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Remote teaching: engaging students through lecture chunking and interactivity


Dr Saloni Krishnan, Department of Psychology

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most university lectures in the penultimate and final weeks of the spring term for 2020 were moved online. My last lecture for a first year psychology course was affected, and I had to change my plan for a regular “live” lecture to a recorded online lecture. The first challenge was that half of my lecture was meant to be revision, bringing together concepts they had encountered across the module and giving them examples of exam questions. The other challenge was that the lecture was quite interactive, and was meant to be led by student discussion.

I decided to deliver this lecture in parts, rather than as one whole 2-hour chunk. I'd read that this makes things more manageable for students with poor internet connections. I was able to finish a chunk with a directive to complete an interactive activity on Moodle. This allowed me to bring back some of the interaction. I consciously decided not to listen and re-record parts to make it “perfect”, hence bringing it closer to a real lecture (and saving some time). I mostly stuck to this model, although I did do a couple of re-takes at the start as I wasn’t used to lecturing without an audience. I was familiar with Panopto as I tend to deliver my lectures from my own laptop, so this wasn’t an issue I faced. 

I set up 3 different activities that students could complete in their own time. Two of these involved applying material they encountered in the lecture to judge the type and quality of evidence involved. I set up simple discussion forums for both of these activities. I encouraged students to use these forums, and monitored them regularly, posting responses to student responses (although I did set a deadline for the end of term on this). A fair few students did have a go, and this number increased when students saw that I was responding to their answers. Another activity was a drag-and-drop exercise involving creating the correct hierarchy of evidence (a key concept I was illustrating), for which they could receive immediate feedback. I didn't know Moodle had this tool - it's one that I might use in regular lectures later.

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Finally, I used Mentimeter to deliver an online live quiz. The rationale was that I didn’t want students to have permanent access to the questions, as some of them were drawn from the MCQ database. I also wanted to encourage some level of live interaction, so students would know I was available and responsive. The quiz link and QR code was embedded in the lecture, and I also sent a message via the lecture forum about 10 minutes before it was due to start. I had a fair number of students join in, and it was nice to see that they were on track with their learning (although I recognise the selection bias inherent here). Although this worked well, I did miss the chance to interact with their responses, like explain common errors, or congratulate them when a majority got their responses right. Also Mentimeter had a quiz limit with a free account, which was a bit of an annoyance.

None of the activities were mandatory as this was only to help students integrate material, but wasn’t essential. I made students aware of this, and also encouraged them to take care of themselves in the first case (I was aware some students were trying to get back to their home countries while borders were closing, facing quarantine etc.) – and this wasn’t their first priority.

There was a lot of administration involved in setting up this lecture. Students needed to know when the lectures would be available. I mentioned the quiz about a week in advance of posting the lecture. When I posted the lecture, I also posted an overview of the multiple parts, and clearly signposted the activities they would need to complete. I also reminded them about the online quiz. Finally, at the end of the quiz, I used the forum to announce the “winner” and also direct them to a specimen paper on Moodle they could look at if they wanted. 

All in all, after my initial fears about the the move to online teaching, I quite enjoyed delivering this lecture. It was lovely to see students log on for the online Moodle quiz – it reminded me about how motivated students can be. The Moodle forums now highlight great examples of how students think through an applied exercise. If I had to do this again, I think I would like to set up some form of a live chat alongside the lecture, where students could also post questions, and we could have a live discussion.

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