How teachers can embrace the rapid shift to online learning and teaching

As the global COVID-19 pandemic calls for learning to shift online, many teaching staff in universities and schools have been making the rapid transition to the online space. For educators, this comes with a series of complex technological and professional challenges.

Here a team from Monash Education explore what it meant for their secondary science education units.

It was set to be our first face-to-face lecture of the semester, our chance to meet the pre-service teachers enrolled in our unit and build rapport. When University-wide COVID 19 restrictions came into play, we had 12 hours to move our lecture online.

It was a big challenge, and we share our experience here with a view to support other teachers who face a similar challenge.

Our  role as teacher-educators is to ensure our pre-service teachers receive quality learning experiences. It is also a chance to show future teachers the way we can respond to challenges, and highlight the complex decision making that is involved.

Our key challenges

  • How were we to engage students in an online space, when our lecture relied on student/teacher interaction?
  • How could we make the scheduled space suit our needs at such short notice?
  • How could we livestream the lecture and connect, in real time, with our students?

Zoom was our meeting platform of choice

Zoom is a web-based video conferencing tool that we use every week, and have used for large groups. Multiple people can engage face-to-face. It is accessed via a URL and does not require specialised software. It also has a chat stream function, which runs alongside the main speaker video stream. This was a simple choice.

We used an iPad with a Swivl device for a camera

iPads have great camera quality and are user-friendly. The Swivl is a motorised dock which holds the iPad while the presenter wears a ‘marker’ on a lanyard. The Swivl follows the marker to ensure the presenter is always in frame and acts as a microphone. The Swivl app also integrates seamlessly with Zoom, making the connection process easy.

Recording the lecture

We needed to record the lecture and it had to be recorded via the University’s Echo360 system. The problem was, the room we were in only recorded sound and the main screen. We wanted to interact face to face. Zoom has a recording feature, which saves to the cloud. This allowed us to share it with the students moments after the lecture finished.

Good quality sound

As we were using the university recording system, we had to use the microphones in the room. The sound from the room speakers was captured with the microphone in the Swivl marker and the sound quality over Zoom was flawless. Students commented how clear the audio was. We did have to mute all participants’ microphones from the Zoom host to reduce noise feedback.

Live streaming

We wanted to live-stream, not just pre-record, so we used the four people in our team. Two presented, one sat in the lecture room to provide immediate tech support, and one remotely connected online to offer instant feedback. We used WhatsApp to subtly communicate with each other to get a feel for what the students were experiencing.

Could they see the slides? Could they hear okay? Did they have any questions? The two non-presenters moderated the live chat and gave feedback to the presenters.

Sharing slides

Students could not see slides without us sharing our screen. However we made a deliberate decision not to share it, as we wanted students to connect with us, and our faces. It was tricky at times. To adapt, we uploaded the slides and made the file available to students prior to the lecture and via direct link in the live chat.

Five tips from our experience

  1. Understand the difference between online and face-to-face teaching and plan for it. When you are online, the structure of the lesson is more segmented – delivery, then chat and questions. When delivering face-to-face, content and questions are intertwined, and it is easier to facilitate open discussion. Planning for this helped maintain a sense of flow during the lesson. While we tried to simulate face-to-face, planning for this situation is an important consideration.
  2. Make use of available resources. There are many teaching and learning tools available, but it helps if you are familiar and comfortable using them.  We encourage pedagogical risks but rapid decisions making requires creative and pragmatic thinking.
  3. Teamwork helps. We are lucky to teach in a team of four.  We all took different roles. Support for online delivery is valuable. In particular, we recommend that there needs to be at least two people involved: one presenting and one to offer tech assistance and moderate the online chat.
  4. Be open, flexible, and responsive to students. Tell them that you are a bit unsure of the technology and that things may go wrong or need tweaking during the session. Let them know it is OK to tell you if the picture or sound is not good and that you will help them fix it (again helps to have two people). Answer their questions and confirm that there will be time for questions at several points during your session. Encourage them to send follow up questions after the session.
  5. Most importantly, smile. Be energetic, warm and welcoming. Building relationships is an essential part of learning and teaching, and while it is harder to do online, it is still achievable. Nothing like a good (or terrible) joke to kick things off or even take a moment and get people to share a funny moment from their own day.

This was a challenge that proved to be a positive experience for everyone. At the end of the session, students were very thankful for the experience. Many commented about how glad they were that we had made such an effort to engage with them and support their learning with such little notice.

At Monash Education transforming teaching and learning is part of our research agenda. How we conceptualise, build and support new ways of thinking and learning for the future is an important part of this, especially during uncertain times.

Resources

If you are keen to know more, listen to this recent interview with Carlo Perrotta on Radio National: