My Personal Experience of the Transition to Digital Education
in Conjunction with the Corona Pandemic
My Personal Experience of the Transition to Digital Education
In March of 2020, most of us teachers were thrown into an intensive process everything we do and teach online within a few days. With the madness of staying only a few hours ahead of the students, and often relying on them to help with technical issues, we somehow survived and continued teaching. However, one of the positive aspects was that, for the most part, we had already met many of our students and we all knew each other, university processes, and the online environment of the learning platform, Canvas. Relationships had been established, and we could jump right into teaching and learning via the new learning tool, ZOOM.
However, with the start of the Autumn semester of 2020, one thing has been on the minds of most of us: How do we start the courses and programs with new students? How do we have a successful kick-off and guide our students into the new academic year with greatest opportunities for success? At Malmö University in Sweden, teachers were lucky enough to be able to participate in seminars and workshops during June 2020, dealing with these issues and to brainstorm or hear from others about some best practices that might help out.
One didactic model that I had read about before was Gilly Salmon’s Five Stage Model “for online learning to be successful and happy” (Salmon, 2020). Additionally, some of my colleagues were inspired by this, as well as a Norwegian concept called “Julekalendar” [Christmas Calendar] (Bingen & Lid, 2012), and my colleagues created a “Digital introduktionskalender” [a digital introduction calendar] (Bergfelt, 2020), which were small short activities every day the first few weeks for the students to do online to guide them into the new academic year. The purpose of the Christmas Calendar and Introduction Calendar is to motivate students to start their studies online from the start of their studies and to arrange for students to collaborate in groups online (Bingen & Lid, 2012). The theoretical basis for the calendars is social culturalism. A socio-cultural learning perspective involves studying, learning, development, and communication on the basis that the human being is a social and cultural being (Bingen & Lid, 2012). Wenger (1998) elaborates on the social dimension of learning in the concept of community of practice, which consists of meaning (learning as experience), practice (learning as action), community (learning as participation) and identity (learning as development) (Bingen & Lid, 2012). Together, Bingen and Lin’s Christmas Calendar, Bergfelt’s Introduction Calendar, Salmon’s didactic modal, and the social-cultural learning theory gave me the inspiration that I needed to get started.
Salmon’s model consists of 5 stages:
Access and motivation
Each of these stages consists of two roles the teacher performs: 1) a form of technical support for the students, and 2) E-moderating the students’ progress (Salmon, 2020). For the digital start of Fall 2020, I used the first three stages of Salmon’s model. For my small course that are part time for the first 10 weeks, I began by creating some structures (ie scaffolding) that would guide the students and keep them motivated. In addition to digitalizing my class, I needed to flip the classroom so that the time needed for these student activities would be available. This was something that I had already done in Spring 2020 due to the Corona crisis.
With these experiences of the spring 2020 behind me, I could very quickly set up my new class in the “flipped classroom” structure. Knowing that I would only need 45 minutes in Zoom for each scheduled class, I realized that I could now design new tasks along Salmon’s Five Step Model and guide my new students into digital e-teaching and e-learning.
Step One of the model, “Access and Motivation” (Salmon, 2020), contains two points: giving the students access to the system (technical support) and motivating them to get started (e-moderating). It has been essential to plan instructions and activities well. Setting up the system and helping the access meant for me to send the students a short 15-minute film before they start the course so that they get a tour around the system and could begin to familiarize themselves, as well as welcoming them and encouraging them. Additionally, I kept the amount of information on Canvas to a minimum so as not to overwhelm the students before they come. They simply needed familiarity. Not only did they get an introduction to how I have chosen to structure Canvas, they also got the introductory information about the course.
In the first ZOOM session, 90% of students had already pre-watched this introductory video. Therefore, in this session I gave the students tasks to learn the basic skills of the ZOOM functions and toolbar, such as start video, mute, exit full screen, and add participants and chat windows. After a quick explanation, I sent them into Breakout Rooms to meet each other and to help each other find and play with these functions. When they returned to the main room, I taught them how to take screenshot and how to share the screenshots and documents, sending them into breakout rooms again to try this out. I was laying the foundation for how they would work in the ZOOM room with me, as most of our sessions together would be in the form of tasks and the instructions that they would need to take with them into breakout rooms. After these tasks, we moved on to some tasks that would have each breakout room exploring Canvas and making sure the students could find the homework (READ and WATCH) for the first lecture.
Giving them access to both Canvas and ZOOM and motivating them to feel successful in using these new tools meant that in our very first lesson in a ZOOM Room next time, they were fully functional and able to participate in the learning activities. Even when my WIFI cut out for 40 minutes, after I finally got a solid connection (via a LAN cable), they had been working and carrying on themselves, as well as getting to know each other.
Step Two in Salmon’s model is “Online Socialisation” (Salmon, 2020). In this step, it is important to teach the students how to send and receive messages in the two systems, as they become familiar with Canvas and ZOOM, as well as “providing bridges between cultural, social, and learning environments” (Salmon, 2020). In the next classes, time was spent sending messages to students in the various tools, such as chats, inboxes, reactions, etc. Each time I put them in breakout rooms and sent them messages, they learned from each other and sent back messages to me to request help from me, and I could visit each break out room. Thus, each student quickly learned the processes within these functions, as well as engaging in some important social time along the way.
Another important part of Step Two was to teach the students to create their own ZOOM account and to create their own platforms for meeting online. Also, I keep the same ZOOM room meeting link for the whole course, and students are able to meet up in that room at any time, even when I am not there. It was additionally important in these first two step for me to stay behind “after class” in the ZOOM room to address individual questions or just to be social and chat, giving the students a comfortable feeling about the online experience. As young people are familiar with other online platforms and enjoy social media, with a little instruction and encouragement, they take to it quickly. As Salmon also refers to this stage as Team Building (Salmon, 2020). They learn how to take part and to contribute to the class. This stage and the first were quite easy to do in the first week, taking only 45 minutes each stage, as well as sending and receiving messages outside of class.
In Step Three of Salmon’s model, the “Information Exchange” (Salmon, 2020) begins, if not already before. In my own class, students began interacting with the learning activities and learning outcomes already by the end of the second class (I only have two classes a week in this small course), and by the second week they begin to successfully interact pedagogically in the breakout rooms. The key here is for the teacher as “e-moderator” to design the breakout room tasks well, to give them enough time in the breakout rooms to struggle with the concepts and activities, to visit the rooms, to monitor progress without interfering too much (just be a supportive presence for a few minutes), and to bring everyone back for a summary or sharing of the group results. Key to it all is to let the students do the communicating. If the WATCH pre-recorded lectures have been well prepared and watched by the students, as well as the pre-assign readings in READ have been read by the students, then the students only need a quick introduction to the task. I also ask the students to take screenshots of the tasks before they go into their breakout rooms, as well as I have already uploaded the tasks to Canvas. At this stage, some students have already found the TASKS in Canvas and they are already partners in “Information Exchange” (Salmon, 2020). They can navigate around and are good at using the tools. The e-moderator only needs to be present once the preparation has been done, as the student can do the tasks quite well on their own. By this point, they also know how to find the materials in the different parts of Canvas and have started to understand the importance of taking responsibility for their own learning if they are to be successful. However, as moderator, I have scaffolded enough around them by this point that I only need to focus on the content of the learning activities because the students can handle the form by now.
Salmon’s model continues into two more stages that I don’t need to go into here, as they are moving to more meta levels of the course and the creation of and reflection on knowledge and their own learning (Salmon, 2020).
However, the first three stages of Salmon’s model are particularly important for guiding the students into the virtual world of e-learning. With good activities, training, and scaffolding in how to use the tools and building up the socialization process, the students move successfully in the online classroom that has been created.
However, after the start of the semester, I have seen a need to make new choices to set up a better structure. Like the Christmas Calendar (Bingen & Lid, 2012) and my colleagues Introduction Calendar (Bergfelt, 2020), I need to set up a similar introduction calendar earlier, perhaps beginning from the first day of registration (which is one week before the semester starts) and carrying on for two weeks. Bingen and Lid’s Christmas Calendar on the learning platform begins on December 1 and consists of 24 digital “doors” with short films and interactive activities where the students jointly solve small tasks, such as presenting themselves, etc. Teachers moderate and present themselves via small films. Bingen and Lid followed Salmon’s first three steps as I have done, but with more detail:
Calendar activities are divided into 5 activity-themes, incorporating the 3 first steps of Salmon’s model:
- We send an e-mail to the e-moderator (step one).
- We talk about the weather (step one).
- We get to know each other better (step two).
- We share and help each other (steps two and three).
- We study and learn (step three).
Step one: e-mail to the e-moderator, telling them about what it was like to log on, and everyone gets a personal greeting in return. Also, the e-moderator writes an open letter in a forum to everyone on a topic, such as the weather and gets a chat going, as well as small films about general university information are presented. (Bingen & Lid, 2012)
Step two: the students present themselves in a group Internet forum, giving and receiving feedback. The teachers present themselves via film, giving students assignments where they have to find different information on the learning platform. The students work in the group forum, helping each other solve these tasks. (Bingen & Lid, 2012)
Step Three: short films present study techniques, present learning activities in the learning platform, and present how students can get an overview of work assignments and adapt the learning platform to their own needs. On the group forum, students share their study experiences reguarding this. Students write in their group forum why they have chosen studies in their specific course/program. (Bingen & Lid, 2012)
To explain why I didn’t get quite as far as these calendar models, there was one worry that I had before I started the planning. Most of my colleagues teach in larger programs where they have their students for one to four years. I could understand why it was so important for these programs to take 2 or 4 weeks to really set up the students in these online environments, and how that was an important investment for the semesters to come. However, most of my students I only meet for 10 weeks in the independent courses that I teach. My concern was how much time could I devote to this model when I really needed every class hour to cover the content of the course and reach the learning outcomes. On the other hand, I also see the need for me to adequately prepare my students for the online environment. While I am happy with the start that I made in my own preparations, I want to continue to improve this digital introduction to my small courses, by creating such small films, activities, and tasks that will keep students logging for a few minutes in every day
In conclusion, by flipping my classroom in Spring of 2020, I have only needed only 45 minutes for course content activities. Thus, although my new semester introduction has not been as well structured as Christmas Calendar or Introduction Calendar, I have had time the first few weeks of classes for another 45 minutes for the scaffolding of Salmon’s first three stages, helping develop my students’ access to the platforms, improving their motivation, and providing bridges for their online socialisation and develop their security and motivation for participation in online studies.
by Adam Gray
Salmon, G. (2020). The Five Stage Model. Retrieved September 9th, 2020, from Gilly Salmon: https://www.gillysalmon.com/five-stage-model.html
Bingen, H. M., & Lid, R. (2012). Hvordan kan en digital julekalender bidra till trygghet og motivasjon till å skrive og samarbeide på nett? [How can a digital Christmas calendar contribute to feeling safe and motivated to write and cooperate online?]. Uniped, 35, 69-86. Retrieved from Uniped: https://doaj.org/article/815a96e8cb71421a8754a63c449437d3
Bergfelt, J. (2020). Digital introducktionskalendaer (Digital Introduction Calendar). Workshop: Att introducera studenter digitalt (SE) [Introducing Students Digitally]. (June 2020). Malmö, Sweden: The Center for Teaching and Learning, Malmö University.
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..