Blog by Ishan Kolhatkar, Emma Flint, Lydia Bleasdale and Michael Doherty. With thanks to Kim Silver at LSBU for her notes on this CLE hangout which helped immensely in the writing of this blog.
Building on our CLE hangout #18 on running online seminars and tutorial, for CLE hangout #19 we were lucky and delighted to be joined by the GURU of all things digital, Ishan (Ish) Kolhatkar from BPP University. You may also know Ish from his wonderful ‘cook with Ish’ pictures/advice from twitter (@BPTC_Lecturer) and also from the amazing ‘Billable Hour Cookbook’ project. Before the hangout, Ishan posed two pervasive questions on the theme of digital literacy for learning activities in and around online seminars/workshops for our CLE community to consider:
- what are the gaps in digital literacy (for both staff and students)? and
- what do you think you will want to keep from your digital teaching practices when we return to whatever is the ‘new normal’?
A CLE community Padlet was created to help us form and collect our answers to these questions. This enables ‘crowdsharing’ of our own ideas, practice and queries in relation to 5 key areas, namely checking students’ knowledge/understanding; getting students to prepare for sessions & post consolidation; getting students to engage with and contribute to sessions; building a sense of belonging and community online; and finally, opportunities for innovation in this new way of working beyond just Face-to-Face (F-2-F) teaching environments. During the hangout, Ish then responded to Padlet ideas using his own wealth of experience gained from his role as Director of Group Education Technologies at BPP. However, he began the CLE hangout by reminding us all to keep in mind that whenever we are designing online learning and dealing with questions of digital literacy, that the pedagogy must come first, not the technology. It’s easy to forget this when experimenting with novel, exciting tech and new ways of learning and delivering teaching. However, Ish cautioned us to always keep in mind ‘what is it that the students need to know or be able to do by the end of the session?’ and then find an appropriate technology (or not, as the case maybe) to deliver on that aim. And not vice versa.
Image courtesy of ‘The Pedagogical Panda’ on Twitter @PedagogyPanda
Methods of checking students’ knowledge and understanding online
The padlet revealed lots of great ways of doing this already being used by the CLE community, including use of self-reflective ‘polls’ using the ‘quiz’ function in your VLE (‘competence vs. confidence’ type surveys) which have the added bonus of allowing a tutor to then use anonymised responses to tailor future sessions accordingly. Use of ‘Flipgrid’ as a tool to help students self-reflect and identify gaps in their knowledge was another great suggestion. Top tip: New to using Flipgrid? Do listen to this great podcast from Natasha Taylor talking to colleagues about how they started using Flipgrid in their teaching practice. Microsoft Forms also has varied quiz tools that look good and make the handling of results/user analytics easy too. For those who use Moodle as their institutional VLE, HP5 was recommended to both annotate videos but also to add more variety to online MCT quizzes, such as ‘drag & drop’ and ‘fill in the blank’ question formats.
Helping students to prepare and collaborate before (or after) teaching sessions
Finding effective ways of enabling students to prepare for teaching sessions was recognised by all as one of the more difficult aspects of online activity. However, both the Padlet and Ish had numerous suggestions to help with this. One idea is to assign students either a journal article or specific case and ask them to post that on your VLE discussion board, thus creating a student created ‘repository’ of reading that is developed by the students working together online. This would work just as well using an online wiki tool too. Student research and preparation for seminars on specific cases or readings could also be shared using Padlet. Top tip: try Waklet, which is a very similar digital tool, if doing this a it allows for more ‘free’ places to share, organise and save content than Padlet, which currently restricts to only 9 freePpadlets. Another great idea was to ask students to find other less academic sources for given areas of law, such as news articles, tweets, blogs or YouTube videos, related to lectured topics to allow for a broader and perhaps (at first) more accessible introduction to a topic. However, the most valuable piece of advice came from Ish, who reminded us to always keep in mind how to make students come on this journey with you but that just like in face to face teaching, you cannot and will not be able to find a solution that will please all students. So try something, get feedback from your students, reflect and adapt accordingly – that’s all anyone can do.
Creating opportunities for students to engage with and contribute to sessions
This area was again one that CLE community members expressed worries about, particularly supporting small group work and discussions within the online seminar format. This was a particular concern for those CLE community members who have ‘hybrid’ synchronous teaching sessions in the coming academic year, where some students are online at home and some students are F-2-F in a room on campus. How do you make that work? Ish shared that this type of teaching environment is particularly hard to prepare for and it all depends on whether the technology used can equalise the experience so that one group (or the other) will not feel let down. A ‘camera all on’ or ‘mics on so everyone can contribute’ can help with this, albeit the equality and inclusivity aspects of such polices need to be considered too.
Use of breakout rooms in Zoom or Teams during sessions also promoted much debate. Some institutions seemed to be ‘mandating’ their use to help build in more interactive small group working opportunities within online seminars; other institutions were emphasising the ‘keep it simple’ approach and not advocating their use (or providing the admin support needed to set up such sessions in advance). Ish’s advice? Using breakout rooms will take twice as long as you think as they are comparable to sending students around a physical building to find a room and then finding their way back again. There needs to be genuine value pedagogically to be worth the effort of use (which brings us full circle back again to the Pedagogical Panda…).
Other suggestions from the padlet and CLE hangout discussions included using wiki’s or google open docs to which students could contribute ideas during sessions. The use of the ‘raise hand’ and ‘chat’ function in Zoom/Teams was recognised as a useful tool too, with CLE community reflecting on how the lack of chat function at the recent SLS online conference had been sorely missed! However, when using chat, do keep in mind inclusivity and accessibility concerns too – how will a screen reader deal with rapid, synchronised, less formal chat comments, for example? And don’t forget to set clear ‘ground rules’ in your first session with students about your expectations on how the use of the ‘raise hand’ and ‘chat’ functions in online Zoom/Teams sessions will work too. Top Tip: not sure about student webcams in online teaching? Check out this great thread from University of Lincoln Blended Ed Team to help.
Building a sense of belonging and community
The methods already mentioned in this blog can work well here, along with use of ice-breakers and expectation setting exercises from the first session.
Image courtesy of ‘memegenerator.com’
Ice-breakers are not for everyone but they can be fun and useful if conducted in the right way. Some great ideas were shared on the Padlet for this CLE hangout, including using GIF’s/memes/emoji’s in the chat function to represent how student feeling/mood; to students voting on favourite quotes on justice from literature. Another ice breaker idea that was well received was asking students to fetch something from their kitchen/house that reflects their personality. However, again, be mindful of asking for anything too personal or that could demonstrate inequalities amongst students. Ish suggested giving students a arrange of possibilities to choose from here, such as instead using a picture or image from the internet, so that students do not feel compelled to reveal anything about their personal circumstances. And keep it quick and easy – again, ice breakers for larger sessions can be time consuming to run. Top tip: still not sure about ice breakers or stuck for ideas? Check out these two resources from Chris Hedland at University of Lincoln and Danielle Hinton at University of Birmingham, which are both full of great ideas and suggestions.
Innovation and taking ideas forward into the ‘new normal’
For many of us, stuck in the midst of recording and editing online lectures and not yet having run our first online seminar, it is hard to be sure of what be useful to take forwards into our future teaching practices. However, we shared ideas around making online lectures more accessible in the same way we would create ‘spaces’ in longer F-2-F lectures, such as using music for ‘thinking time’ in lecture recordings, to recording shorter lectures with questions posed at the end of each, the answers to which are then the segue into the beginning of the next recorded lecture. The key thing is to build in opportunities as far as possible for students to engage to make sure students understand why it’s good to do so, just as you would in a F-2-F lecture. Try to live with the fact that not everything you try will work and that your students will probably be using ‘whatsapp’ to connect with each outside of your beautifully created online sessions, just as students would have previously whispered/whatsapp’d to each other during your F-2-F lectures too. The CLE team are also planning a ‘taking stock’ session to allow for collective reflection on our experiences of the first 6 weeks in this new teaching environment at the end of October – watch this space…
Ish’s 5 take-aways (we had to get a ‘cooking pun’ in there somehow…)
All photos courtesy of Unsplash.com
Takeaway 1 – ‘Data is the new oil’
Though many have questioned Clive Humby’s assertion, there is some truth to it. We are increasingly interested in analytics to support our students from a module to a programme and even an institutional level. Bear in mind as you consider technical solutions that someone will be thinking about the data it generates and how it can be best used to support students. Institutions may decide to use one piece of technology over another based on the data flow between systems.
Takeaway 2 – Focus on the student, not the technology
Steve Jobs transformed Apple in many ways. One of which was to focus on the end user experience rather than the underlying technology. Tech companies will tell you how brilliant the product and how clever the technology driving it is compared to others but if the user experience is poor (and that includes you as the facilitator of technology) it doesn’t matter because people either won’t use it or will resent using it.
Takeaway 3 – Environment
When implementing technology, consider carefully the environment that the student is in. This is to be construed widely covering not only the technical environment, i.e. their computer, internet quality and digital literacy, but also their physical environment, both now and in the future.
Takeaway 4 – Leading the way
Much of the success of tech is predicated on digital literacy both of faculty and students. Current circumstances have sped up the need for some to become more digitally literate but change will only really happen when the entire community understands that digital literacy and skill is as important as their legal literacy and skill.
Takeaway 5 – Hawaiian Pizza: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to
(Added in post event. Mentioned in the session but didn’t appear as a slide). Don’t use tech for the sake of using tech. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want the student to do, see and feel? What outcome do you seek? What do people really need to see? Ask yourselves these questions then find the tech that works. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. Like putting pineapple on a pizza. You know who you are. Just stop it. Stop it now.
With huge thanks to Ish for his contribution to the hangout and the writing of this blog. Ish led a project over the last three years at BPP to move to fully digital assessment across all programmes. After nine years at BPP he is moving on in December to be UK General Manager of Inspera (t: @inspera), a digital assessment platform. He will still be on Twitter. Cooking.
Next #ConnectLegalEd hangout
Our next CLE hangout will take place during week commencing 12 October 2020, where we will be joined by the ever fabulous Professor Paul Maharg from Osgoode Hall Law School (exact date/time of hangout tbc at time of writing – check your emails for a Teams appointment from the CLE crew when confirmed). Paul will be sharing some of his research and ideas on legal education and digital learning – a session not to be missed!
Please do join us. As ever, if you wish to join the Teams space for the #ConnectLegalEd hangouts, please drop a line to Michael Doherty (firstname.lastname@example.org), Lydia Bleasdale (email@example.com), or Emma Flint (E.E.Flint@bham.ac.uk).