Monday, August 23, 2021

Keep Calm and Carry Online Webinar, Starts 1pm Wednesday 20 October

My next Keep Calm and Carry Online Webinar, is 1pm Wednesday 20 October,  Canberra Time, Via Zoom. Posted above is a 9 minute slideshow video preview from the first version (7 September). I have been teaching working computer professionals, and university students, online for ten years. Even so the last eighteen months, with COVID-19, has not been easy. This the first of what I hope will be a series over the next few months, of some tips and ticks which helped me though the last eighteen months. The aim is to help academics get out of the mindset that online learning is a second best temporary measure. This will be key to learning into the future, and will decide if Australian universities have a future.
Poster generated using Keep Calms.

"Keep Calm and Carry Online" is a sign I have had on the wall behind me, during webinars from my lounge room for the last eighteen months. So I am using that as the working title for this series of talks. I would welcome contributions, corrections and offers of where I can present these.

Keep Calm and Carry Online: Some tips and tricks for e-learning

Tom Worthington, Honorary Senior Lecturer, ANU School of Computing

Presentation slides

Abstract: Award winning online educator, Tom Worthington, has been
learning about, and teaching, online at ANU for ten years. He will provide some tips and tricks to survive teaching in these uncertain times, in a classroom, online, or both at the same time. Bring along your problems for a masterclass solution.

About the speaker: Tom Worthington is an  Honorary Senior Lecturer, at the ANU School of Computing, an independent computer consultant and educational technology designer. He previously wrote IT policy for the Australian Department of Defence. Tom is a Fellow, Past President and Honorary Life Member of the Australian Computer Society. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Tom has a Masters of Education in Open, Digital and Distance Education from Athabasca University and blogs as the

The job of a teacher is not to work really hard, it is to get their students to work really hard.  

Apologies to General George S. Patton.

Tips for E-teaching

1. Get equipped
2. Dogfood: Be an online student of teaching
3. Design for distance, then add classes
4. Build the course around the assessment
5. Make time for contact with students
6. Use video sparingly
7. Get help

1. Get Equipped

Home office webinar setup, Tom Worthington, CC BY, 2 September 2021

This is my Low Cost Home Office Webinar Setup. The smart phone is ready to use in case the laptop and modem fail. I upload presentations in advance, so if all else fails I can just talk using a normal phone, and participants can follow along.

2. Dogfood: Be an online student of teaching

Tom Worthington receiving an MEd
in Open, Digital and Distance Education
from Athabasca University, Canada
- You don't know how frustratingly hard it is, until you try it.

- Enroll in an online course in how to teach. It has to have deadlines, and assessment, to make the experience real.

- If you find study frustrating, conflicting with family and work commitments, then you know what it is like for your students.

- Start with something easy, like the ANU Coffee Courses, work up to an international online graduate course. Take the good meal challenge.

As an online student of e-learning, at Australian and North American vocational colleges and universities, I learned much about how to design and deliver courses. However, one of the greatest insights was how hard being a student again was, how frustrating being an online student was, and how lonely being an international online student was. Being a part time student with work and family commitments, just makes it harder still.

Academic staff, I suggest, need to be reminded what being a student is like, and many, like me, had never been an online student before they started teaching online. So I suggest some dogfooding:

'Back in the 1980s when actor Lorne Greene served as the pitchman for Alpo dog food, the TV commercials were careful to point out that he indeed fed Alpo to his dogs. Consequently, the idea that someone would use the products they were making became known as "eating your own dog food.'

From Harrison, W. (2006). Eating your own dog food. IEEE Software, 23(3), 5-7.

ANU TEL ED HE Certificate awarded to Tom Worthington
I suggest starting with something simple, such as an ANU Coffee Course. These are intended to only take as much time as you spend on a coffee break, each day for a week. But even that commitment of time can be challenging. See if you can do ten and then reflect on the experience (although I don't know if ANU are still handing out certificates).

To have skin in the game, take the good meal challenge: hand a friend enough money for a good meal for two. Tell them that when you complete your study on time, you will share a meal with the funds. If you don't produce the certificate on time, ask them to give the money to charity.

ANU EFSInformation Sessions
14 September
For something harder, there are programs such as the ANU Educational Fellowship Scheme (EFS). But it is not all hard work, you also get to meet, if only virtually, people going through the same thing you are. This is also one of the key lessons I got from study: the importance of getting to know your fellow students.


Responding to the Coronavirus Emergency with e-Learning, Tom Worthington, Beyond 50 Series, Athabasca University, April 17, 2020

3. Design for distance, then add classes

  1. Trim content & activities for an asynchronous course
  2. Add optional synchronous activities online
  3. Add an option for activities in a classroom
  • If the campus closes the course continues online, and 
  • A student can participate asynchronously. 

Over the last eighteen months, we have seen heroic efforts to rapidly convert campus based classroom courses for online delivery. Now there is discussion of a return, via hybrid, to the classroom. It does not need to be this hard.

Your course probably has more content, assessment, and activities, than needed. Start by paring it down to what it is reasonable for a student to do in the time available to them. As an example, most courses have far more readings than a student could possibly read. I use a  estimate how long it will take a student to read reading speed of 80 words a minute for a student at IELTS 6.5 (McEwan, 2012, p. 80).

Design your courses as if they were to be delivered as old fashioned distance education, with no real time interaction (that is asynchronous mode). Provide the materials and activities for each week. Offer students ways to interact with you and each other, online. Make the deadlines generous, and don;t assume they can all do this at the same time. Then add synchronous activities which can be done online. Then add to that the option of those same activities in a classroom. Don't make the assessment synchronous, unless there is a compelling reason to do so. 

With this approach there is no need to make special provision for an emergency: one, more, or all students can study online at their own pace, if they can't come to class.

Students like this approach, but academics, and university administrators have difficulty with it. A "lecturer" who has built their sense of self around lecturing has to learn new skills and build a new identity. A university which has marketed the campus experience has to avoid the idea that are now just offering cheap, online video courses. 

Holly Hapke
University of Kentucky.
One way to avoid the idea that online learning is a poor quality cut-price experience is to bundle it with a campus offer, as hybrid learning. One good example is Hapke, Lee-Post, and Dean (2020), with their 3-in-1 Hybrid Learning. Rather than divide students administratively into distance and campus based, they receive the same online course, supplemented with synchronous events, either in the classroom or online, at the student's discretion.

The hybrid approach is more difficult for the instructor, than just online or face to face. However, it does provide them the opportunity to still be the "sage on the stage". The student has the sense of getting a full university experience, even if they enter a classroom. The institution can continue to market courses using images of ivy covered stone buildings, even if most students never set foot on campus (much like a gym membership which is never used). 


Hapke, H., Lee-Post, A., & Dean, T. (2020). 3-IN-1 HYBRID LEARNING ENVIRONMENT. Marketing Education Review, 1-8.

McEwan, M. (2012). Evaluating and enhancing the feedback process: an international college case study. Practice and Evidence of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education7(1), 79-95. Retrieved from

4. Build the course around the assessment

- Set the learning objectives
- Select assessment to cover the learning objectives
- Provide support to obtain the knowledge and skills needed for the assessment
- Have many small regular assessment items and a few big ones

Students worry about assessment, so tell them what it is, and how each learning activity you have supports it. Delete activities, readings and materials which don't support an assessment. Have small assessment tasks every week, to keep the students engaged (1% or 2% a week will do). Provide results with feedback each week.

5. Make time for contact with students

- Drop most lectures (face to face & live online): students don't learn much from them anyway
- Get students to communicate more: with you and to each other
- Answer individual student questions to the group
- Use tools and techniques to free up your time & that of students
- Don;t use email to communicate with students

Unfortunately, many university academics are fixated with lectures, seeing standing up talking to a room full of students as the ultimate form of education: it isn't. I spent my first ten years a lecturer, trying to deliver good lectures face to face and online. Thirteen years ago, on August 12, 2008, I had an epiphany: I told my class I had given my last lecture. Instead I learned flipped techniques, with the emphasis on student activities.

Drop activities where you are doing all the talking, so there is more time for students to do and talk. You then have more time to respond to students promptly. Answer individual student questions to the group, so they bet maximum value from your advice.

There has been decades of research and development put into online learning tools and techniques. Use these to save you time. Use the learning management system to lighten the administrative burden, by using it to distribute materials, send out announcements and administer assessment. Use automated quizzes, rubrics, peer assessment and other techniques to lighten the burden for you and increase student learning.

Don't use email with students: use the tools in the learning management system. If a student sends you an email, reply via the system, with a copy of their message, so they understand this is official, on the record, communication.

6. Use video sparingly

- Reuse old videos
- Generate slideshows
- Provide video to supplement the text
- Implement accessibility guidelines

High production quality video is not needed for education (in fact video is not needed, text is fine). If you already have video, use it. If you have slide decks, turn them into videos. Link the videos from your text notes. Instead of an hour long video lecture, create a ten minute summary.  Focus your efforts on getting students to do things, not watch videos.

Follow accessibility guidelines, not just to make your materials readable by someone with a disability, but so they will work on a smart phone, and a slow Internet connection. 

7. Get help

- Ask for advice from the educational technology & learning design staff: they are trained experts.
- Have a colleague, or assistant, to help you with the course.
- Team teach live: one person presents, the other works the tech and helps the students

Universities have teams of learning and educational technology professions to help you do your job. Also, teaching online can be a 24 hour job, so it helps to do it as a team. Live to air teaching is technically and pedagogically challenging, as well as being tiring, so have at least a two person tag team. One person presents, while the other checks for questions and problems. 

Team Teaching in ANU TechLauncher

Careers Consultant
Four workshops per semester for ANU Computer Project students, preparing a capstone reflective portfolio. 

Designed for hybrid mode.

The team:
  1. Course convener: Dr Charles Gretton, sets the context
  2. Instructor: Tom Worthington, manages the students
  3. Subject matter expert: Tempe Archer, delivers the workshop.
  4. 200 Students: Peer review.
  5. 13 Tutors: Assess their student’s portfolios.
An example of team teaching are the hybrid workshops, for the Australian National University Tech-Launcher program. Workshops are provided each semester for Computer Project students, to help them prepare a capstone reflective portfolio.

I designed this module with an online asynchronous core, to accompany the face to face workshops, as described in a published paper (Worthington, 2019). Provision for delivery fully online was included, in case an emergency kept students away from the campus. This contingency was activated in 2020, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, by replacing the classroom with Zoom videoconferencing. For 2021, a hybrid option was added, allowing for students, both in the classroom, and online.

At each workshop, the Course Convener, Dr Charles Gretton, sets the context. The instructor, that is me, manages the students, while the subject matter expert, Tempe Archer, delivers the workshop content. Tempe tells me when to put the students into Zoom rooms for group work, and bring them back. I relay queries from the students in the chat forum. After a workshop, students complete a small writing task for 1% of their grade, and peer assess for another 1%. Thirteen tutors help the 200 students with their portfolios, and assess them at the end of semester for 14% of the grade.


Worthington, T. (2019, December). Blend and Flip for Teaching Communication Skills to Final Year International Computer Science Students. In 2019 IEEE International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Education (TALE) (pp. 1-5). IEEE.

Further Information

  1. Higher Education After COVID-19, six webinars from August 2020, by Tom Worthington, for the Microlearning Series curated by Manisha Khetarpal at Maskwacis Cultural College, Canada
  2. Engaging students in the online environment, five webinars from February 2021, by Tom Worthington, for the Microlearning Series curated by Manisha Khetarpal at Maskwacis Cultural College, Canada
  3. Learning to Reflect Module Version 5.0: Hybrid Edition by Tom Worthington, for the  module for the ANU TechLauncher program, 2018 to 2021.

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