Student Voice

BILT Hackathon: 9 solutions to great asynchronous learning

The BILT Hackathon first involved us splitting into groups and discussing the main challenges that we as students are finding whilst participating in blended learning. Some challenges we discussed did not affect us all equally, for instance some students found it easier to call for help during online synchronous sessions (compared to face-to-face). However, students at all levels agreed that we found it challenging to plan our own time, partially due to difficulty in determining how long tasks would take us, and whether they were essential or recommended. Some of this was due to inconsistent length of asynchronous lectures varying between 10 and 120 minutes (at the extreme high end).

My Hackathon group focused on two areas: 

How might we help students track all the activities they need to do in a week across all the units of their programme? 

How might we help students feel engaged with asynchronous activities as part of a broader package of activities? 

Whilst investigating these areas, our group devised many ideas which could address some of the concerns raised earlier and improve the student experience. We noticed that the majority of our ideas could be summarised into three headings. These were: 

  • Good Asynchronous Content  
  • Common Structures, Checklists & Time Management 
  • Student-Teacher Check-ins & Consolidation 

Within these headings we focused on what this could look like for students in practice. Here are our top 9 solutions. 

Good Asynchronous Content 

  1. Where relevant and of the appropriate standard, we could incorporate already created interesting content (e.g. TED talks are typically interesting and engaging and may convey a topic in a more captivating way than the online equivalent to ‘chalk and talk’). 
  1. Using smaller chunks of material, with expected timings. Some of our group found it difficult to plan their week as they did not know how long to spend on each activity. Likewise, occasionally we would spend an hour working on a project/question that should have only been a 15 minute task. Having expected timings available on shorter chunks of material will make the content and expected tasks more manageable. 
  1. Low stakes use of tests/quizzes. We envisioned non-graded tests used so that students could assess their own understanding of the asynchronous content. However, I also wished to acknowledge that the analysis of the quiz results could be used by teaching staff to inform topics they may wish to touch upon during synchronous sessions to address any misunderstandings. 
  1. Use of animations/demonstrations to complement explanations/derivations. Some students believed that it would be helpful for demonstrations/animations to be utilised to assist with the explanation of concepts. We imagined a whiteboard style approach so working out would be visible and accompanying the explanation. This interested me particularly as Primary Schools have been using Visualisers for this purpose for ~5 years as a method of sharing working out or annotating resources (particularly during online teaching) and the pedagogy would be no different when applied to higher education. 
  1. Students also wished for more effective use of discussion forums. These had mixed use throughout our courses, with differing expectations. We believe that these may be more successful if there are more overt rules and expectations on their use (such as one post and a reply to another student) as well as this being suitably facilitated by teaching staff. 

Common Structures, Checklists & Time Management 

  1. Module to-do lists. Some students struggled with differentiating between which tasks were necessary for fruitful participation in synchronous sessions, and which tasks were recommended should the student have the time/interest. Module to-do lists would help students assess which they needed to complete before the session, and a suggested order for more beneficial understanding. 
  1. Standardised Blackboard page format. As a group, we would like course information and weekly tasks to be in a standardised place on each place where possible. This would save students time when switching between work on different modules. This would also apply to a clear and standardised location where course and unit outlines are available. 
  1. Incorporation of asynchronous work into students’ timetable. Some students believed it would be helpful if an advised time to complete the asynchronous work was inputted into their timetable. This is partially to assist the student in managing their time, however I believe would also assist teaching staff in setting an appropriate workload. Some students believe that their asynchronous workload is greater than what the face-to-face would have been, and this would assist in remedying that. Whilst I cannot imagine this being everyone’s cup of tea, with one of the benefits of asynchronous learning being the flexibility, it would however demonstrate one possible structure for students to follow – even if they do flex around it. Bart Rienties researched the “6 myths” of the Open University in 2018, one of these myths was that most students follow the suggested schedule when studying. Rienties found that whilst students don’t follow the schedule to the minute, on the whole most were studying a tad ahead, of a tad behind what was expected.  

Student-Teacher Check-ins & Consolidation 

  1. Weekly check-ins for asynchronous content. Some students believed that it was difficult to catch-up with work as once behind it was embarrassing to ask for support which was not relevant to the current week’s content. Weekly check-ins with a member of staff (or potentially more senior student) revising the asynchronous content and addressing misconceptions could assist students to not fall too-far behind and offers another opportunity for support. 
Cogs intertwined labelled
1. Opportunities for check-in
2. Clear structure and signposting
3. Consistent and engaging asynchronous activities.
Student learning, graphical representation (Sarah Davies, Director of BILT)

Overall, I believe the points raised above are asking for engaging activities, with a clear structure, and opportunities for support if needed. If we were planning an online course, these would be our primary focuses. Notwithstanding, in some instances these may not have been given full primacy due to adapting face-to-face pedagogies for online teaching. As some modules are not delivered via blended methods, we must be cognisant that online specific pedagogy is being considered to enable accessible and engaging content delivery and learning. I felt that the Hackathon was an excellent method of brainstorming challenges and solutions, in a very positive and collegiate manner and I hope to participate in another just as rewarding as this one. 

Jonny Barnes BILT Student Fellow 20/21 working on the projects – Creating online communities – Assessment and feedback – Students as researchers -Decolonisation. 

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