Zoom is now widely used through UTS as subject coordinators and teaching staff quickly reframe their subjects for online learning. This is no surprise as Zoom does a great job (most of the time) facilitating something similar to a face-to-face class, and the simplest way to shift a subject online is to replicate its existing format through networked technology. But there are broader options for teaching online, and Zoom may not always be the best tool. Richard Ingold and Alex White from the LX.lab team discuss alternatives to Zoom for engaging students in a (suddenly) fully online subject.
A pre-recorded video lecture has a lot of advantages over a live online one. Although live classes can be responsive, spontaneous and interactive, these attributes often distract both you and your students from the key content a lecture should provide. With a recorded video lecture, you’re far more likely to hit all of your key messages. You’ll also find you can deliver knowledge more clearly and succinctly as you’re talking directly from your presentation slides and are focused solely on the information you’re providing, with none of the technology and participant management issues that plague Zoom meetings. If you break your lecture down into topic-specific segments lasting around 6-10 minutes, you’ll find students can focus on your ideas and will be more likely to take in their learning materials. And if they have questions? Discussion boards are the perfect place for those.
Pre-recorded video can also work in the other direction as an approach for students in lieu of a face-to-face presentation, giving them the opportunity to make something considered and free of technical hitches.
The humble online discussion is often overlooked and dismissed in favour of newer tools, but discussions in both Canvas and Blackboard are extremely flexible tools that can support a range of pedagogical approaches. An online discussion is asynchronous. So, while students may miss out on the more immediate exchange of a live video link, they benefit from greater flexibility regarding when they engage, the opportunity for more people to actively participate and the opportunity to provide more considered contributions. There is also evidence for asynchronous discussions being a less intimidating and accessible option for engagement from international students and others for whom English is a second language (Chen 2005).
While Zoom provides a medium to collaborate and share opinions in real time, there are many other ways students can work together. Using collaborative text creation tools like wikis, editable Canvas pages and shared OneNote Notebooks or Google Docs, students can create summaries of readings or video lectures, analyse scenarios, build case studies, formulate arguments, and solve problems. And this can be done within a synchronous tutorial time slot or over a longer period depending on how much research students are required to do to complete the task. All that’s required are some clear instructions and an example of the desired outcome. As a teacher you can jump into these shared documents to provide comments and guidance as needed.
With all of the bells, whistles and tech solutions being promoted at the moment, it’s easy to forget that often all we want is for students to read something carefully and to draw a few key concepts from that reading. Perhaps the simplest way to encourage this is to fall back on the tried and tested methods of distance education by putting together a reading guide for students. Each week students can be given, either via the learning management system or simply with a word document, a brief introduction to the week’s topic, a link to the readings and a set of comprehension questions to check they’ve understood the central ideas of the reading text. This is followed by some questions asking them to reflect on and/or apply the concepts they’ve been introduced to. These reflections can then be shared on a discussion board. A common concern of many university educators is a perceived lack of engagement from students in reading materials, teaching online could be an opportunity to put these resources front and centre for students.
Moving in and out of sync
Zoom can play a critical role in building connections with and between students. However, the real-time nature of this tool may not always work in our favour. Students working from home may be dealing with a range of pressures, including a poor internet connection, lack of a quiet or private space, and homeschooling children. So, too much reliance upon synchronous approaches may preclude some students from engaging in learning. Such over-reliance can also cause us to miss out on some of the major benefits of asynchronous online learning. Asynchronous options, such as those discussed above, allow more time for students to reflect and to contribute. Ideally, each approach can be used in combination to more fully exploit the strengths and flexibility of synchronous and asynchronous learning tools.
For further assistance in deciding upon when and if to Zoom have a look at Anna Stack’s 5 questions to ask yourself before teaching with Zoom.
Chen, C. E. (2005). Experience-based language learning through asynchronous discussion. The 22nd International Conference on English Teaching and Learning 1–21.