Distanced learning

Marek Bidwell shares what he learned while teaching his first online course

1. Switch it up

In order to keep students engaged throughout, I transferred my interactive classroom style online using Q&As, chat-box quizzes, video clips and breakout rooms. ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is never acceptable. One powerful technique was switching off the presentation and going face-to-face. Students could see me as clearly on their screen as they could in a classroom, drawing them in.
 

2. Adapt your exercises

Clients are always surprised at how many bags I have, stuffed with exercises. I had to redesign these to function online. For my jigsaw exercise, I drew the cards on a PowerPoint slide, converted them into jpegs so they couldn’t be edited, and shuffled. When students arrived in their breakout rooms, one opened the file and shared their screen, allowing learners to work together. Dropping into each breakout room, I could observe progress and help. When the students fed back to the group, they could share their screen. 
 

3. Keep the energy high

I use flipcharts in the classroom even if I have slides illustrating the point – it is all about energy. I worried about not being able to do this online, so I bought a graphics tablet. I annotated slides with the PowerPoint ‘pen’ function or inserted a blank slide and drew on that. I asked questions and wrote answers onto the slide or screen.
 

4. Chat-box quizzes

In a video blog, Gareth Kane suggested asking students a question and telling them to write the answer in the chat-box, without pressing ‘enter’; when sufficient time has passed, say ‘post’. All replies appeared at the same time, so groupthink was avoided and I could rapidly evaluate the level of knowledge in the room.
 

5. Sound quality

Sound is important – you can’t subject learners to ‘tin-can telephone’. It was only after the first day of projecting my voice that I realised I could turn up my microphone gain and speak at normal volume. Also, ensure you ‘share computer sound’ when playing a video. 
 

6. Instant feedback

I asked students to leave their microphones on. Why? Instant feedback. Learning is not leaning back and taking a nap. I wanted to hear the ‘ums’, ‘ahs’ and ‘eureka’ moments.
 

7. Break the ice

Each morning I asked an ice-breaker question and went around the room, so we learnt about each other and discussions were opened up. I also gave students the chance to arrange a private discussion with me each morning to talk about any issue, from the nitrogen cycle to the weather.
 

Read the full version of this article at: bit.ly/3lXnELN

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