In Spring 2020, the forced transition to using only digital media in higher education due to the Corona pandemic has meant a lot of extra work and change for teachers, myself included. I have spent the last three years trying to learn a bit more how to go paperless and work only from a digital platform in my courses. Nonetheless, I have always taught in a classroom and have never totally understood how a digital course was set up. Also, I have never totally “flipped” my classroom and have still combined traditional lectures with classroom activities. However, due to the pandemic and working from home, I have not been “forced” to go totally digital, but I have embraced it.
Having never found the time in the last three years to go totally digital, as well as to totally flip my classroom, I found that this was a “now-or-never” moment. I have used this time to totally reconstruct the one 15-credit course that I have been teaching during April and May 2020, transforming it from a partially teacher-centered course to a more extensively student-centered course.
Firstly, I began this period by restructuring the course CANVAS page to four basic student-centered learning activities, ie four modules of activities that the students participated in during the progression of the course: READ, WATCH, WRITE, and ZOOM. The first two, Read and Watch, have been structured to be done by the students before they come to class. During these two activities, the student has been required to read the pre-assigned reading material for the week’s lessons and to watch a pre-recorded lecture that I have made. The third activity, Write, has been structured to be done sometimes before a class, sometimes during a class, and sometimes after a class, consisting of a writing assignment. The final activity, Zoom, has been the actual classes themselves, in which the students have participated in class activities in synchronized time in the digital-meeting tool, Zoom. The intention of these four basic activities has been to have the student do the reading, watching, and writing at home as much as possible. I have not wanted to waste any time in class with me in the centre.
As a result, a small task for me has been the Read and Write learning activities, which have continued as in the previous courses. I had already in the last three years prepared these elements in Canvas more or less. Although they have needed restructuring in Canvas under the four new activities, this was not a prime concern for me. The Watch and Zoom activities have been the most time consuming. However, this new structure has required me to re-plan all my live lectures (with class activities) into short, pre-recorded film clips, which has been the most time-consuming element of the transition to digital teaching. These were simply done with Kaltura Desktop Recorder and uploaded to MauPlay, where a link for Canvas was prepared. Each lecture was about 4 to 8 videos, each between 5 to 20 minutes long, posted in a Canvas page for that specific lecture and with each lecture having its own page under WATCH.
To do this, I have restructured my PowerPoints into shorter topics. This process has also been rewarding as I have updated and restructured many older lessons, re-thinking some of the content and adding newer research material as needed, a duty one does not always find time for. Additionally, many videos, but not all, have needed to end with an assigned task that we have done in the class session, via Zoom. These were posted in a Canvas page with that specific lecture, with screenshots of the “tasks” and the PPP. Sometimes, extra documents or YouTube clips have also been posted as well. Thus, each lecture page has consisted of my pre-recorded lectures to watch, as well as preparing the student for the task that would be done in Zoom. The amount of time needed to complete and set up a good page for each lecture has been enormous, but admittedly I will be able to use it in future semesters. Thus, the initial time needed for planning a digital course has been more.
The second time consuming preparation was the live synchronous Zoom-meetings. As these were the only hours that each student would not work on their own, I wanted them to be as interactive and student focused as possible. I started many of ZOOM sessions with a poll-survey (a tool within Zoom) to ask how many have actually done the READ and WATCH learning activities. In most cases, more than 50% had done it all, 35% had done some or most of it, and 15% had done nothing. After giving each task a slight introduction in ZOOM, I randomly divided the students in groups of four to work on the lesson’s tasks, using Zoom’s Breakout Rooms function. Students in each task were required to find the task in Canvas and to work on it in their groups. During the time they worked, I visited each group room to answer questions. Sometimes the students sent a message to me requesting me to come into their break-out room for a specific question.
Some groups, usually those who had done the learning activities READ and WATCH before class, would finish early. In such cases, I gave them a further activity that was a little more advanced. Sometimes, I even assigned them to the other groups, one to a group, to help assist the other groups in the task. The result was that the students were active the whole time and I facilitated even less than I usually do in a physical classroom. Additionally, because the lectures were all pre-recorded and done outside of class time, there was more time for students to really work a long time on each classroom task, and I had more time for their questions. The time in these Zoom Classes did not always need to be as long as a physical classroom lecture. I have tried to keep every class under an hour, having them on every day instead. Sometimes, the students themselves were so very active and motivated that the break-out room discussions filled two-hours anyway. Another important result was that some of the two-hour classes also were devoted to the students need for social connection and more informal peer-review and learning. Usually, I ended each class by bringing the groups together so that each group could present their task results, and I summarized the lesson. In every case, students were often ready to proceed with the next learning activity: WRITE.
WRITE has been a learning activity that often has come at the end of a week’s activities. The students have written and submitted writing assignments to me, which have required my feedback. This was another time-consuming moment in the initial weeks of the course but became shorter as the course has progressed. However, this was an element of the course that I have already been doing for several years, and the last three years via asynchronous video-feedback via screen-sharing (see my article “Teaching and Learning via Technology” (Gray, 2020).
In conclusion, it has been positive creating a student focused structure to teaching and learning, with students doing the reading, watching, and writing activities at home via the digital platforms and technology.
By redesigning my course and having each student prepare their individual learning activities at home, READ, WATCH, and WRITE, the classroom time in ZOOM was able to focus on student centred activities.
As the course facilitator, my main workload was in the preparation of WATCH and ZOOM, as well as weekly grading of WRITE to give constant formative Feedback. However, it was worth it to place the students in charge of their own learning.
by Adam Gray
This story is part of Multinclude Inclusion Stories about how equity is implemented in different educational environments across the globe. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Author is the winner of the 2017 Teacher Award at Malmo University. He teaches Academic English and Presentation Skills in the Centre for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (AKL) at MAU.