Let’s not waste a good pandemic!

Cartoon showing students learning online around a laptop

What lessons have I learnt from teaching through a pandemic? There can be no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the face of education with a move to remote, hybrid or blended learning approaches. However, a benefit of this is that students can now learn at their own pace, work more independently. From my own experience teaching in higher education, they have often become better problem solvers.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt from moving my teaching online is that less is often more. Simply putting a 50-minute video recording online and telling students to watch it and learn the content is not online teaching; it’s a vehicle to surface learning! The pandemic forced me to think about what was important for my students to know and to really understand to be successful in my subject area. This allowed me to target my teaching much more specifically to meet these learning outcomes. Much of the addition, dare I say, nice to know information can be provided at additional reading for students who wish to delve more deeply into a subject. In fact, I think this is a better educational model because you will distinguish better those students who have gone the extra mile and start to develop the habit of independent study, which will lead to lifelong learners.

One of the big challenges of remote teaching, for me, has been fostering student-student interaction. A lesson I learnt early on is that while breakout rooms have a place, simply allocating students to groups and asking them to work collaboratively on a task does not really work. You need to provide carefully constructed tasks with very clear guidelines and hold the groups accountable for reporting back to the main group somehow. One of the most successful ways of doing this, I found, was to give each group a very specific subtask of the overall project and to then post their findings and discussions to a Padlet site for that task. This has the benefit of allowing groups to post anonymously as they only know the students in their own group and ensure that there is accountability and reason to participate. Once all groups have posted, the larger picture becomes clearer. You can then allow students to post their thoughts on other aspects of the project, which helps develop that peer-instruction element that has been challenging to replicate in the virtual world.

Connections, connections, connections! Making sure you develop a relationship with your students is fundamental for online success. That isn’t just your personal academic mentees/tutees, but the cohort at large. No, you cannot get to know 200+ students individually, but making an effort to reply to some of the posts on discussion boards, answering emails and just checking in to see how students are doing all goes a really long way to making them feel part of the university community. Staff and student mental well-being has taken an absolute battering this past year, so remember to be kind!

This isn’t an exhaustive list of lessons learned, just a few of the big ones for me, but certainly, the way I approach teaching in the post-pandemic world will be very different. I’d love to hear your success stories, so please leave them in the comments below.