This is the third 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 # 3: In Person Time should be social, authentic and simple
It’s probably fair to say that In Person Time was the area of teaching requiring most thought. Fortunately, the University had already thought through the Health and Safety environment – with students in small groups, but at 2m distancing, with low occupation rooms, good ventilation, and the use of face coverings, the risk levels were kept low. This allowed me to concentrate on the pedagogy.
Over the semester I did encounter a few issues and challenges:
How to keep focus
Energy levels are quite hard to maintain over a four-hour session (with a lunchbreak). Having multiple disparate activities meant students were being asked to ‘gear themselves up’ a number of times over the day. Over the semester, I moved to a model where the four hours contained at most two activities and, for Semester 2, most weeks were dedicated to a single topic.
How to involve the remote students
It turned out to be really hard to provide a seamless experience for remote students. I did not even try to implement hybrid teams (though some educators have), but I did try to allow remote students to ‘join’ the room through video link. Even this was problematic - the remote students can see what is going on in the room but don’t feel involved. I have now started to run parallel sessions for in person and remote students, with a dedicated (and properly briefed) facilitator for the online students. This has the additional advantage of creating a ‘team teaching’ environment
“All the lecturers get involved with all the modules, very holistic.”
It also allows some modifications to be made to the online version of the class exercise. For example, instead of an in person ‘pitch’ that relies on body language, an online team might create an impactful poster or image.
Technical and Physical Issues
I had a host of problems with the AV equipment, starting with the ancient PCs being unable to handle Zoom (our IT department replaced the PCs in double quick time once the issue was raised, but in retrospect I could have caught this earlier). I had issues with the range on the microphones, and background noise. I needed to think through the use of, for example, flipcharts or pens in a Covid-safe environment (risk management plans). I also needed to figure out a way for the cohort to be divided into sensible groups as in our risk management plan, students are expected to take a particular seat and hence table location for the whole day.
I have now evolved a model with the following features
- It is better to have a few longer in-depth activities than lots of short activities.
- The activities should be meaningful and involve practising skills that the students value (including those relevant for summative assessment).
- The activities should be social – that is, involve peer-to-peer interaction in a manner that is hard to capture online; for example, those that involve the full range of communication including body language.
- Following the Team Based Learning 4S model, activities should involve a ‘complex problem with a simple output’; for example, teams should communicate a vote (Yes or No), a choice (A-D) or a number (e.g. a bid price). That makes it easy to compare team outputs at a glance.
- I do not have hybrid (mixed online and in person) teams.
- I now favour a parallel model with the online students being given a similar, possibly adapted exercise, with a dedicated facilitator running that session.
As we learnt from this, we (the course team) developed some example activities that worked well, so might be worth sharing:
- Creating a one-minute ‘advert’ for the “Vice Chancellor” on the importance of organisational change,
- Role-playing a performance review between a disgruntled employee and a manager (conflict negotiation),
- Working up a ‘bid price’ in response to a tender,
- Working on a Big Team Challenge with one of our industrial partners (thank you, Rolls-Royce),
- In a session on agile product development, doing sprint planning using planning poker.
With all these changes, we have kept participation high, to around 90% (around half the students attend in person, the others online) with energy and engagement levels high.
“IPT sessions were interactive and fun, we loved meeting everyone and socialising. Best parts of the week.”
While I am delighted about this, it is interesting that the attendance for live online participation is even higher.
Coming next, and the final part, in our series: Reflection #4 - Keep it social, keep it inclusive, share the love