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In March 2020, the UK went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meetings with groups of people were cancelled and large group face-to-face teaching was modified across a lot of university campuses. As a result of lockdown, university staff across the UK had to develop a form of emergency remote teaching. We can call this emergency remote teaching because that is exactly what it was. Teaching was very quickly moved online (and not cancelled) and this was due to an emergency, the COVID-19 crisis.
Methods of teaching were changed very quickly to ensure that students were still being provided with the teaching and assessments that would help them to continue with their degrees. Lectures were pre-recorded and students were given both online and offline study tasks as a way of replacing any practical workshops that they had. This change happened halfway through a teaching semester, therefore the changes had to be quick and easily accessible to students who were away from campus.
As we now move towards a new academic year, we need to consider how teaching will take place once students return to university.
It has become evident that large face-to-face lectures will not be taking place, therefore we need to consider how we can effectively teach university students in every aspect of their degrees and ensure that they are provided with high quality teaching. If you would like to see some of the pre-COVID-19 teaching methods I used (please have a read of one of my previous articles).
I have recently been reading a preprint paper from Dr Emily Nordmann and colleagues who have provided 10 simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education. The article makes specific reference to making learning flexible and accessible to students and looks at ways of communicating with students. From the perspective of a teacher, this is a very important part of university education.
One of the good things about planning teaching for the new academic year is that we now have time to do this – or more time than we did before (I know staff do have other commitments so this is not a statement about everyone). We have more time to consider the different pedagogical approaches and teaching methods that could be used, and we also have the time to try and consider the software that could be used to support the students in receiving the different methods of teaching.
In March, I don’t think anyone really knew how long this lack of face-to-face teaching would last and, in all honesty, until I realised the seriousness of COVID-19, I was under the impression that face-to-face teaching may happen in the near future. I understand that I was completely wrong and that we now need to accept a possible new way of teaching university students, which incorporates methods of blended learning.
When teaching students in the new academic year, I think it is important to be honest with the students about the teaching methods that will be used and information about this can be placed on the different virtual learning environments. Explaining how blended learning is going to work, how students will have contact with staff and how a mixture of online learning and smaller face-to-face classes may be the way forward, will ensure that students can fully engage with their studies. We need to be clear about expectations surrounding the engagement with the materials of each module, both in terms of the online lecture and classes, but also in relation how students will be assessed.
I am currently the module leader for a very practical psychology module, and I think I am going to find this academic year more challenging than normal.
A practical module does need to have practical elements but at the same time, as a module leader, I need to ensure that this is done in the safest way possible. I am hoping that this is where my own experiences of blended learning and teaching on online psychology courses will come in. One idea that I may investigate is the structure of the lectures and practical workshops. I could have an online pre-recorded or possibly a live streamed lecture to provide some background theory/knowledge. This lecture would then be followed by a one hour virtual workshop (or independent study task) and finally then followed by a small one hour face-to-face session each week. Ultimately, the students would have some face-to-face contact and would still be able to meet the module learning outcomes while having some contact with staff.
Students could use the one hour of virtual seminar to prepare materials for the face-to-face class and this would help to ensure that workshop or virtual seminar learning objectives are met. It also means that the module leader (i.e., me) could be virtually on hand should there be any issues with the task.
In my experience, I have used both pre-recorded and live streamed lectures and I do prefer the live streamed ones. During live streamed lectures, it allows a lecturer to provide the students with interactive tasks (such as in Vevox) and this can help to increase engagement and provide students with some feedback.
I think the main thing to consider about teaching as we move away from lockdown is that we need to make sure that students can fully engage with their university education while also making it a safe learning environment to be in.
Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University.
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