Teaching Stories

Forums: five ways to get your students talking online

In these ‘unprecedented times’ (yes, I said it) one thing at least is certain…like it or loath it, online teaching is here to stay.

This ‘new normal’ requires us as educators to consider new and innovative ways of engaging students with course materials. Simultaneously, we are challenged with fostering a sense of community and connectedness at a time when we have never been more isolated from one another. Online forums are just one tool that can help tackle both these challenges at once.

Forums can play a big part in providing peer-learning opportunities for students, strengthening relationships, lessening the effects of social isolation and empowering students to develop a social presence. From an educational perspective, forums provide students with space to reflect and apply their learning which in turn aids knowledge retention.

In short, ‘forums construct a learning experience around collaboration as a means of deepening understanding.’

Assuming my powers of persuasion are strong, and you are now itching to set up a student forum, here are some simple suggestions for establishing and managing forums to maximising student participation and connectedness.

  1. Don’t keep it a mystery

Ensure early buy-in from your students by being explicit about the benefits they can enjoy by being an active participant on the forum (see above). If these are made clear, students will be much more motivated to get- and stay- involved.

2. MIND YOUR Ps & Qs!!!!!! – online etiquette or ‘netiquette’

Good forums provide a safe space to openly share ideas, opinions, questions and considerations. This can only be achieved if students feel that it is a respectful and supportive environment. Take some time to consider some simple ground rules you expect students to follow. This could simply include asking students to avoid excessive use of capital letters and explanation points – no one likes to feel they’re being shouted, whether it be online or in person.

You could also provide more structured guidance to encourage a positive culture based on thoughtful and constructive engagement, this will help create an inclusive environment which encourages reluctant students to engage more freely.

Example: the ‘3CQ method’ suggests contributions should include compliment, a comment, a connection or a question.  This helps to keep discussion constructive and supportive whilst also avoiding dead-end comments like ‘I agree’.

3. Creative contributions

Make your forum somewhere that students want to come to by making it interactive and fun. This can be achieved by encouraging contributions which use multi-media, such as pictures, weblinks and personalised videos, YouTube content and PowerPoint presentations. Lead by example by contributing multimedia yourself. Your contributions will help set the tone and demonstrate to students that the forum can be a place for creative contributions outside of the traditionally academic.

4. Get involved

Forums are driven by discussions. Your active involvement on the forum will have a big impact on student engagement. Take the time to respond to comments and messages to keep the forum dynamic and lively. Follow up on questions, both privately and publicly, and provide affirmations, prompts, feedback and pose open-ended questions in order to encourage students to think deeper and more critically. Your involvement may also help identify any students who are less engaged and you can encourage their participation.

A word of warning – although your contributions help keep the forum dynamic and active, it is also important to give students space to discuss and share ideas. Try not to dominate.

5. Lose the lurking

Research shows that introverts are more likely to engage in forums than contribute in class. You may still find however, that some students are more eager to get involved than others, you may even get the odd ‘lurker’ – someone who views the forum but doesn’t actively contribute.

Lurking can occur because of a perception that those students who confidentially contribute have a better understanding of discussion topics. More often than not, active contributions have little to do with greater knowledge acquisition and far more to do with a student’s general confidence to engage with forums as a learning tool. Encourage lurking students to participate, contact them privately to tease out and challenge any preconceptions they may be harbouring about active contributors and encourage them to get involved by reiterating the benefits that can come with active engagement.

If you would like any help with setting up a forum please get in touch with DEO or attend one of their drop-in sessions details of which can be found here.

Caroline Harvey

News

Digital Design course details

The aim of this online course is to provide you with the digital design skills and knowledge to plan learning, assessment, units and programmes for flexible delivery next year.

In the course you will:

  • Critically reflect on your experience of teaching online
  • Explore engaging and inclusive design for your context
  • Analyse how different technologies can support different types of learning, teaching and assessment
  • Apply principles of online design to your teaching, assessment, units and programmes

By the end you will have designed a sequence of online activities for a week of teaching, and will have the knowledge and skills to build a user-friendly course in Blackboard using a range of different tools and types of task. 

You should expect to spend 1 hour per day on the course activities.

To make the course available to as many possible we will be running it three times. Once you have signed up we will enrol you onto the Blackboard course and email you with details about how to join before the course starts.

Follow the links to sign up

Run 1: Wed 27th May – Fri 5th June

Run 2: Mon 15th June – Tue 23rd June

Run 3: Thurs 9th July – Fri 17th July

News

Writing a Dissertation Without the Library: A Guide

It’s getting to that time of year where students usually inhabit the library every day, furiously typing away at their dissertations. But how do you go about writing your diss when there’s no library to go to? Here’s a quick guide with some tips about how to work from home and some useful resources for researching online.

MINDSET

You might have all the books you need, but if you can’t get into the right mindset for working it can be really difficult. Working from home isn’t easy for some people, especially if you don’t have much space. Here are a couple of tips that you could try, which might make working from home a bit easier.

Create a zone: Creating a specific workspace, whether it’s on a desk, a section of the kitchen table or even in the shed, can really help you get into the right mindset. If you have a space that’s dedicated entirely to your work, it’ll help you to focus.

Effective working: Write a to-do list and set yourself goals for your work. This will help you to feel motivated and to give you a sense of productivity and achievement in your work.

Set a routine: It’s good to try and work at the same time every day to get yourself into a routine. It doesn’t matter if this is in the morning, in the evening, or split across the day – everyone has different responsibilities and commitments, but try to give yourself set hours to work, that way, you’ll feel more productive and organised.

Be kind to yourself: It’s a difficult time! If you’re having a hard time working one day, don’t be too harsh on yourself. If you’re really not in the right mindset, consider stopping for the day and trying again tomorrow. Be kind to yourself, you can’t expect yourself to always work as hard as you would under more normal circumstances.

RESOURCES

Whilst we can’t get to the library right now, there’s plenty of ways to get online access to resources. The library website is a resource in itself, so make sure you get familiar with it.

For example, have you ever emailed your subject librarian? Subject librarians are specialists in your subject and can help you with a range of library issues. They can help you to: find and use information; evaluate academic resources; research a topic; avoid plagiarism; reference correctly and use referencing management tools like EndNote. All the subject librarians are friendly and helpful, and they are experts, so they’ll be able to tell you everything the library has on your particular topic. This link will help you find out who your subject librarian is so you can email them. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/subject-support/

The library also has a super handy tool called ‘Recommended databases’. You can enter in your subject to get discipline specific results, or you can search the list to try and find the particular database you’re looking for. There’s hundreds of databases here that you might not have even heard of. It’s a great way to explore new resources! https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/find/databases/

Many providers are now offering extra or free services due to the COVID-19 outbreak – you can find a list of new services we have access to here: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/find/free/

If you already know what book you need, but it’s a physical copy sat gathering dust in the library, or if the library doesn’t own a copy, you can request them to purchase an e-version. It’s a super easy process to request a book, and if it’ll be useful for others, they’ll probably get it in. To request a book, follow this link: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/find/suggest-purchase/

There are also plenty of other websites online that can offer you access to books or help you with your research. Here’s a list of some of them:

Oxford Bibliographies https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/ (sign in with institutional login)
Oxford Bibliographies is a really useful tool to find new texts, papers and criticism to read. You can search for a specific topic, such as ‘Victorian Literature’ or ‘Feminism’, and it’ll break it down into a general overview, sub-topics and recommended texts. It’s a great resource for finding new sources.

HathiTrust https://www.hathitrust.org/

Cambridge Core https://www.cambridge.org/core/ (sign in with institutional login)

Project Muse https://muse.jhu.edu/ (sign in with institutional login)

Archive.org https://archive.org/
Archive.org has loads of texts uploaded, it’s particularly useful if you’re looking for published texts pre-1900. Top tip though – navigating archive.org’s search tool is not particularly easy, it’s probably better to search through Google by typing in the book and “archive.org” for instance, search: “archive.org” Morte Darthur

Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/
Project Gutenberg has over 60,000 free eBooks online.

Google Books https://books.google.com/
Google Books might offer you a preview of some pages, and sometimes even the whole book!

Oxford Scholarly Editions https://www.oxfordscholarlyeditions.com/ (sign in with institutional login)

Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com/

Web of Science https://wok.mimas.ac.uk/

MORE HELP

If you’re still struggling academically, get in touch with your personal tutor or dissertation supervisor. They’ll be able to give you some tips about researching from home. Don’t forget, everyone is trying to work from home at the moment, they’ll understand!

space raiders
Teaching Stories

Three super low-tech ways to gamify your learning

Adding game design and mechanics to your online content can make it more engaging, motivational and enjoyable. Online educational content is competing with social and entertainment content, and so now is as good a time as any to start adding a bit of fun to your teaching.

We’re going to look at three very simple ways to add game design elements into teaching online to encourage students to engage with your content and activities.

1. Challenges rather than tasks.

By framing work as a ‘challenge’, ‘quest’ or ‘mission’ rather than a ‘task’ or ‘activity’, you can completely change the tone of a piece of work, even if the content is exactly the same. Adding an element of team work to this further creates a sense that they are playing a game together, rather than just engaging in another dreaded piece of group work. The work could also ask you students to assume a certain role(s) to help them complete the challenges.

Compare these two examples below:

Example 1: Today’s mission asks you to analyse the following intercepted telecom for hidden messages sent to the Nazis by renown double-agent Eddie Chapman (‘Zigzag’). In your role as linguistic analyst, you need to report back your findings in less than 500 words summarising what you have found and the reasoning behind your answers. You have just an hour to complete your mission.

Example 2: Analyse the following telecom for hidden messages in less than 500 words, including reasoning for your answers. The telecom was intercepted by MI5 from Eddie Chapman to the Nazis. (1 hour task).

You’ll need to scaffold this sort of activity around similar others, or you could just choose to have a week dedicated to ‘missions’ rather than your traditional content and get feedback on how your students have found it.

2. Progress indicators and difficulty levels.

Seeing out how much content you’ve made it through on a certain day or week’s worth of learning can create a sense of achievement and like you’ve progressed in your learning.  

In many games you know how much you have left to complete the level either by a percentage or star system. Each ‘level’ or stage is often divided up into more manageable chunks of increasing difficulty for you to progress through. Once you get to the end of that stage you feel a sense of achievement and are motivated to carry on and complete the next level.

We can apply similar mechanics to online learning and a similar effect will occur. All you need to do to add this sort of engagement is structure the content in a way that looks like students are moving through stages or levels, rather than just completing one activity after another. Adding a ‘%’ to each task also helps students understand how long they should be spending on different activities

Consider the three different ways this week’s activities are presented and think about which one attracts you the most and why. What don’t you like about them?

Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are. (10%)  

Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live). (30%)  

Complete the week’s challenge. (50%)  

Feedback and share using the discussion board. (10%)  
BONUS: Complete this code-breaking game to unlock the secret material.  
Level 1 (Easy): Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are.  

Level 2 (Moderate): Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live).  

Level 3 (Moderate – Difficult): Complete this week’s challenge.  

Final task (Easy): Feedback and reflect on the discussion board.  

*Optional extra: Complete this code-breaking game to unlock secret content.    
Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are.  

Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live).  

Complete the week’s task.
 
A checkpoint/ opportunity for feedback.  

*Extra activity – complete this  game for extra material.

Go one step further…

  • Consider adding questions or quizzes students have to complete before moving onto the next ‘level’.
  • Add ‘secret’ content students have to unlock by completing small challenges.

3. Healthy competition.

One of the more controversial aspects of gamifying education is the use of competitive elements, such as leaderboards and rewards. However, if integrated sensitively, they can provide light competition and drive among students, furthering engagement with the materials.

One way to do this is to allow students to vote on their favourite contribution to a discussion board, or a prize for the student who has engaged the most with the discussion.

You can also have a leaderboard for any quizzes that students take as part of the online content.

To bring some team work into your online teaching, consider hosting a weekly ‘pub quiz’ for students to show off what they’ve learnt during the week.

If you’re interested in gamification and game-based learning, you can join the Digital Education Office/ BILT ‘Learning Games’ learning community by getting in touch with either BILT or DEO.

BONUS: Further reading.

Read about ‘Gamifying History’ at the University last year here.
Watch this TEDx talk on ‘How gaming can make a better world’.
Take the ‘Lifesaver’ game – a brilliant example of using a game for learning.

Amy Palmer.

News

Out of the ordinary: Tips to create authentic online teaching and learning

 “The value of authentic activity is not constrained to learning in real-life locations and practice, but that the benefits of authentic activity can be realized through careful design of Web-based learning environments.” – Lombardi  

Well, I can safely say this is not how I thought I’d be spending my year but the quest for authentic learning continues. As we all struggle to get our learning and teaching online, I’ve created a handy guide on how to do authentic learning and teaching via the magical medium of the internet. It bears noting that although many of us would rather return to life, as usual, this is a time of considerable opportunity to change the way we teach and learn. The traditional format of lectures and seminars has been broken down and if ever there were a time to try something new, it is now. 

Real-world relevance is critical for authentic learning, but it is important not to fall into the trap of making everything about coronavirus. Now is an excellent time for using studying as a form of escapism. However, it is also an excellent time to be teaching about adaptability and how to manage a crisis. 

Using stakeholders has become tricky and nearly impossible. With many organisations furloughing their staff, now is not the best time for partnerships but to give an authentic experience, stakeholders can be imaginary. This can be anything from an imaginary business giving them a task, or more broadly how would they tackle an issue and who would it affect. For the unit Managing and Evaluating Development, students usually partner with NGOs, but now are being asked to create their own business plan to start up their own organisation. This allows students to create their own value and assess what is important to them and wider society. 

Working collaboratively is something that is now more crucial than ever. Social distancing can be lonely and feeling disconnected from your peers can be very isolating. Giving students an incentive to have regular communication with their classmates, be that via video call, normal call or even email, is an excellent way to not only improve their collaboration skills but also to maintain a sense of community. Also; as online communication is increasingly looking like the future of work, collaborating via online platforms is a crucial way of improving these skills. 

It is also crucial that while the contact hours have been limited that students are given the opportunity to feedback and that lecturers can monitor their progress to ensure that students are sustaining their levels of investigation. The Social Innovation Programme run by Bristol Hub has been doing this using a Gantt Chart and tools such as Trello. This is a way of including teaching soft skills and letting students visualise their progress, along with making sure that students are continuing with their work even if they are away from campus. 

Although lockdown has it’s challenges, it provides students and staff alike with a lot of time. This time can be useful for reflection: what is going well, how do students feel their course has been affected, what could be improved. Coming out of the Easter holidays, students may find it helpful to consider what they have already learnt and how this can be applied to the final term of the year. By allowing opportunities for continuous reflection, students are placed in a position to make more informed choices about their learning, along with communicating the value more effectively. In other words, authentic learning gold. 

Given the unusual circumstances of the entire year, students may feel inclined to stick to the reading list like glue as it’s no secret that many students are driven by their academic results. However, now is not the time for conventional teaching, and by encouraging students to look at multiple sources and perspectives outside of normal reading can help to rekindle students love of their subject, in a time where they are probably not thinking about how History of Art has changed their life. By encouraging them to find sources and perspectives which students have found themselves and are therefore likely to be genuinely interested in, it can also help to cultivate a good online discussion- students (and staff) may be nervous in online group discussions so having something that they have found can be a useful starting point. 

The final way in which you can help to make online teaching more authentic is by asking students what they want to be learning. What do they want the rest of the term to look like? Are students more interested in mimicking traditional seminar formats online, or would they rather have asynchronous teaching using videos and podcasts? By asking students how they want to learn, it allows them to reflect on their learning process and think about the subjects they are particularly curious about. It also shows an acceptance that this is not business as usual; not everything about online teaching will work for every student but it is crucial to find a format that allows everyone to engage, even if it’s not in a way in which they are used to. 

I hope that this has been helpful, or at the very least food for thought. I would love to hear from students and lecturers alike, how would you change online learning and teaching? What would work for you? What do you want from the final term of this year?

Marnie Woodmeade, Student Fellow

News

Teaching Beyond the Firewall

Bristol is fortunate enough to have a large population of international students, many of whom come from mainland China. Given the new form of online teaching, this presents some significant challenges in terms of the firewall. Platforms such as Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp and Google are all blocked meaning that online teaching can become extremely challenging. 

Asynchronous Teaching

The difference in time zone is a significant challenge and as many of the instant messaging services are blocked, sometimes this calls for a more staggered approach to teaching. Asynchronous teaching has many benefits; as your time is not spent giving lectures, it frees up some space for feedback on individual or group work. 

Discussions

For asynchronous teaching discussions, there are two key ways that students can participate beyond both the firewall and the time zone. Mini-podcasts are an excellent way that students can practice speaking while constructing an argument and still engage with the reading material. Using their phones or online voice recorders they can use audacity to merge and edit a podcast that you can listen to and give feedback. Set a time limit to ensure that they give clear arguments (and so that lecturers have enough time). They should be able to email this to you via Outlook, which is not currently blocked in China. 

Videos are another way to teach in a way that allows students to speak and share their point of view. This can sometimes be harder to share due to the size of the file but can allow for more innovation. Some universities have used videos to gamify asynchronous teaching by creating mini competitions. Who can make the best argument using three props? Explain the reading using an animation or infographic. 

Don’t be afraid of voice notes! 

Many people already use voice notes in place of text. In a time of isolation, hearing a voice can make a big impact both on a students learning experience and their wellbeing. Having an endless influx of emails can be overwhelming, especially when there is such an influx of bad news. Hearing a familiar voice helps to connect to the material, as well as being a nice change of pace. 

Chinese social media

China has a range of social media that is free and downloadable in the UK. WeChat is by far the most popular and will allow you to talk to the vast majority of your Chinese students instantaneously. It also has video and call functions so it will also allow for meetings if students want one on one meetings. 

Understandably, not everyone is willing to download WeChat onto their phone but in terms of immediate communication, this is one of the easiest forms. 

Tencent Video- If you’re wanting to share video content, Tencent Video is the king of Chinese video streaming. It works in essentially the same way as YouTube but has the added benefit of fun interactive games. 

Ask your students

Although the information provided here will give a variety of options different people will want different things from their learning. Sending out a poll is a good way to decide what works for the majority of students and they may have ideas that work for teachers and students alike. In a time of crisis, it is important that students feel like they are being heard so offering avenues that they can reach out is a crucial way to make sure teaching is effective and students feel valued, even if they are 10,000 miles away.

Marnie Woodmeade, Student Fellow

500 Words, Teaching Stories

Six ways to engage your audience online (regardless of bandwidth or timezone!)

1. Start with an activity.

Engage students from the beginning by asking them to write a question they’d like to be answered during the session, drawing a picture of their initial impressions of the topic or even take a selfie of their expression towards the day’s session and sharing it with the group! By doing this they make an initial investment in the session and you can use it to come back and reflect on these contributions at the end of the session.

2. Outline the session.

People want to know what they’re in for before investing their time. Have you ever checked out the menu at a restaurant before you’ve been? Looked at the running time for a film before you’ve watched it? The same applies here. Outline each activity, what materials are needed for it and how long you expect it to take – that way students can plan around how much time they have. Don’t forget to include those all-important ILO’s!

3. Break it down.

Just because your students can sit through an hour-long lecture you give doesn’t mean they can do the same online… Try and make any ‘passive’ activity (videos, podcasts, narrated presentations, reading (without note-taking)) no longer than 10 minutes at a time.

4. 50% active, 50% passive.

This is ambitious, but a great target to aim for when you’re designing your content. ‘Active’ includes anything the student has to do: write, type, draw, play, interact, take quizzes; passive includes everything else. Studies have repeatedly shown students benefit from a mix of both of these activities but try and keep the balance in check.

5. Keep telling your stories.

Moving content online doesn’t mean you have to become a robot in your delivery. Stories enrich teaching, creating a personal and emotional connection to the content and therefore make it more memorable and engaging. Try and keep your delivery as close to your classroom style as possible – this is what students are used to and we want to continue that where we possibly can.

6. Gamify it.

Gamifying content shouldn’t be reserved for the super-techy and it doesn’t mean just turning your content into a game. Adding game-like elements to sessions can have a massive impact on engagement and makes the learning more fun. Simple implementations include students moving up ‘levels’ as they move through content, adding quizzes to ‘unlock’ secret content and even having a leaderboard for top contributors to online forums.  

Please get in touch with the BILT Team for more information about how to do anything we’ve mentioned above, or have an idea you want to discuss further with someone on the team.

News

‘Daily Digital’ with PVC-Education, Tansy Jessop

From Thursday 19th March Professor Tansy Jessop, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education, will host a short “daily digital” on a range of themes relating to online learning and teaching. Tansy will be joined by a number of colleagues, including from BILT and the Digital Education Office, on this digital journey. Topics will include building pedagogic relationships, facilitating discussion, personal tutoring and supervision, co-creation with students, assessment and more.

What is the daily digital?

On some days the “daily digital” will be a short live event.  Live sessions will be recorded so you can catch up later if you can’t make them.

On other days there will be opportunities to engage asynchronously, for example to review a short video or reading and then join an ongoing online discussion.

How long will it take me?

Each “Daily Digital” should take you between 15 and 30 minutes.  

When does it start?

The programme starts with a live session on Thursday 19th March at 10am, and will last 7 working days.

How can I access it?

The “Daily Digital” will take place in Blackboard.  We invite you to enrol on the Blackboard space for full access to the programme.  (Content will be released over the 7 days)

Enrol on the Blackboard Daily Digital space

Alternatively use the following link to access the first live session, which will take place in Blackboard Collaborate.

Guest link to the webinar  

For the live sessions please ensure that you have headphones or sound enabled. Chrome is the recommended browser.

digital education office logo

Blackboard Basics: Marking and Providing Feedback to Online Assignments, see the outcome through the Students’ Eyes (DEO Webinar)

Learn how to make the most of the feedback features in Blackboard inline grading and get an insight into how your students will see their results. As well as talking you through the software we will have time to answer your questions about marking in Blackboard.

This course is suitable for  academic staff and all levels of experience (some basic knowledge is helpful but not necessary). 

This webinar will be presented by Roberta Perli and Roger Gardner from the Digital Education Office.