Reflections on a semester of teaching the Bath Blend: Live Online Learning

Posted in: Bath Blend, learning and teaching, online learning

This is the second in a series of blogs in which Steve Cayzer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, reflects on  ensuring his courses are Covid-ready by designing them according to the Bath Blend.   Steve reflects on what has worked well (and less well) and what he would like to keep in the ‘new normal’.

Reflection # 2: Live Online Learning is even better than the ‘real’ thing

I generally practice flipped teaching, where students spend  precious class time working in teams on meaningful learning activities. Flipped teaching is sometimes viewed with trepidation, the fear being that the pre work required will overload students. I counter this in two ways. Firstly, by carefully scaffolding the pre learning (a rule of thumb is no more than 15 minutes of recorded content for each hour of contact time). In addition, I use some of the class time for facilitated team work on summative assessments – student work that in a traditional setting would occur outside the classroom. Therefore, rather than adding to student work, I have time shifted it so that more work is done before class and less work after it.

I found this model works quite well with students when introduced and motivated clearly - my students want, and deserve, explanation and motivation for my pedagogical approach.

So how well does this work online? Even during the emergency online teaching, student feedback suggested that the continuation of live online teaching was valued:  “… continue live lectures after lock-down … was very valuable for students like me who want to keep interactive lecturers and other students”.

This was particularly striking since the time of class (3-6 pm) had become rather inconvenient to some of my students who were now in a different time zone. Nevertheless, even those now working late at night continued to participate and engage in class. Perhaps the use of breakout rooms in some cases worked better than their previously cramped classroom environment

Students in cramped classroom conditions, pre covid
Students in cramped classroom conditions, pre-Covid times

Moving into the new academic year (and with a more sociable time zone arrangement) I was fully expecting the sessions to be an important part of my teaching. In fact, my expectations were exceeded – I was pleasantly surprised to find that even at the end of semester, attendance was at 100%. With apologies to anyone whose vision of higher education utopia is disturbed by this, I can reveal that 100% attendance at end of semester is exceedingly rare (except where summative assignments are involved). Indeed, I did not achieve this in my on campus teaching last year, nor even this year.

In addition, the engagement of all students was really impressive, in a typical lecture theatre it is hard to get input from anyone further back than the first few rows (not impossible, but still the online medium certainly lowers the barrier to participation). The fact that students can share their initial thoughts in the privacy of a breakout room does seem to build confidence, as reflected in our end of semester student feedback :

“Breakout Rooms: Allows you to mix with others and gives an opportunity for people to get comfortable working together.”

All of which suggests that the convenience and inclusiveness of online sessions is something I would want to keep in my regular teaching. The one caveat is to protect against digital exclusion (for example, students with connectivity issues, or with lower specification IT kit).  To help this, I record all my sessions (except the breakout rooms) and am working on improving the captioning.  Students really value breakout rooms for private team discussions, and I am going to reflect on the best tool for this (eg TeamsZoomGatherTown).

Coming next in the series: Reflection #3 - In Person Time should be social, authentic and simple

Posted in: Bath Blend, learning and teaching, online learning


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