Over the past couple of months there has been a big change in the way higher education institutions deliver teaching. At the beginning of the year, university students were comfortably attending large lectures and practical workshop classes which involved a high degree of face-to-face engagement with fellow students and staff members.
Since then, due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, this face-to-face teaching is no longer possible. This decision has been made to protect the health and safety of staff and students within their university education but for a lot of students, it has also changed how they now engage with their university education.
I have moved my own teaching away from delivering large face-to-face lectures to over 300 students and have moved to pre-recording lectures which are placed on a Virtual Learning Environment. This can be seen as remote learning for students as they are no longer seeing a staff member face-to-face.
Students can access these recordings at certain time points, or they may have open access to the recordings for the remainder of the academic year. For me, it has been quite difficult to record these lectures as I prefer to deliver my lectures in front of an audience. This is because it helps the more natural flow of the lecture topic when I’m talking but it also enables me to see whether the students can grasp the concepts I am discussing. With lecture recordings, this interaction cannot be seen.
I recently wrote an article about using Lecture Capture as a way of supporting students in their education and this is not what universities are trying to achieve by moving their teaching online now. We have had to move teaching online to support students in their educational development and to allow students to progress with their degrees instead of completely stopping everything.
Instead of using lecture recordings to support revision as I talked about in my last blog, lecture recordings are now one of our primary sources of teaching and it’s up to us, as teaching staff, to try and make these online lectures as engaging as possible.
When recording different online lectures, I have found several tips that have helped me in developing successful lecture content. I currently teach on two different psychology modules (a practical psychology module and an introduction to psychology module) and I have had to quickly adapt these recordings to be suitable for their different audiences.
My first tip is to cut the lecture into smaller recordings. Sometimes I have found that 2–3 smaller recordings per lecture topic works so that students are not sitting for a full hour in front of a computer. Other times, I have found that one larger recording with incorporated activities that allow the students to pause the lecture and do some independent thinking also works.
In one of my previous roles, I taught on an online master’s degree and as part of this, I had to pre-record lectures in a recording studio (not my home). My experience of doing this has taught me that students do find it difficult to concentrate upon longer one-hour lectures, therefore breaking up the lecture into smaller recordings can allow a student to consolidate the information more effectively.
My second tip is to try and make the recording as natural as possible. When mistakes are made in the recording, leave them in as this can show the students that we are not all robots and that we are still trying to provide a more natural method of teaching, just online and not face-to-face. Last week, I was recording a lecture at home and someone knocked at my front door (very loudly I must add).
I was advised (by a friend) to take this out of the lecture but it’s something that I have left in. It simply gave me the opportunity to pause the lecture, excuse myself and then begin recording the next section. Obviously if something offensive appeared on the recording or something very disruptive happened then I would not use this and would develop a new recording.
My third and final tip is to try and make the lectures slides as visually appealing as possible and there has been quite a bit of research on this. As the students do not receive the benefit of seeing staff members delivering the lecture, I have tried to incorporate more visual images into my lectures so that the students do not feel as though I am reading off the screen.
This will only work for some lecture topics, but I have found it really useful for an Introduction to Psychology module that I am currently teaching. I have been providing students with lots of diagrams of cognitive and biological psychology concepts and have been able to use the concept of animation in PowerPoint to provide students with a step-by-step description of each concept.
Every higher education colleague will have their own ways of working when it comes to delivering online lectures from remote locations. My suggestions are only that and will not apply to every teaching session being offered in today’s university system. The most important thing is that we can still educate students in an environment where they can be safe. Hopefully, this will not be the new way of university teaching but a way in which we can adapt to teaching during times of uncertainty.
Laura Jenkins, PhD is a Teaching Associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University.
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