As we start hoping to move toward more in-person classes, again, and online classes become a matter of intentional choice, it’s a good time to start gathering perspectives on what makes a strong online class. What will be most engaging to students who have been through involuntary emergency remote learning? What should instructors who want to create durable online learning focus on, once they have time to do so? One perspective that might be useful to LSA has come out of the National University of Singapore, and the teaching team who moved a large-enrollment course online during the pandemic.
From that team’s experiences, engaging online courses have several common elements: they have strong, regular student-teacher interaction; they have regular check-ins, in real-time when possible, to gauge student reactions and understanding; and they use student-to-student interaction to encourage learning.
Creating a social connection is, perhaps, the most important thing for online courses. Something as simple as starting the term with an ice breaker immediately helps students attach personhood to the names of fellow students. Similarly, a quick chat session on a social topic, to start a synchronous class session, helps students feel comfortable using the chat tool for asking questions later on. The instructor should make sure to be visible on camera, for recordings or live sessions, with the best lighting possible and a good microphone pick-up. It’s even better if the instructor can stand and use hand and body movements to express themselves; lectures with body language become more engaging and humanized. This might be accomplished by using an LSA studio space to record material or a Lecture Capture classroom to hold a synchronous session.
Making time to check in with students, to see how they are responding and whether they understand the material is also an important factor in online class success. This can even be done in an asynchronous course! Polling software is an excellent way to gather live responses during a Zoom session. Kaltura’s In-Video Quiz feature allows such check-ins during recorded material also, and captures student answers for instructors to respond to. iClicker’s new Assignments feature is designed to do the same thing.
It will surprise no one that the NUS teaching team also found that student-to-student interaction is vital to the success of an online class. Using Zoom breakout rooms, during synchronous sessions, will encourage students to connect with each other by working in small, manageable groups where they can have something very close to in-person interaction. Having each group’s notetaker or leader report back to the rest of the class after the breakout sessions have ended will connect the groups to the larger class and let students benefit from each other’s insight. In an asynchronous course, the same benefits can be gained by using small or multi-stage peer-review assignments, or by using the Canvas group work spaces to let students interact outside of the course site. Small groups and pairs can often find times to have their own synchronous meetings, outside of class, even when students are in different time zones or different countries.
If you’re thinking about teaching online courses in the future, now is a good time to listen to the insights and perspectives of fellow faculty and of students who have also experienced the good and bad of emergency remote teaching. One great source of such discussions is coming up very shortly! You can register now for Enriching Scholarship, which will include speakers from some of our peer institutions this year.
Always feel free to reach out to LSA’s own Learning and Teaching Consultants, as well. We can help you plan your courses and create your materials, for both in-person and online teaching. We’re always happy to hear from you! The Teaching Tips may be going on summer break, but LTC is still on the job.
Fung, Fun Man, Ng Tao Tao Magdeline, Robert K Kamei. “How to create engaging online learning amid COVID-19 pandemic: lessons from Singapore.” The Conversation. Accessed June 10, 2020.