By Darina Slattery.
Reading time: ~4 minutes.
Hello, and welcome to this week’s LTF blog postings. My name is Darina Slattery and I’ve been teaching online for over a decade. During that time, I’ve identified a number of strategies that work well for me. I’ve learned some of them the hard way and I’ve learned others through my research into best practice in online education.
Given the vast collection of CPD resources that we (the LTF) have produced since March, you might be practicing some of these strategies already, but I thought readers might find this week’s postings useful as they embark on their first full semester of blended teaching.
I will publish three strategies on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week. Here are today’s three strategies:
It is essential that pedagogy informs your choice of tools so focus first on the learning outcomes you are trying to achieve and then identify tools that will support those outcomes. If you are looking for guidance on how to apply sound instructional design practices to your modules, check out my recent Faculty Focus article.
It is also important to consider your personal approach to teaching and learning, as that can inform your choice of tools. The Sheffield Hallam University teaching approaches menu is a useful guide to consider in that respect.
Even though there is a wealth of tools available in Sulis, it is important to pick a set of core tools that you are comfortable with and use them consistently. As Sulis (or Sakai to external readers) is the official UL platform, the remainder of my postings will refer to Sulis functionality, but you will find equivalent features in other VLEs too.
For those of you using Sulis, most of you will find the following tools useful: announcements, syllabus, lessons, assignments, forums, chat room, resources, and reading list. You will find useful resources on how to use most of these tools here. Depending on whether you plan to use BigBlueButton (aka the meetings tool), MS Teams, Panopto, or podcasts for delivering your lectures, you will need to enable those tools too.
I consider the lessons tool to be a core tool because it is invaluable for structuring weekly materials. Other tools that I frequently use include the drop box tool (to return individualised feedback to students) and the gradebook tool (for releasing grades). The PostEm tool is also useful if you need to return Excel-based results to students, but you only want them to access their data. While I don’t use it myself, many colleagues find the tests and quizzes tool very useful. If you would like to explore other tools that are supported in UL, take a look at figure 1.
On my own website, I have also curated a list of tools that you might like to consider (although please note that some of these are not supported by ITD).
There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about synchronous and asynchronous delivery. At UL, we have been advised to use synchronous delivery to focus on ‘meaningful interaction and engagement with students, rather than on the transmission of information’
(UL Guidelines for preparing teaching and learning, 2021/21, p. 2). Large group lectures don’t need to be synchronous, but if they are, they should be recorded to cater for diverse student circumstances. In my experience, though, online lectures are best delivered asynchronously, with live chat sessions or forums used for follow-up questions, once students have had time to review the materials.
In my day-to-day online teaching, I offer a synchronous online chat session every week (it is essentially the equivalent of my on-campus office hour). During that time, students can ask me questions ‘live’, but a transcript is available for anyone to review afterwards. That said, the majority of my students prefer to use the asynchronous forums, as they have time to consider their questions, to review the questions posted by other students, and to review my answers to same. See also my later strategy (#9, to be posted on Friday) on how to organise the forums effectively.
It is really good practice to hide any tools you are not using—if you don’t, students will quickly become frustrated if they have to click in and out of each tool wondering if you have posted something in a different location. Hiding unused tools also simplifies the interface, so it will benefit you too.
On a related note, it is also good practice to tell the students in week 1 where they will find the weekly materials. Post them consistently in the same location and, ideally, on the same day each week. If you post an announcement to say that you have just posted an assignment, make sure you do it for every assignment, as students will quickly come to expect it. You can also enable the automatic announcement feature within the ‘assignments’ tool and/ or the feature to send an email to everyone registered, to let them know about the assignment.
If you need to do something unexpected, like change an assignment deadline or cancel a class, you should post an announcement.
By now, most of you will have heard about e-tivities and other types of online activities (e.g. quizzes and polls) that can engage students during the semester. Gilly Salmon recommends posting e-tivities on discussion forums (Salmon, 2013), but they don’t have to be forum-based activities. Provided the e-tivities comprise a title, a purpose/ objective, a detailed task (step-by-step instructions about what students should do, when, and where), and a collaborative element (optional), that will be sufficient.
I’ve been using e-tivities for years to engage my students and I’ve curated some e-tivities that might inspire others. On my website, you will find e-tivities for engaging students in group work, for defining team roles, for undertaking collaborative design assignments, and so on. I’ve also included e-tivities from other UL colleagues, so you might like to check those out. You can also view a webinar that I delivered, about using e-tivities as alternative assessment, during the initial move to emergency remote teaching [only available to UL staff].
I award grades for e-tivities, to ensure my students engage. That said, if you have a good reason for not awarding grades, another strategy I’ve employed occasionally is to deduct marks for non-engagement.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you might like to use Salmon’s five-stage model for teaching and learning online (Salmon, 2011) to guide your e-tivity design. Once you know the phases that online learners typically go through (see figure 2), you can devise appropriate e-tivities to scaffold them through those phases.
Image source: https://www.gillysalmon.com/five-stage-model.html.
On Wednesday, I will post the next three strategies…
About the contributor
Darina Slattery is a lecturer in instructional design and online course development at UL. Her research interests include best practice in online education, professional development for online teachers, virtual teams, learning analytics, and online collaboration. She has been facilitating professional development initiatives for colleagues, in the form of DUO workshops, since 2014. She is an active member of the UL Learning Technology Forum (LTF) and the Effective Technology Support (ETS) Working Group.
Risquez, A. (2020) ‘ABC core tools’ [online], available: https://www.ul.ie/ltf/supported-tools [date last accessed: 22nd September 2020].
Salmon, G. (2013) E-tivities: The key to active online learning (2nd ed.). London and New York: Routledge.
Salmon, G. (2011) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Sheffield Hallam University (2014) Teaching approaches menu [online], available: https://tinyurl.com/y5b27ln3 [date last accessed: 22nd September 2020].
Slattery, D. M. (2020) ‘DUO workshop overview’ [online], available: https://staff.ul.ie/slatteryd/sites/default/files//DUO_Workshop_Overview.pdf [date last accessed: 22nd September 2020].
Slattery, D. M. (2020) ‘TEL resources’ [online], available: https://staff.ul.ie/slatteryd/tel-resources [date last accessed: 22nd September 2020].
University of Limerick (2020) ‘UL guidelines for preparing teaching and learning, 2021/21’ [online], available: https://www.ul.ie/ltf/resources [click on ‘Module planning and preparation’ to access the resource] [date last accessed: 22nd September 2020].