When I wrote my FHEA application back in late 2020, we had just started our first term teaching entirely online at UCL due to the coronavirus pandemic that took hold earlier in the year. While we did also deliver the last two weeks of the previous academic year online, that had to happen pretty much off the cuff as we’d had no additional time to make any significant changes or try out new things. However, it became clear pretty quickly that things wouldn’t change significantly for the year ahead and like all my colleagues I made use of my time during the summer to also think about possible ways in which I could adjust my modules for more effective online delivery, so today I’m sharing the third of my three FHEA case studies reflecting on the adjustments I made to an introduction to general linguistics I teach for students on the BSc in Psychology and Language Sciences.
Now of course when this was written, I was only about half way through my first term of teaching online. Nonetheless, the issues I had already encountered and discussed then remain important even after having delivered another term of online teaching and attempting to implement some of the further adjustments I discuss. As so often I found that things differ between cohorts and modules and I still don’t have a solution that I’m fully satisfied with for many of the issues that have come up. (Do let me know if you have any good ideas you think I might be able to try out!)
One thing that wasn’t clear yet when I wrote the case study below but that has since then made it toward the top of my list of things I want to figure out is that many of the strategies I developed to address issues around classroom diversity didn’t transfer very well to the online environment. Issues surrounding camera use are actually a good example of how remote teaching makes the challenges of learner’s background diversity much more complex and wide-reaching, and brings into the classroom aspects of a students’ life that they could previously more or less isolate from their educational environment. For instance, if you have to share your workspace and internet connection with other family members this can affect many different aspects of your learning experience. If you use too much bandwidth then your family members might struggle to get their own work done. If you talk out loud you might disrupt other people who try and focus on something else. If you share video then you might inadvertently expose other family members (which neither you nor they might be happy with) and you potentially invite stigmatisation by making visible your living conditions, social background, etc. If you live in a time-zone much different from the institution you attend then learning activities may not align with your circadian rhythm and you also run the risk of disturbing the people around you by participating as actively as you could. The issues are complex, and I’m not sure that there is an ideal way to address all of them, but certainly for myself I have to admit it took a fair amount of time to really get a sense for just how far this reaches into every aspect of the learning environment, and to understand that many students themselves are often not aware of the issues that their peers may face in these situations and how they can work around that.
If you’re interested, by the way, you can access many of the teaching materials I used for this module from the webpage over here, and you can watch the video lectures (except Week 7, which was a guest lecture on sign language by Kearsy Cormier) on my YouTube channel ling101. As with the previous two case study, the labels in square brackets below (e.g. [K5]) are references to the dimensions of the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF). Hover over them to see a short description.
Case study: Adjusting a module for online teaching amidst a pandemic
This case study focuses on the adjustments I made to a module I teach (PLIN0006 Introduction to Language) from face-to-face to fully online amidst the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. It demonstrates how I have developed my understanding of the issues learners face in this setting and how these can be mitigated by appropriate adaptation of teaching materials and the effective use of technology.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant that, just like everybody else at my institution, I found myself shortly before the start of term faced by the prospect of adjusting all my modules, materials, and assessments for online delivery [A1, A2, A3, K1, K2]. While there was a flood of information incoming on various technologies and options from many directions, it often wasn’t very clear how to sift through this and identify the best way to go forward, especially given the relatively limited time at our disposal. Luckily, as I had taught a flipped module (PLIN00062 Introduction to Phonetics) the year prior, I had already been able to experiment with some of the technologies and adjustments that would be involved, such as asynchronous delivery through pre-recorded lecture videos, and was eager to capitalise on my experience and the student feedback I had gotten last year [K5, K6] in order to provide an effective, positive, and inclusive learning environment in spite of the circumstances. The overall design followed the flipped classroom approach (cf. e.g. Bishop & Verleger 2013), with synchronous Q&As and tutorials taking the place of the classroom [K2, K4].
While it has been long established, and seems confirmed by my experience last year, that asynchronous online videos are not necessarily less effective than face-to-face teaching (cf. e.g. Cohen, Ebling & Kulik 1981), it is also clear that highly interactive video content is much more effective (Zhang et al. 2006) [V3]. This was a particular concern for me as PLIN0006 is a very intense course surveying the foundations of the field and crucially relied on a highly interactive and question-driven approach to lecturing. Given the necessary amount of technological upskilling, international access issues to various platforms, and the limited time-frame, it did not seem feasible to implement video delivery with integrated questions and possibly even variable storyboarding according to students’ answers, which would have been the ideal solution. To approximate this, I decided to divide videos into smaller sections and create follow-up moodle quizzes for each lecture video [A3, A4]. This worked quite well, and students seemed to consistently make use of the quizzes, many even retaking the quizzes after rewatching parts of the lecture or completing the reading, and they commented in the mid-term feedback I collected that they found these extremely helpful [K5]. I also attempted to increase interactivity by asking questions in the lecture videos followed by a call to action to post their answers on the moodle forum (e.g. “What is the longest possible word in English?”). The response rate to this was very good, with typically about 80-90% of students making a post to the forum subsequently. However, there was little interaction between students’ responses on these tasks and the demand on teaching staff time created by attempts to create more productive discussion out of these threads was too intensive to make frequent use of this at present. So while this is something I intend to do again in the future, I will have to do some more research on how I may implement this in such a way that it creates more interactive discussion and places a lower demand on teaching staff [V4].
In terms of inclusivity, in addition to the usual challenge provided by a highly culturally diverse classroom with students from many different backgrounds, with different learning styles and preferences, this time students were also dispersed throughout the world, with different technological options at their disposal. To mitigate a potential technological divide, I decided to produce the asynchronous lecture videos in such a way that they could be posted both to YouTube and Lecturecast (the internal lecture recording solution adopted at UCL). Not only did this mean that students have a choice based on which platform is more reliable in their location [V4], but the two platforms also provide different options for captioning, bookmarking, notifications, and integration with end-user-software [A4, K4, V2]. Students’ mid-term feedback confirmed that this was an advantageous choice, as students had diverse preferences and some preferred YouTube while others preferred Lecturecast [V1, K5]. For the synchronous Q&As and tutorials I started out with Blackboard Collaborate because this provided good integration with moodle and easy automation of routine tasks such as attendance monitoring [K4]. However, it wasn’t until half-way through the course that I learned that some students, particular in China and SE Asia found it difficult to establish a reliable connection to BB Collaborate and consequently had missed out on some of the Q&A and Tutorial sessions. While the problem was easy to address by switching to Zoom for the synchronous elements consequentially [K4], I wish I had known about this sooner. With hindsight and taking into account the issue of face in many Asian cultures, it would have been good to provide a face-saving option to report such issues early on so they can be addressed, and I intend to provide an anonymous form specifically asking about such issues early on in the course for modules next term, which offers face-sensitive cultures a way of raising such issues without the risk of creating disharmony (cf. Tu 2001) [V1, V2, K5, K6].
Bishop, J.L. & Verleger, M. (2013) The flipped classroom: A survey of the research. Conference Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition.
Cohen, P.A., Ebeling, B.J., & Kulik, J.A. (1981) A meta-analysis of outcome studies of visual-based instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 29(1): 26–36.
Tu, C. (2001) How Chinese perceive social presence: An examination of interaction in online learning environment. Educational Media International, 38(1): 45–60.
Zhang, D., Zhou, L., Briggs, R.O. & Nunamaker, J.F. (2006) Instructional video in e-learning: Assessing the impact of interactive video learning effectiveness. Information & Management, 43(1): 15–27.