Tips and Tools for Online Teaching and Learning
- By Mr Simangaliso Bayabonga Zulu
The global spread of COVID-19 has put governments and universities under severe pressure. Academic programmes have been disrupted, with students forced to remain at home. Online teaching and learning is the only way to adhere to the academic calendar, with technology the vehicle to drive this change. However, this has presented challenges to both students and academics.
The decision to move classes online has raised a number of questions. Is this the right time to make that call? On what basis? How easy is it to make the transition? Another major question is institutional capacity. Are universities able to support thousands of students and instructors in suddenly moving to online teaching? In order to make a wise decision, one needs to consult. Campus wide Advisory Committees which included government officials, international and local education experts, student representative councils, etc. were set up for this purpose.
What to do and where to start
To deal with the unexpected transition, this article offers advice to academics to assist them in achieving the twin goal of maintaining instructional continuity as much as possible and completing the academic year.
1. Begin by going over your course assignments for the coming weeks. Are they accessible online, so that students can find the content and materials they require? Is it clear how students will submit their work? Have deadlines been amended and have all of these issues been communicated to students and posted online?
2. How will you give feedback on progress? Consider how you give students opportunities for practice and feedback, for both small-stake and high-stake assignments. For instance, students could develop their analytical skills through collaborative annotation of assigned readings. Perusall is a free tool for this purpose. Online discussion forums or quizzes, and feedback on students’ responses could also be useful.
3. Move on to the in-class experience. This is the stage where you decide what digital tool to use to deliver content to students at home. In particular, you have to decide whether to choose a synchronous means of engagement, ie, live Zoom meetings, or an asynchronous one, ie, a voice recorder or narrated videos or a combination of the two.
4. Consider the course materials. Many readings and materials already exist in a digital form and may have been posted online. However, there is still a need to double-check that readings, videos, problem sets, quizzes, and the like are accessible, along with key documents such as the course syllabus and calendar.
5. Once all of the above have been dealt with, the name of the game is communication. Given the uncertainty surrounding online learning, you still need to explain as clearly as you can and in a variety of ways. Explain to students what they can expect over the next few weeks. Make sure you cover what students are responsible for and where they can find the resources to fulfil these responsibilities. Finally, list the sequential steps they should follow. Ensure that the lines of communications are two-way. You could also offer additional ways students can keep in touch with you such as SMS, WhatsApp, any messaging app, email, or video call, to name but a few.
How to be an effective online teacher
In order to be an effective online teacher, you need to keep it simple and build and maintain as much contact with students as possible. While some academics may not see the value of teaching online and many may not know how to do so, you have time to learn. The following principles, practices and resources will assist academics:
1. Show up to class: Effective teaching requires a teacher to be in class. Engage with students in a number of teaching activities such as explaining, guiding, asking, illustrating, and answering questions. Arrive early to set up for online class and stay a few minutes afterwards to talk one-on-one with students who need additional support.
2. Be Yourself: In an online classroom, one’s teaching style can get lost in translation. The solution is to display your personality and passion in ways that are genuine. Be human. Remember to tell students ‘I am here to help’.
3. Put Yourself in Students’ Shoes: In teaching online, visualise students as part of a class. Ask a trusted colleague to evaluate your online class.
4. Organise Course Content Intuitively: When organising course materials, think about your students. Generally, online students become confused, frustrated, and disengaged because you or the campus learning management system, ie, Moodle make it too hard to find the content and activities. When students use a lot of cognitive resources to figure out where to go to find readings, videos, quizzes, they have little mental energy left for the content. Discouraged and/or irritated students are less likely to learn. Strive for course organisation that is clear, methodical, and intuitive.
5. Add Visual Appeal: Your online course should not be dry, boring, and unappealing. People are more likely to want to be in a space if it is pleasant to look at. Online courses that are visually attractive encourage students to engage more frequently and meaningfully. The following is a public link to a visually effective online course: Modern Mythology and Geek Culture. Take note of the visual impact of the home page, then click around to observe its logical, student-friendly organisation.
6. Explain Your Expectations: When assigning a task write down the directions. Provide a rubric. Make an informal two-minute explainer video to flesh out some details of an assignment. Share an example of student work that earned top marks.
7. Scaffold Learning Activities: Creativity is required to help students to succeed. Scaffolding does not happen naturally in an online class. Build with students, step by systematic step. For example, during the dry run phase of e-learning, ask students to send you messages using Moodle chats, Microsoft teams, emails etc, so that they know how to do this later. Ask them to answer a question about the syllabus through these channels. Reply with a short personal greeting so that they know you received the message and are available to help. Another example is to ask students to upload a PDF file of their handwritten work solving the first step of a problem. This exercise will help them learn how to export a Microsoft word file into a PDF file, and how to submit it as an assignment in the learning management system.
Finally, ask for help when you need it. There is no need to travel this journey alone. Take advantage of online tools and support. Collaborate with campus experts to refine your approach. Seek an experienced online teaching mentor. Teaching online is different from teaching in person. Find someone who does it well and learn from them. Interact with others who are grappling with the same teaching issues in order to gain insights and ideas.
While teachers deliver content, technology enables students to study from home. Technology should be thoughtfully applied. The numerous online and teaching and feedback tools include Google Classroom, Moodle, Kaltura, Desire2learn, Microsoft Teams page, PowerPoint screen recording, Zoom page, VLC video compression, UETL page, Handbrake etc. The following applications could assist you in providing online teaching solutions and feedback to students. You should also check with your department what tools are available.
Free online teaching and learning tools
1. SoundCloud: An easy audio-recording solution where students simply click an arrow and play a teacher’s recording.
2. Vocaroo: A premier, reliable recording service that is PC-user friendly. Once recorded, the link to the recording is immediately available to send to your students.
3. Screencast-O-Matic: A digital tool that records up to 15 minutes. Screencast-O-Matic is editable and is simple and intuitive. Students can be added for group discussions, individual sessions, etc. Sessions can be saved and viewed anytime.
4. Kaizena: A feedback digital tool for Google documents that enables the lecturer to provide verbal feedback directly on student documents and track their progress by comparing their feedback history over multiple assignments. It is 75% faster than typing with Voice Comments.
5. Screencastify: Enables the lecturer to easily record, edit, and share videos. A screen recorder for Chrome (via extension) requires no download.
Paid online teaching and learning tools
The following online teaching and learning solutions require universities to purchase a license. These applications are user friendly and allow users to work any place at any time.
1. VoiceThread: This learning tool enables the lecturer and students to participate in a pre-uploaded presentation by providing text, audio, and/or video discussions. VoiceThread fills the social presence gap in e-learning interactions. It offers natural online interaction that lends itself to students presenting and defending their work before teachers and peers.
2. Snagit: A screenshot programme offered by TechSmith that captures both video and audio. It brings a human element to teaching and enables interactive content to be made available online. Teachers can build a dynamic online presence by making personalised videos to explain their content, introduce themes, record video lessons, and capture lectures online that students can review later.
3. Camtasia: Another programme by TechSmith that allows users to create video via screencast or direct recording.
4. Panopto: Offers recording, screencasting, and video streaming. Panopto is the easiest way to record video presentations, manage your existing video files, and stream your video content to any device.
5. Hippo Video: An all-in-one, cloud-based, video-management system that allows users to capture, edit, and share video, audio, and screen recordings. This is a virtual classroom online with a video platform. Lecturers can create interactive videos and students can do online presentations.
Mr Simangaliso Bayabonga Zulu is an Academic Development Officer in the College of Law and Management Studies: School of Management, IT and Governance on the PMB campus. In this position his role is to provide academic support to students in terms of module content concerns that students may experience such as challenges in understanding concepts, application of theories, calculations and so on. In these disruptive times and transitioning to e-learning, he is providing these in a virtual context. He holds a BSS, PGCE, BCom Honours and Masters in Commerce all from UKZN.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (2020) Moving online. How to keep teaching during coronavirus. Special collection. Washington, DC: Chronicle.com