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Online teaching in the Library


Greg Leurs and Eva Dann, Library Academic Liaison Team

At Royal Holloway Library we have been delivering teaching online over this academic year and have staff members with a specialisation in online teaching and learning. A lot of our practice has been informed by work we did with the RH100 panel, specifically on students’ expectations of what online learning and teaching should look like, and by feedback from surveys of students who’ve attended our webinars.

There were several clear themes in the feedback. Students did not want to be ‘lectured’ at for extended periods of time. If they were given some information, they wanted to be able to do something with it where possible, and to be tested as to whether they had understood it. There was a clear expectation that online teaching should be engaging and interactive.

Our online teaching is part of a wider strategy, informed by our Information Literacy Framework, which combines face-to-face lectures, workshops, webinars, our subject guides and Moodle space to give students 24‑hour access to learning resources. This strategy allows them to gain essential skills in researching effectively, critical evaluation and referencing. The aim is to deliver synchronous and asynchronous learning and teaching opportunities for students at point of need.

To deliver our online teaching, we have been using Adobe Connect, a virtual classroom platform which integrates into Moodle. This tool provides a wider range of functionality and features than Panopto and MS Teams currently do.

When planning our online teaching we’ve taken the perspective that the online teaching environment is completely different to face-to-face teaching. Rather than replicating a face-to-face lesson online, we look at the learning outcomes and find solutions to how we can help students achieve them.

When planning activities, we were mindful of whether the activity could be done at scale, and how would could assess students’ learning during or after a session. We often started webinars with a diagnostic poll or quick activity which gauged the student’s current level of confidence or understanding with a topic. For example, we might ask them to spot an error in a reference or share a Boolean search. We then structured the rest of the session around the “Tell them/Show them/Involve them” principle.

 

Tell them

The obvious and seemingly easiest method of teaching online is to tell the students the information you want them to know. However, in an online environment this puts a lot of pressure on the teacher to maintain an engaging and interesting speaking style. Lacking visual prompts from your audience also makes it difficult to gauge understanding and engagement from this method of teaching alone. One tip is to use open ended questioning to engage the audience with the topic and build in very short breaks and invite them to explain aspects of the content back to you either verbally or in the chat.

To offset some of these issues we have used the following methods to communicate content to students and have paired them with an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the information:

-          We have pre-recorded elements of a session that we can then get students to watch either before, during or after a timetabled session. These can take the form of a ‘talking head’ video, or other formats. For example, we have used the following videos when introducing LibrarySearch, Phrase Searching and critical evaluation. This has been particularly useful for students with unreliable internet access as they can watch them in their own time. It is also appreciated by international students who may not have English as their first language, and students with disabilities, as it gives them the chance to pause it and go backwards and forwards. The videos are also captioned to help with accessibility. Videos can be hosted on YouTube and embedded on Moodle, and the links to them can be shared directly with students during a session.

-          Another method we’ve used is asking students to read something before, during or after a session. This could be a website, blog, journal article, book chapter or a section of our Moodle space. This method has the same advantages of inclusivity and accessibility mentioned before and can also be used to support discussion and other interactive elements of the session, such as completing an activity judging a resource’s reliability. Furthermore, it allows for students to take some ownership of their learning and develop skills outside of timetabled guided teaching. 

The rationale behind this is that we are providing information in a range of formats, which can be accessed outside of the live element of the teaching. It goes some way to addressing issues with accessibility, language barriers and potentially unreliable internet. It also takes pressure off the teacher to be verbally engaging for extended periods of time.

 

Show them/Show you

Most webinar software allows users to share images of their screens in some capacity. This provides a means for teachers to show websites, Word documents, articles or any other displayable materials to their students. It is also possible to video yourself or record a screen capture of a practical demonstration to share before, during or after a live teaching session. The strength of this is that you can share examples of how to apply knowledge, thus removing the need to verbally explain a concept several ways to ensure universal understanding and also allowing you to communicate information in a variety of formats.

This can also be done by students. They are able to share their own screens to deliver a presentation or demonstrate their application of a skill or knowledge. However, there is a difficulty with delivering this at scale, and relies on students being competent with the software.

We have previously applied this principle to demonstrating how to use LibrarySearch, specific databases and referencing software and have also invited students to share their own screen to demonstrate their searching capabilities in LibrarySearch and databases.

 

Involve them

On the surface, one of the biggest challenges for online teaching is creating effective and engaging activities. However, there are a range of tools at your disposal to help create interesting activities. With each activity we try to build in some form of informal formative assessment, so we have an indication of the students’ level of comprehension. Adobe Connect allows us to automatically load webpages with these activities onto students’ screens.

However, this currently isn’t possible in MS Teams and it is important to have backup strategies in case the technology fails. If the automated loading of pages does not work, we can share direct links with students in a live chat box, on Moodle or by email to access during a session. Below are some of the examples we have utilised in our webinars.

-          Padlet (https://en-gb.padlet.com/) –During a teaching session you can invite people to add notes, images and videos. People can then rate and comment on the posts. This is useful for people to share work or ideas and have their peers’ feedback on it. We have also shared a Padlet before a session so students can submit questions before hand, or afterwards so they can share what their biggest ‘sticking point’ was and we can signpost them to further support. We have used this effectively as part of our teaching on developing search terms. https://padlet.com/library2/qlj52nussq

 -          Mentimeter (https://www.mentimeter.com/) – This polling software allows you to ask a range of question types live during a session. It is a great way for students to give feedback and share ideas but also for teachers to conduct simple assessment on students’ learning. Adobe Connect does provide some simple polling tools, but Mentimeter has been useful for word clouds, ranking, voting and other type of questions. We have used this to gauge students’ level of confidence in a topic, develop search terms a group and rank the reliability of different resources. Mentimeter only allows you to have up to 4 questions per poll, and similar software, Poll Everywhere (https://www.polleverywhere.com/) limits the number of responses people can submit.

 -          Moodle –Moodle has a wide range of tools that you can use to create resources which you can then share with students during a live teaching session. One of the key tools we have been using is H5P which allows you to create a wide range of interactive activities. This has advantages over other methods of creating activities as H5P activities are accessible for screen readers. We have created activities on referencing, fake news, using LibrarySearch and advanced searching. Each of the activities has feedback built into them based on the students’ responses and can be used before, during or after live online teaching sessions.

 At the end of sessions we usually revisit the diagnostic activity at the start and can directly compare students’ responses. We also will signpost them to further activities and support that is available.

 

Future plans

Teaching encompasses three forms of interaction where information travels both ways in each case: interaction between the instructor and the students; interaction of the students with the content; and peer-to-peer interaction between the students.

In an online teaching context, students can often feel isolated and separated from their fellow students. Appropriate use of activities permits students to collaborate, peer-review each other’s work and ideas, and change the direction of communication. Adobe Connect allows you to create “break-out” rooms, where small groups can work together, and we are looking into ways where we can create safe digital spaces for students to collaborate. Moodle offers the option to create forums where you can set questions or discussion points as directives for students’ participation either before, during or after a teaching session. Google Docs is also a useful tool for allowing groups of students to work collaboratively on a piece of work, but this is an area we are looking to develop more with our own digital offering. We are also in the process of enhancing our Moodle resources and the range of Moodle activities we can utilise during live teaching sessions. Finally, we want to make better use of the assessment data we collect to inform future sessions and try and make the learning experience more personal for students.

Online teaching is still a relatively new field, and many pedagogies for teaching online are experimental. Nobody should be afraid to try new things - remember to experiment and be creative. This is an opportunity to really enrich the student learning experience going forwards.

Our Academic Liaison Team can be contacted at libraryliaison@rhul.ac.uk if you have any questions or want to discuss any information covered here.

 

 

See other case studies on our Curriculum Design page