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Teachers on remote teaching: ‘You really have to act as a moderator

As a result of the current coronavirus outbreak, almost all of our teaching is done online. However, even before this, several teachers were involved with remote education. Madi Ditmars and Maurits Berger talk about their experiences.

How did you go about digitising your courses?

Madi: ‘From the outset we developed the LDE minor in African Dynamics to make optimal use of technology and innovative teaching methods. These included a Pitch2Peer assignment in which students pitched a multimedia country profile, a flipped classroom set-up in Blackboard, webinars through Skype for Business, and a four-week Small Private Online Course (SPOC).

One of our aims is to equip our students with 21st-century, higher-level learning, literacy and life skills. This was done through enabling them to search, assess, discuss, interpret, share and apply information that is widely and mostly freely available online. Secondly, technology allows us to overcome physical distances between the three universities [Leiden, Delft and Erasmus, red] and the African continent – our study focus area.’

Maurits: ‘It depends on the type of education. The lectures I had to give during covid time were relatively easy: I broke them up into bytes of 10 to 12 minutes long and recorded them in Kaltura with an added PowerPoint. Simply speaking: a podcast with pictures. What I had learned from previous experiences with online education is that you should be on screen as little as possible and keep video clips short.

Aside from that, I had a seminar that had just entered the role-playing stage, which meant that it was very interactive. Luckily, I had already worked it all out in a scheduled time frame: with students having to consult with each other and fixed moments where I would join for major negotiations, all of which was perfectly doable online. I did notice that I had to direct everything more rigorously; more so than in a traditional classroom setting, I had to directly encourage people to speak up: you really have to act as a moderator.’

How did your students react to this?

Madi: ‘In general, students were positive about the minor. Moving the classroom to an online space allowed for greater interactivity and stimulated the students to think creatively and approach learning in a different way. They were especially positive about the webinars, saying that they could connect with different key players in the field of development, allowing them to build their network. However, some did note that, probably due to the digital nature of the course, there was a lack of proper guidance and that, for some of the assignments, it was unclear what was expected of them.’

Maurits: ‘In both instances, students reacted positively. Many even found the weekly series of short podcast-type lectures easier to follow than a lecture of two times 45 minutes. The seminar went alright as well, but also because I kept interaction going throughout the week by mailing the students frequently, asking them if they needed help or updating them on a change of plans.’

What stands out to you about online teaching?

Madi: ‘There were definitely some challenges. Students needed more guidance than expected in making a multimedia product and didn’t make effective use of the flipped classroom opportunities. As for the webinars: we needed to perform some test runs, as none of the presenters were familiar with Skype for Business. Student participation varied, in some cases because the presenter was unable to activate them or simply because they were in a place where they couldn’t use voice chat.

‘From students’ feedback I was surprised that many of them found it difficult to manage their own learning schedule, and sift through information to develop their own understanding of the learning content. On a positive note: completing an online course encouraged two of our students (at least, two that I am aware of) to enrol for – and complete - a MOOC. I believe the experience in this minor has broken through a barrier that many people felt towards online learning.’

Maurits: ‘Online teaching has its pros and cons. That’s why it’s important now to look at what the advantages are and to make good use of them when education goes back to ‘normal’. One of the plus points is that many one-way teaching methods - such as standard lectures - can be recorded in advance, which creates more room for interactive teaching. This is the flip-the-classroom scenario.

‘It allows time for students to roam the campus and interact with their lecturers, which is important for both productivity-oriented teaching and the general learning experience. The last of these I think is especially important for students. Yes, we do still need lectures, but I think we teachers sometimes become too fixated on that kind of teaching: there are many different ways of transferring knowledge, and remote teaching gives us extra tools to do that.’

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