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‘Dare to experiment – and to fail’

Stefano Cucurachi and José Mogollón (Institute of Environmental Sciences, CML) share the most important lessons from their webinar ‘Building a sense of community in online courses’.

What was the webinar about?

‘We presented our approach to teaching the MSc level course ‘System Earth’ in full online format, and, more specifically, how we were trying to maintain a sense of community both inside and outside class hours.

Conscious of some of the limitations of online education, we decided to focus on the aspects that would make attending our lectures worthwhile, enriching, and engaging. We described how we used the online environment as a community that would be active online during live classes, but also offline when students would watch the material we recorded, the readings and links we and fellow students posted.’

Which questions were asked most?

‘Scaling up our practices was something that many were interested in, especially with large groups up to even 400 students. We believe some aspects of community-building and online/offline exchanges are still valuable. To manage the additional complexity of size, the online environment offers some flexible solutions for peer-collaboration and self-directed learning that could also be useful for larger groups. Others asked whether we radically changed our approach to teaching from physical to online. Our spirit did not change, we always wanted an interactive, inclusive environment. What changed was that we dared more to experiment and to fail.’

What is your most important suggestion?

‘Deconstruct your lectures, cut, and make sure you are mindful of screentime. Play music, play videos, or break the monotony by making the lecture more personal. Reduce the content of your lectures to make sure single topics could be presented in a 15-minute window. Also, make the environment interactive and engaging; this way students will enjoy the experience of collaborating and interacting both during and outside class hours.’

What do you find challenging about remote teaching and how do you deal with this?

‘The most challenging issue is not being able to interact with the students. It is difficult to grasp whether students are still with you. Use the chat box, that way you can respond and address questions and concerns real time.

Or try to invite students from the very beginning to open up their mics/cams and talk if they wish. It is also important to realise the higher energy intensity of online education: if you are very tired, chances are students are even more tired, and you have to stop.’

Webinars on remote teaching are open to all instructors and staff. ICLON and the Centre for Innovation are organising webinars to support the transition to remote teaching. More information on when and how to participate can be found on the staff website. Webinars are given in English.

Watch webinar?

You can watch the webinar online. Log on with your ULCN account.

Webinar ‘Building a sense of community in online courses’
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