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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

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.