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Online alternatives to lecturing

Simply migrating your lecture online is unlikely to result in effective learning: start with the learning outcomes to help you to identify alternative activities.

With thanks to James Clay’s blog Lost in translation: the lecture.

The Covid-19 situation means that significant social distancing restrictions will still be in place for at least part of the year and we need to find alternatives to lectures, at least for Term 1, 2020-21. 

Simply delivering your lecture online is unlikely to result in effective learning. A good lecture works because it does more than just deliver information.  In a face-to-face lecture students will respond to your energy and enthusiasm, as well as the feeling that they are part of a shared learning experience.  You will have visual cues from them to tell you whether your audience are with you, or alternatively confused or lost.  You can ask them questions to check understanding and encourage them to remain focused.
If you try to deliver the same material online, you lose all of these important extra elements – it can become an endurance test for you and your students.  There may also be other obstacles to full engagement by your students – a domestic set-up that doesn’t provide them with quiet space, a dodgy internet connection, childcare or other dependents, religious commitments. Some students may be studying in a different time zone. Reducing synchronous (live) activity to that which is most engaging will take pressure off you and your students.

So, what would work more effectively to deliver the same learning outcomes?  A good starting point is to review your lecture and remind yourself exactly what learning points you need to get over to your students. Make sure that your online alternative delivers the same learning outcomes. A ‘single take’ talk is unlikely to be your only option here.

1. Turn your lecture into several shorter activities

These might include a selection from the following:

  • Some pre-reading and some questions for students to consider
  • Short (20 minute maximum) pre-recorded mini lectures to convey the key learning points
  • A quiz or question-and-answer forum in Moodle to check and consolidate understanding
  • A live discusssion using Lecturecast Live chat or audio.

So you might start off with a pre-recorded presentation, ideally no longer than 15 minutes for students to watch at their leisure. Follow this up with some offline questions and answers perhaps in Moodle, or possibly a scheduled live discussion, perhaps using audio, or the chat function of Lecturecast Live.  You could then release a second pre-recorded presentation and finally bring everyone back for a group discussion.

However, do remember that activities which happen in real time can present obstacles to engagement especially across timezones and for students with domestic constraints.

If you do decide to use Lecturecast Live for some of your teaching, unless your class size is very small you should have an ‘assistant’ to monitor the chat function, or help resolve any technical issues so that you can focus on the teaching. This might be a colleague, or even a student.

2. Turn your lecture into several shorter activities scheduled over a specified time period

This means your students could engage with the presentation, online asynchronous chat  and the offline activity in their own time but join the final discussion session synchronously.

Your interaction as the teacher becomes more flexible and there is more space for interactions between your students. The synchronous activity is reduced to a short session. Students can decide when to study and adapt it to their own personal circumstances.

There are clearly many variants of this model but the key point is to deliver a minimum of material where students can remain passive and, instead, guide students to be active in their learning and share their ideas and knowledge with one another.