Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Universities Should Prepare for Second Wave of COVID-19 with Online, Flipped, Blended and Hybrid Learning

With the sudden shift to online learning due to COVID-19 in the first half of this year, university academics may be feeling a little overwhelmed. Online students can be harsh in their criticism and the natural reaction is to provide more content and feedback more quickly. However, there is now a little time before second semester to stop and consider how better to provide education in online, flipped, blended and hybrid modes.

Universities will likely be reopening classrooms in the next few weeks, initially for one on one and small group teaching. Large scale lectures may wait a little longer. However, educators must at least be prepared for isolated cases of COVID-19 which will close down classes, or whole campuses, at short notice. This requires an online option to be ready to be activated. One way I suggest to do this is with hybrid flipped blended learning.

Hybrid flipped blended learning

Hybrid: Teach in a classroom with some students in the room face to face, while others join in via a video conference. Put the images of the remote students and the text chat forum up on a big screen in the classroom and use a web camera to send an image of those in the room to the remote students. Have an assistant monitor the remote students. Have the laptop, web camera and Bluetooth wireless headset you have been using for teaching at home on hand in case the room A/V fails. Use the same video conference software as used when teaching online, so if the campus has to be abandoned, the lessons can continue uninterrupted.

Flipped: Provide the students with materials to study before the live sessions. As an incentive, have a few marks for quizzes covering the basic concepts, with a deadline for the quizzes so students have to complete this work before the live event. If students are unable to attend the live event, provide a video for them to watch.

Blended: Design for online delivery of the course, plus live activities (either face to face or via video conference). The most reliable way to do this is design for asynchronous learning first, then add the synchronous elements. This way students can keep studying uninterrupted, despite campus closures and technical problems with video conferencing.

Don't Provide Too Much Content

The temptation when first teaching is to provide students with too much to learn. This will soon be apparent in a face to face class, but you may not realize students are not getting through all this stuff online. So take a top-down approach: firstly what knowledge and skills do students need to be able to demonstrate to meet the course goals? Next, how can this be tested online (hint: a long end of semester exam is likely not the answer)? Now, how can this learning be divided into reasonable size chunks? Lastly, what resources can be provided to help the students learn (hint: you talking at them for hours is not the answer)?

Don' Provide Too Much Feedback

Beginning teachers are tempted to provide too much feedback to students on their assignments. When teaching online there is also constant pressure to respond to every question and complaint from every student.

Research shows that students don't read the detailed comments you write on assignments, so don't waste time writing them. Just provide a few brief comments preferably using standard ones from a list. There are courses on how to do this and tools to help.

Rather than respond to every comment and complaint, anticipate what students will likely ask, and tell them that in advance. Students will not always read or listen to what you say, so you may need to give the same information in answer to questions. But rather than just answering these individually, answer in a class posting. Only answer briefly and provide a hypertext link to where the details have already been provided in the notes.

If you receive an angry complaint after hours, do not reply to it immediately (unless there is a genuine urgent need). Write the reply but don't sent it until the start of business the next day. Check to make sure your reply is calm, professional and necessary. In many cases students will be making a comment, which does not need a substantive reply, perhaps just an acknowledgement of their concerns.

How Much Time Marking

You are only given a limited amount of time to teach a class. As a professional, you should try to remain within those limits. Working long unpaid hours is not good for you, for your profession, or for your students. If given an impossibly small amount of time time to teach, then you may need to renegotiate this, or decline to teach the class. However, this may just need a reallocation of time tasks, and more efficient teaching and assessment.

Don't Over Assess

Australian universities typically set 50 to 60 words per percent of assessment, or 5,000 to 6,000 in total for a course. Any quizzes or exams come from this budget.  A total time for assessment of 45 minutes per student, for all assessment in a course, was mentioned in a recent presentation by a senior academic at one university.

My rule of thumb is that the assessment should make up about half the staff time in a course. So if the assessment takes 45 minutes, that is a total of 90 minutes per course, or about 8 minutes per week to teach each student in a 12 week course. That does not sound like much time to do all the lecturing, tutoring, one-on-one mentoring and assessment you may want to do. If so, you need to decide what is essential and what is not. Start by checking if you have set too much for the student, and therefore you, to do. In particular check if there is too much assessment.Try to simply the assessment by using rubrics and have the students assess their peers (they will learn much more this way).

Keep in mind the idea is to get students to do things. If you are  talking, then the students are not doing, and so not learning. So don't waste time providing traditional lectures face-to-face (students don't turn up anyway), or online. But students like having lectures, even if they don't watch them, so provide some recordings. The production quality makes no difference and you can use old recorded live lectures, or audio slideshows. Instead put your efforts into activities for students, with them discussing the results, and you just commenting on it.

As General Patton might have said, if he was a teacher:
"The job of a teacher is not to work really hard, its is to get the students to work really hard".
Lastly, keep in mind that there will be no return to a pre-pandemic business as usual. Future pandemics are possible, and so academics and institutions must be ready for them. Also the enforced switch to online learning and remote working have shown that these modes are usable, and very useful, at least for some circumstances. International competition and domestic expectations of what university education provides, and what are the priorities, will also force change. The best way I suggest for individual academics, and institutions to be prepared, I suggest, is by education in how to provide flexible education.The best form of education for learning to teach online is by being an online student: dogfooding.

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