This issue’s article for the PedR Focus has been selected by Katie Livesey, Teaching Excellence Manager in LITE.
This article is timely given the huge challenges facing universities, and the wider education sector as a whole, which have had to rapidly adapt in response to the ongoing worldwide crisis. With lecture theatres standing empty and campuses shutting down, lecturers will have to deliver their teaching remotely for the foreseeable future. This paper has been selected for its contribution to what will no doubt be a growing and vibrant discourse around online pedagogy in the coming months.
This recent paper has been written within the context of the increasing emphasis on online teaching being seen within HE institutions. Universities have seen delivering programmes, modules or parts of modules online as a way of responding to the changing landscape of higher education. Rising student numbers, the need for inclusive practice, changing student populations and the increasing competitiveness of the student market can all be addressed through the adoption of new technologies. Through an exploration of current literature the article explores pedagogic theories in the context of face-to-face and online group facilitation, drawing out comparisons and themes before providing a useful checklist for educators who are developing their own online teaching practice.
The authors suggest that the rapid speed of availability and the subsequent adoption of new techniques in delivering learning in an online setting is moving faster than the understanding of the new pedagogies required to deliver effective teaching. Tried and tested methods for imparting knowledge, based upon experience and reflection, are coming into question within the world of online delivery. A reluctance to shift from face–to–face teaching to online delivery is understandable. For many, one of the key barriers preventing them from making the leap to becoming a virtual practitioner is the perceived removal of the opportunity for interaction. How can that same rapport between students and teacher, and between student and student, be achieved if teaching is being delivered virtually and asynchronously?
Creating the desired environment which encourages peer discourse is important and the role that the teacher plays in creating ‘social’ interaction has been the subject of many studies. Online teachers ponder over the length of posts in online discussions, the nature of the content and the optimum point to interject within the discussion. Reflecting on the value of ‘presence’ is inevitable given the conundrum of trying to recreate in-class relationships in an online setting. The physical presence of the teacher in a face-to-face setting often goes hand-in-hand with facilitating group discussion. In a seminar/lecture setting the teacher can gauge the atmosphere, identify the key players within the group and work to create a safe environment which will give students the confidence to contribute and participate. The tangibility of a lecture theatre provides the safety net to ‘directing’ the students that a virtual classroom doesn’t, offering a reliance on tried and tested pedagogies.
Relinquishing that ability to direct activity within a visible space requires confidence by the practitioner that the same ‘direction’ can be maintained in the virtual space. Practical suggestions for successful group discussions online include having a clear set of objectives for what needs to be achieved and for the roles of student and facilitator to be made clear from the outset. Online, it is often peer to peer support that encourages and generates greater dialogue around the task, with the teacher only interjecting to steer the group towards the desired outcome.
This shift in how a teacher contributes to the direction of the lesson may not be an easy one for the practitioner to make and as the article suggests understanding how to achieve ‘presence’ and facilitate discussion will take ‘time, effort, strategies and commitment’.
Right now there is an unprecedented urgency for all practitioners to be able to deliver their teaching virtually. No doubt the experiences will vary in terms of success. However, practitioners can now start to build their knowledge and experience bank to give them the foundations to practice and reflect and to develop their online pedagogy.
You may also be interested in the University’s Online Educators Network .