In the first post in this series, we shared two stories from our last Learning Design Meet-ups. In the second blog in our ‘Lessons learned: learning and teaching stories during COVID-19’ series we will be sharing stories from more academics. This blog features stories from the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building with Pernille Christensen and Sara Wilkinson.

Pernille Christensen – knowing students’ learning styles can improve online delivery

Pernille shared a great story about teaching 16006 Introduction to Resilient Development in Autumn 2020. As an academic who values student-centred learning, Pernille talked about how she spent Week 1 discussing with her students the possible changes to the learning styles and needs for the online learning environment. Online students do not have the face-to-face experience of the traditional classroom where they can often interact with their teachers and other students, hence in many cases, the online learning experience can seem very isolating. In these challenges, Pernille argued that it is even more important in an online learning environment to address the learning styles of all types of learners in order to help each student have the optimal chance to succeed in the subject. 

During the last session, Pernille developed a hybrid teaching approach utilising per class activities, engaging online classes and weekly quizzes. Her hybrid content presentation stood out strongly as she utilised multimedia content and YouTube videos in developing engaging learning materials.

Pernille has also emphasised the importance of academics being human in their online learning and sharing little stories. Watch Pernille’s 12-minute presentation to discover more about her hybrid design of the learning environment.

Sara Wilkinson – first and last year student experience

Sara taught three subjects in Autumn 2020. During her presentation, she shared with us some very interesting points raised during the COVID period. Sara delivered online courses for 5 years from 2008-2012 and distance learning courses in the 1990s, and certainly found a very different technological world between these time periods. Next to the challenge that her internet reliability from home is variable, Sara’s biggest concern was the timing of the switch to online learning with little or no thinking time regarding pedagogy, student experience and consistency across subjects in courses.

During Autumn 2020 Sara taught three subjects. The first was a final year elective subject 16656 Sustainable Construction and Development Management delivered as a block (2 x 2-day block) – many of those 40 students would be working and would have established their university network already. The second subject was a first-year core subject with 130 students delivered weekly. Students are new to university hence no network established. Sara met with the students face to face before the lockdown. The third subject was a postgraduate subject 15145 Sustainable Urban Development. Watch Sara’s 13-minute presentation talking about her teaching experience of first and last year students.

What worked in first year and final year groups

  • Know your students: some with no university experience and others at the end of their study who were likely working full time; so time-poor. 
  • Relatively low-tech approach:  Sara chose to record MS PowerPoint slides that students can listen to, reply, take notes and review when it suits them.
  • Frequent short information emails: reminding students about x, y, z – assignment deadlines, tips etc.
  • Groups for first-year students: working in small groups for assignment in the first year cohort helped students make some friends and a support network.
  • Formative assessments: online quiz in Week 4 for the first year cohort gave immediate results and early formative feedback to students on how much they were ‘taking in’ and whether they needed to lift their game.

Other issues

  • Quality of first-year submissions: Sara noticed that students’ performance was not as good as previous years, hence there is a real need to focus the face to face experience with this cohort mostly for retention and positive experience.
  • Consistency across subjects: Sara received many emails from students stressed about the variety of approaches taken by staff and lack of consistency across subjects within courses – causing confusion. Those juggling study and work found lots of requirements to do small tasks frequently frustrating.
  • Students wellbeing: levels of stress and anxiety are very high. A lot more email contact with students than usual, for example; first-year students were emailing about 16 times a day for a week or so.
  • Careful planning for creating reusable online content: not knowing whether the content would be delivered online in future obviously requires staff to balance how much time is devoted to creating online materials that do date, and may not be reused much, or at all.

Read more learning and teaching stories

Look out for the last part of our ‘Lessons Learned’ series, where we will be hearing from Lisa Sedger, Sergio Joshua and Najah Nassif from Science.

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