Teaching online

Key Issues: Teaching online

This section of the Key Issues contains answers for questions related to the specific considerations of teaching in blended and online courses, such as how to moderate a forum, how to incorporate teaching assistants, tutors or Course Coaches, and how to facilitate productive online group work.

  1. Are there ways to run tutorials and contact sessions online?
  2. I have been told that online learning allows me to track how much each student is engaging with the material - what will learning analytics be able to tell me?
  3. What kind of support do I need to put in place if my course is being taught online?
  4. How can I best involve teaching assistants and tutors when setting up my online courses?
  5. How can I make sure that online learning does not unfairly advantage some students over others?
  6. How can I get to know my class, and create a connection with them if I am not meeting them face-to-face for lectures?
  7. Teaching face-to-face allows me to read the mood of the class and adjust my teaching accordingly. Can any online teaching methods provide that same kind of dynamic learner feedback?
  8. How do I cater for students with poor interconnectivity or problems with the cost of data?

If you don't find the information you're looking for in these questions, please check the other sections of the Key Issues (Getting started, Creating resources, Assessment) or email CILT at cilt@uct.ac.za and we'll do our best to add it to the guide.

 


1. Are there ways to run tutorials and contact sessions online?

Synchronous video (webinars) are a good tool to run online tutorial and contact sessions, and are already used by online educators at UCT. Adobe Connect and Skype for Business are supported by ICTS, but there are other platforms such as Zoom and GoToWebinar. Before running a synchronised session make sure ALL your students are able to get online at the scheduled time; and provide an adequate non-synchronous alternative (e.g. a recording). If there is a risk that some students will not have adequate access, don't make participation compulsory. Preparation is essential, including proper testing, support while the live session is running and a back-up plan. Having live sessions as part of online teaching is a powerful way of building a shared learning community and connection with students.

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In the audio clip below (from 6:10 to 8:26), Stefan Britz from the Department of Statistical Sciences explains their experiences of setting up a GoToWebinar session consultation (a synchronous video platform) to help students revise for their exams.

  • ICTS provides the following tools for online webinars:

  • A major affordance of blended and online education is the ability to use multimedia resources, particularly video, in your teaching. Video is a particularly effective teaching tool when used to introduce a topic and reinforce lecturer presence.

    Synchronous or live video (also known as video conferencing) is a valuable tool for building rapport with your students and establishing presence, provides an opportunity for dynamic Q&A, and gives your students a chance to hear from one another in a more dynamic space than an asynchronous forum. This makes it a good tool for running tutorials with small groups, or for virtual ‘contact’ sessions (similar to standard office hours). Read more...

  • Documents and templates

    CILT and ICTS has produced the following resources on video conferencing:

    Video

 


2. I have been told that teaching online allows me to track how much each students is engaging with the material - what will learning analytics be able to tell me?

Vula has access metrics that can track how many times a student accesses the course site, how often they comment on the forums, view the materials, and when they submit assignments. Consider how this will help you support students, and what this data won't be able to tell you about the students' experience. Using technology to ask students how they are doing (e.g. a poll; anonymous Q&A spaces; online offices hours) is another way of making use of this space to better connect with students.

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If a student has not been in Vula for the whole month, and then all of a sudden finds out that their assignment is due for tomorrow, and does a very mediocre attempt, that’s not part of the process of learning. Now in a face-to-face lecture you would not know if the student was in class as well… so in a way digital or online learning helps a little bit because you can see that this student hasn’t been on Vula. We use the stats on Vula to see that this student hasn’t been on Vula, let’s contact this student to see what’s happening.
- A/Prof Ilse Lubbe, College of Accounting

(Or listen to the audio below)

[T]he data we get is so brilliant, because you can work out exactly… the way you can analyse your test results by who’s downloaded this who hasn’t read that, how much time did they actually spend, it’s so good. You can see what students are saying to one another if they use the discussion forums so it gives us much more information on our students so long as we build it all properly.
- Alison Meadows, School of Management Studies

 

3. What kind of support do I need to put in place if my course is being taught online?

Given many of your students are likely to be first-time online learners, additional technical and administrative support, such as provided by a course coach or team of senior tutors, will certainly help in keeping your students on-track with their learning. A key aspect will be providing your students with opportunities to engage with you, with other students and with any other support they may need (e.g. the Writing Centre or the Library). Providing multiple, easy-to-use channels in which students can get in touch with you or the tutors, and where they can give input about what they need could be built into your engagements. Have a communications strategy (such as weekly announcements or reminder emails) to motivate your students to work consistently, and build two-way channels to encourage them to let you know how they are doing.

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In an online community, finding support for your work is not as simple as turning to the person next to you and saying ‘hey did you get that thing?’ As a lecturer and a learning designer, you have to create support spaces and getting people to recognise that. In a way that’s really good because people should be creating those support spaces in the face-to-face spaces as well, but they don’t. They rely on the networks around them to do that. But in the absence or paucity of those networks they have to create them. Whether that’s reading guides, or little introductory video for the reading, or a shaping task. For me in an online space, every key thing must come with support.
- Shanali Govender, Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching


(Or listen to the audio below) 

 


4. How can I best involve teaching assistants and tutors when setting up my online courses?

Students learning in an online mode usually need additional support. Having a teaching team works very well to ensure there is sufficient teaching presence on the course throughout. Since the online mode allows more flexibility for students to engage with the content and learning activities, there should be care that there are teaching staff around to respond to student queries and to support their engagement. An agreement about roles on the course, and a roster outlining when different members of the team are online, will go a long way to build effective student-teacher relationships. If you expect tutors to facilitate online groups, special training should be provided to build their confidence in the online space.

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But the other thing with blended and very big course, is linking your tutors to the students, and keeping in touch with the tutors, so we spend quite a lot of time training the tutors and meeting with them weekly and so on. I think that’s an aspect of online that one doesn’t necessarily anticipate, that there may be more effort going into preparing tutors … because they may be the only support face-to-face that your students are getting, and then you want to make sure that it’s a good ‘face’ that they’re seeing, that you’ve supported them well.
- A/Prof Leanne Scott, Department of Statistical Sciences

  • Depending on their digital literacy and familiarity with LMS systems your students may not know where to find static support resources like FAQ pages, or may have more fundamental problems with pacing their learning. These students will likely need timely, active support to thrive in their studies. Active support consists of contacting students who are at risk of falling behind early, and following up with direct communication (emails, SMS messages or phone calls). These students can be tracked using LMS metrics. Read more...

  • Documents and templates

    Video

    Other

 


5. How can I make sure that online teaching does not unfairly advantage some students over others?

Like in regular classrooms, online learning tends to reinforce existing advantages and disadvantages. You have a responsibility to actively reduce any further barriers to learning when creating online courses. More advantaged students are likely to have fewer problems with accessibility and data costs, may have greater digital literacy, and are more likely to have experience with online education in general.

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The whole issue that some students will respond well to [online education] and others won't, and how's one going to handle that, and are you going to have alternate routes for... because now we're beginning to think we might need more face-to-face for some students and accept that some students don't need any, and how to accommodate that.
- Leanne Scott

  • Lack of support has been cited (de Freitas, Morgan & Gibson, 2015) as a factor in the high drop-out rate observed in online courses, particularly in MOOCs. Students frequently cite a similar set of reasons for dropping out, including feelings of isolation and a perceived lack of community, difficulties in accessing, navigating and using the content, and the standard academic problems of struggling with the course content itself. Online students lack the opportunity of receiving casual support from peers and teachers that face-to-face instruction facilitates, and so support for online courses needs to be strategised from the design phase, employing both static and active support mechanisms. Read more...

  • Blog

    https://www.tonybates.ca/2019/04/29/rethinking-the-purpose-of-online-learning-3-supporting-disadvantaged-learners/

    Documents & templates

 


6. How can I get to know my class, and create a connection with them if I am not meeting them face-to-face for lectures?

Make sure the orientation activities place emphasis on social engagement between students and with the lecturers - either face-to-face (i.e. in tutorials) or online. Once the course is running, consider building in some synchronised activities to bring the class together in real time. Live video (webinars) are good for building rapport, but make sure that everyone is able to connect before making any of the live engagements compulsory. A weekly check-in webinar can be a good place to build a sense of community. If time, connectivity or course design don't support regular synchronous communication, active use of the forums is a way of learning more about your students and letting them know you are following them closely. Live chat sessions or live 'office hours' where you are available to respond to questions via a forum, chat or even WhatsApp can also be used as they are less data intensive. Basically, getting to know you students and what they need is a high priority, so you can adapt your teaching appropriately. It becomes even more important when you are not meeting them regularly in a classroom or tutorial setting.

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I’m thinking of what our students are telling us in terms of what does and does not work in face-to-face classrooms. And one of the things we’re hearing over and over again is that connection matters. My biggest fear in the online space is that people won’t do the connection work and will just end up with more disillusioned and alienated students than we currently have. And it’ll be easier for people to ignore that because the bodies aren’t there.
- Shanali Govender, Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching
 
(Or listen to the audio below)

 


7. Teaching face-to-face allows me to read the mood of the class and adjust my teaching accordingly. Can any online teaching methods provide that same kind of dynamic learner feedback?

Having a live presentation/ lecture comes closest to replicating face-to-face teaching but this mode should be used cautiously because of potential problems with connectivity. Scheduling live sessions (for instance to answer questions or demonstrate solutions) allows for immediate student engagement and could be set up if you can test that it works for everyone in your class. Polls, live chatroom sessions or even synchronised forum discussions can create a dynamic learning experience. Students can record video and voice notes, and lecturers can give feedback via video and voice notes to increase the personal feel of engagement.

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In this recording, Anna Malcyk discusses the toolkit of online teaching tools the Graduate School of Business uses to support their students.

  • The following tools can bring dynamism to your online classes:

    • Mentimeter - Create live polls displaying results from questions or challenges
    • Socrative - Getting live responses or feedback in the classroom
    • Kahoot - Gaming through quizzes
    • Padlet - sharing visuals
  • Online courses do not erase the need for good, knowledgeable and responsive teaching - in fact, numerous studies (Dixson, 2010, Joyner et al., 2014, Russell, 2013) have indicated the need for the students to perceive the lecturer as being present in the course, as the nature of online education and the lack of face-to-face contact can leave students feeling isolated or disconnected from their teachers and fellow students. Read more...

  • Blog

    Documents and templates

    Video

    Readings

 


8. How do I cater for students with poor interconnectivity or problems with the cost of data?

Communicate with your students and find out as much as possible about students' access. Focus on content-comprehensive but simply-designed text resources if your students have connectivity issues. If you need to use video materials, aim to provide transcripts or audio-only versions for students with low bandwidth; make it possible for video to be downloaded or provide the video on a USB drive. Asynchronous, text-based instruction requires the least data to access and download, and can be most easily saved to work on in periods of low connectivity. Forums can still be used for collaboration and communication as they are typically not data-intensive. If you do use live video, try and record the videos for later viewing and/or make them supplemental or optional rather than core to the course assessment.

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in this video, Aditi Hunma explains how they incorporated on-premises lab sessions for their blended course to cater for students with low connectivity at home:

 

  • Blended and online learning presupposes that your students have some level of access to a computer or mobile device. However, many students in South Africa do not have consistent, high-speed, stable internet access. Their ability to watch long high-resolution videos or engage in synchronous learning activities (such as webinars) may therefore be limited when they are off campus and away from the computer labs and high-speed internet provided at UCT. While all of these factors will make their online learning experience more difficult, there are ways of organising your course content, particularly in the creation or use of certain kinds of materials and the balance of synchronous/asynchronous activities, that can make learning easier for students with limited connectivity. Read more...

 


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