Online teaching continues to pose challenges for university teaching staff. Class delivery, student interaction and dynamics are no longer as manageable as they used to be in person. Teaching staff report difficulties in meeting course objectives and effectively using digital platforms. It may be useful to go back and consider the general issues higher education teachers face online.
To help maintain successful course delivery, varied interaction, and student engagement in online classes, I have found the following strategies helpful:
1. Choose technologies that match specific learning goals
When preparing for each lesson, I select technologies based on one or more objectives that I aim to achieve in the classroom because, as a teacher, all teaching practice must be built around the objectives of the lesson.
For example, if the goal is to go over exam specifications with students, I can turn the exam task sheet into an interactive game using a website called Genial.ly and perform it with the whole class. Do several tests before class in case there are any technical errors.
Students tend to overlook task sheet specifications when tasked with reading them independently, but the introduction of games helps them focus on tasks. Many students will miss key information among several pages of academic lexicon, while an interactive game provides motivation. The lecturer can select key information, put it into a game, and receive confirmation of understanding when students win it.
Alternatively, if the purpose of the class is to examine students’ understanding of a skill or language point, I can choose platforms that require a student login, such as XJTLU’s Learning Mall platform, so that I can follow their completion.
Very few students talk about their academic difficulties. Most don’t want to open up in front of the class, especially online. Using technology that effectively tracks and provides insight into student performance helps overcome this problem.
2. Use technology as an “attention hook” and “entertainment” to balance less classroom communication
During online classes, students may be distracted by external factors and be less engaged than in a classroom. So look for technology that will help you hold their attention for as long as possible.
For example, to examine students’ understanding of a new language skill, I created an online escape game in which students must finish answering a series of questions in order to enter the next room. Students feel like they are in a living virtual escape room while consolidating their knowledge.
The game was developed using a template from Genial.ly, which is simple and easy to use. I customized the default information on the template, adjusted the pages, and piloted it several times to avoid technical errors before presenting it in class.
After reviewing the lesson on their own, the students were randomly divided into four to five groups, each responsible for an escape room. This way the whole class can work together to complete the game.
3. Add more varieties of technologies
To create something new for students and keep their attention while addressing different goals, it helps to switch between platforms and formats.
I use technological tools like H5P interactive exercises, Mediasite and Etherpad videos, which are all provided by my university, as well as external online platforms. Genial.ly, which I mentioned above, provides engaging templates to help with gamification, infographics, and interactive photos. I used it to create a class photo for my students after an entire semester of teaching online.
For real-time online brainstorming, the Pollev website is a great visual platform to instantly display student ideas. When students are tasked with writing an essay or giving a presentation based on an abstract theme or topic, I can use platforms like this to help them develop and share their ideas.
4. Listen to student feedback and then reflect
Every time I use a digital platform or tool for the first time, I collect feedback from students. If I think they may not be willing to share negative feedback, I use anonymous polls via WJX.cn Where BigButtonBlue. Before setting them up, it is important to tell students that surveys are confidential because it encourages authentic feedback. This overview can help the teacher sort out effective and less useful tools and shows students that their feedback is valued and respected.
Luqian Huang is a professor of languages at Xi’an Jiaotong University-Liverpool School of Languages.
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