This course comes out of the experience of people who have been active in distance learning, and are thinking hard about the future of online education. However, many of us are taking the course because of the urgent problem of delivering hybrid courses very soon. The hybrid course is a somewhat different beast, with its own – possibly unsolvable – dilemmas, which pushes us towards pragmatic compromises. Also, we are being wisely encouraged to see the problem as one of adaptation, not of re-design. For example, in Physics and Astronomy, we decided not to play with the timetable – we will work with the existing lecture, lab, workshop and tutorial time slots, and see how to use them. Following the suggestion in this week’s course material, I have reflected on my problems, and below try to summarise where my thinking has gotten to.
Engagement. There is a danger that watching videos will be too passive. This was always true of lectures of course, but we have been trying to improve that with “flipped classroom” techniques. That doesn’t work with pre-recorded lectures. So I am thinking of mixing pre-recorded material of around 30 minutes, asking students to view it before the lecture, and using the lecture slot to do live Q&A; and maybe a live TopHat session to make sure they are doing something. As before, my workshop sessions will be dedicated to students working on problem sheets in small groups. I think this will be done with Collaborate rooms. TAs will hop from room to room and pester. I am seriously wondering whether to make the workshops compulsory, or worth say half a percentage point for attendance, but don’t know how to verify attendance.
Teacher Presence. In normal teaching, I am a live and accessible and hopefully friendly and encouraging presence in and after lectures and workshops, but not so easily approachable outside contact hours. The worry of remote teaching is either that one will seem a remote and artificial image on a screen, or conversely that I will be pestered 24/7. To partly fix the former, I am trying to make my recorded material as informal and chatty as possible; and some kind of live-streamed sessions will be crucial. But I don’t yet know how to avoid an assumption of 24/7 response.
Synchronicity and Time Zones. I suspect that many students will positively like the asynchronous aspects of pre-recorded material. As well as videos they can watch at their leisure, and re-watch speeded up and so on, I have full written notes (as I always did anyway, and absolutely no power point slides!), and interactive Jupyter notebooks run through Noteable. However, as noted above, for engagement and for teacher presence, some degree of synchronous activity is crucial. Its probably crucial also for the long term University business model… However, then we come into the problem of time zones, especially if our time slots, at least for now, are fixed. In Physics and Astronomy we have only a minority of non-European students – 10-20% – but they can be eight hours away in either direction. Its not obvious they can attend a 9am lecture or a 4pm workshop. They may feel cheated of part of the course. We could put on special sessions, but then we have the inverse problem for the tutors. How do we give them value for money, and keep them feeling engaged?