go for some instant help and support. I produced three clips and put them on the Still Learning Together YouTube channel and, although they are not the final word on online learning, they might reassure our students that we are ready to help.

If you become aware that one of your students is having to self-isolate at any point this year, you might like to send them this document. 

Word document download

Virtual Field Classes

 

Professor Nick Branch and Dr Mike Simmonds, SAGES.

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Context

The rapid closure of universities and cancellation of outdoor activities as part of the COVID-19 precautions prior to Easter 2020 led to widespread adjustments to teaching delivery methods across the university sector. Seemingly overnight, lectures were given online, meetings were migrated and everyone (slowly) became experts in video calling. In Geography and Environmental Science, we also faced an additional problem, how to provide our students with the field-based teaching elements of their courses, when access to the sites was restricted. Geography and Environmental Science run four Part 2 fieldtrips to Europe (Almeria, Berlin, Crete and Naples), a Part 3 fieldtrip to Nanjing in China and a MSc trip to Devon across the end of the Easter vacation and the start of the summer term, so the timing of the lockdown meant we needed to find a new way of teaching these important geographical and environmental science skills to our students. We needed to find a delivery method that would allow students to explore the outside world whilst they were at home, with tasks and activities designed to enable them to collate, analyse and present their findings. The ‘Virtual Field Class’ (VFC) was born.

Implementation

It quickly transpired that one of the key elements for the VFC to be successful was imagery, with enough required so that the students could fully explore those regions we would traditionally visit on the field classes. Google Maps Street View was chosen for this, as it provided an excellent, expansive, and high-quality array of both street level imagery and 360-degree photospheres which would allow students to explore at their own pace, and in their own direction. However, without a clear and coherent narrative accompanying these images, this was clunky, convoluted and it difficult to envisage a high level of engagement or student satisfaction. Field class leaders also wanted to be able to showcase images, videos, maps, and other content alongside Street View imagery, so a better framework was needed to host this range of VFC content. Based on previous experience, it was decided to use Esri Story Maps to act as the framework for this array of material.  Nestled within the Esri suite of apps and programmes, Esri Story Maps is a powerful online tool, which staff and students can access through our Esri agreement (there are two versions; Esri Story Maps (classic) and ArcGIS StoryMaps – both provide similar functionality). Story Maps provides a platform for text, images, maps and other multimedia content to be hosted in an engaging narrative, which can be followed in a pre-determined order; much like a traditional field class. Another important consideration was ease of use of the platform, due to the limited time available to assemble these VFC’s, and again Esri Story Maps were ideal here, with field class convenors quickly understanding the key elements of the platform with minimal training.

Impact

The methodology used to create the VFC has not only provided a temporary substitute for face-to-face field-based training but also highlighted the value of using this digital resource as part of our research skills teaching. Our usual pre-field class assessment consisted of a short essay or PowerPoint screencast. This was intended to familiarise the students with aspects of the human and/or physical geography of each field class location. Whilst these forms of assessment have their benefits, in future a modified version of the VFC will be used because it permits students to visually and interactively explore the wider rural and urban geography before departure. It will enable students to integrate textual and visual sources, contextualise key secondary data, collect geospatial data, and improve cartographic skills, knowledge of geospatial technologies, and general ICT abilities. Excellent preparation for a successful field class.

Reflections

The process of designing and running the VFC using Esri Story Maps as a platform has made us reflect on its wider application. First, modified versions of the VFC can be used for recruitment and applicant engagement events. For example, we are currently designing three online undergraduate events for Geography and Environmental Science (GES) of varying duration: 1 hour for current applicants, 2 hours for individuals or groups from schools/colleges, and 3 days for a Reading Scholars summer school. Secondly, laboratory-based practical classes could also utilise Story Maps. For example, we are exploring capturing images of specific microscopic (e.g. pollen grains and spores) and geological specimens used in GES part 1 teaching as a guide to identification and linking these to other online textual and visual resources. The guide will be used as a preparatory exercise for a practical examination.

Take-home exams: gauging the student experience

Dr Alison MacLeod, Lecturer in Physical Geography and DSDTL, SAGES

This piece presents the view of students from one module in the University, it is not suggested that this view is shared by all students in the university.

Context

For context, this post relates to an Autumn term module, with 130 students which is assessed 100% by examination (part seen, part unseen). Delivery went well, student feedback was positive and we’d finished with an information session about the exam and the promise of an additional revision session early in the summer term to help them prepare.

Fast forward 3 months, we’re in lockdown, the University is preparing blanket extensions, safety nets, the circumstances impact process, take-home exams and much more.  Students and colleagues are apprehensive about how it will all work.  For me, this number of students taking an exam for 100% of their module in unfamiliar circumstances, and not having had any face-to-face contact since December was concerning.  Students were prepared as well as possible, given the situation, with a full set of recorded lectures, journal articles, videos, podcasts, screencasts, Q & A forums, assessment literacy guide, sample answer structures and a promise that advice would be available during the exam to respond to queries about question wording, as an invigilator would.

The seen exam question was released on a Wednesday and unseen the following Tuesday. There were a few student queries here and there – referencing, citations, inclusion of figures, clarification of wording etc. but all students adhered to the rules and didn’t push for responses to questions I was unable to answer under exam conditions.

So exam done. How did it go? What was the student opinion? Did they hate it? Would there be a mass protest?

Findings

The following results emerged from 37 respondents to a BB survey (as of 15/05/20):

Clearly ensuring students are able to concentrate on their work in whatever setting they are in is important to producing their best work.  The responses to this question generated perhaps a more variable response than some of the other questions, with some students finding it very difficult but others feeling more settled.

Figure 1- Ease of working at home

Further exploration of the reasons for this would be valuable to see if there was any way we could advise or support those students more effectively, and to examine if there is any correlation between their response and their exam performance. Some quotations from the students are as follows:

“I found revising at home very difficult.”

“It was better than I thought it was going to be….”

“Found it difficult to concentrate mentally because of personal circumstances etc, but the exam was clearly and practically explained so was easy to format correctly/submit and access.”

How long were students spending on their exams?  Guidance was that they should spend about the same time as they would on a standard exam.  For this module it was more complex as there was a seen and unseen component.

Figure 2- Time spent on both the seen and unseen component of the exam – the seen question was released 4 working days in advance of the exam and the intended formal duration of the exam was 2 hours

Analysing the data in Figure 2 as a whole, it is clear that a large majority of the students are spending significantly longer than recommended on the papers.  From the free comments associated with the survey, this can possibly be put down to them appreciating the lower stress situation and having the time to be more thoughtful with their writing, however there was also a hint that this meant that there research/writing was less focused due to the extra time.

 “Also, as most exams rely on memory, it felt rewarding that instead of simply regurgitating information, I was confident applying it and explaining it in more detail.”

 “……. but I also found that because we had so long to answer the question, it made it quite difficult to write concisely and the extra time we had to check our answers, change things and add things etc. meant that my original ideas may have become convoluted.”

“I liked the fact that there wasn’t timed pressure, it felt more relaxed and I felt I wrote a better answer than I would have in a ‘normal’ exam.”

In this same vein, students appeared satisfied with the length of time they had available to them to complete the unseen component of this exam – with the caveat also that many modules may require students to complete two questions in this time rather than just one.

“a 23 hour time limit allowed me to properly formulate and deliver ideas I wouldn’t have had time to come up with in a regular exam.”

Figure 3- It was interesting to find out whether the students felt they had been given sufficient time to answer the question – this differs from Figure 1 in that it may be an indicator of how well they were able to balance this exam and other commitments

Something that could also have been problematic was the availability of resources – be that the general ability to access to the internet or more extensively to resources like, journal articles, books, perhaps even things like Q and A forums.  Figure 4 demonstrates that in this instance, students were dominantly satisfied with the availability of the resources for this module, however there were a portion who found it more challenging.

“Revising was difficult without the access to the library”  

“all the resources were easily available and the voice recordings of the lectures were really useful when revising”

Figure 4- Availability of resources to the students.  It is noted that this includes a wide range of resources specific to this module but also incorporates access to things like e-books and journals.

In addition to this, students were also asked to comment on aspects like instructions provided for completion and submission of the exams.  This was again very positive but with some clarity requested by some in relation to instructions:

“the instructions on how to submit the online exams were really clear and there was a lot of support provided to help with this”

“Submission via Turnitin was easy as usual, no problems.  Maybe more clarity on what needs to be included on the document (e.g. candidate number over student number, module code)…”

Reflections

Overall this response was a pleasant surprise given the context that the students were working within, however there are some clear areas where it would be valuable to see if we can provide additional support or advice in advance of the Autumn term resits – studying at home being one.  Only a small sample of the written quotes have been included here as an example.

Dr Alison MacLeod