Online & Blended Learning

Synchronous / Live

Don’t do this

  1. Use live sessions to ‘deliver content’, i.e. broadcast lectures.
  2. Start live session by loading your slides as this might take a few minutes, depending on file size.
  3. Forget to check your microphone and other equipment.
  4. Forget to record the session.
  5. Have visual and audible notifications from Outlook, Teams etc. interrupting the session.
  6. Insist that students to use a webcam – there may be legitimate reasons for them not doing so.
  7. Disable students’ ability to use text chat, microphone and video throughout the whole session.
  8. Expect students to passively absorb all the information provided in a live session.

Do this

  1. Use live sessions to motivate, consolidate, support, foster cohesion, and to discuss questions.
  2. Upload slides in advance of the session and, if using PowerPoint, check if they are displaying correctly. Alternatively export your PowerPoint to PDF and upload this file instead.
  3. Do a test recording beforehand with the equipment you are planning to use and check the audio quality in particular.
  4. Where appropriate, record the live session but be aware that a recording is not a perfect substitute for students attending a live interactive session in person.
  5. If possible, arrive early and chat with the students whilst waiting for the webinar to begin, this encourages them to speak and engage with the technology.
  6. Encourage as much interactivity as possible in your sessions. Consider using polls, breakout rooms, allowing students to annotate slides. Have students use their microphones and request (but don’t insist) that students use webcams.
  7. Set clearly defined tasks to help students make sense of the information provided and to develop their knowledge.
  8. When suitable, break longer sessions into group activities and allow for comfort breaks too.

Asynchronous / Homework

Don’t do this

  1. Give students only passive work to do, e.g. ‘read this text’ or ‘watch this video’.
  2. Create excessive work for yourself in setting and responding to asynchronous work.
  3. Expect students not to have done the asynchronous work set and cover all the same ground in a subsequent session.
  4. Expect students to understand the benefit of asynchronous work or to be fully aware of how learning happens without being told.
  5. Set up an online discussion and expect it to spontaneously result in student engagement and appropriate behaviour.
  6. Expect students to know how much and how often to contribute to online discussions without being told.
  7. Post questions for discussion that can be answered in a couple of posts as later replies are likely to be duplicates or students agreeing with each other.

Do this

  1. Give students active and passive work to do, e.g. ‘read X and draw a diagram to explain Y’ or ‘watch X and complete the quiz, submit two paragraphs explaining Z’.
  2. Use online quizzes/tests that can be used multiple times to provide automated opportunities for retrieval practice (using practice tests to review information) and distributed practice (spread over time). Return to and expand on topics (spiral learning) throughout the course, drawing on ‘pools’ of questions created earlier in the course.
  3. Set expectations for completion of asynchronous work and draw on, but do not repeat in full, that work in subsequent sessions.
  4. Help students learn (how) to learn. Be explicit about the purpose/benefit of asynchronous work – the skills and understanding they can develop, language they should use, how it benefits their learning and which learning objectives it contributes to. Ask students to reflect on their asynchronous work and consider what/how/where they learnt.
  5. Set up an online discussion and model good practice. Explain when you will respond to discussion board posts and stick to it. Try to build an atmosphere of mutual respect and remind students of the FET Staff and Student Communications Policy.
  6. Set expectations for quality, length and frequency of student contributions but do not be too prescriptive (it’s not authentic and will stifle genuine discussion).
  7. Post questions for discussion that each student can answer individually regardless of earlier replies.

Engagement

Don’t do this

  1. Confuse engagement with learning. Students may be engaged (e.g. by listening and taking notes) but not actually understanding or learning anything new. Or they may be learning without appearing to be engaged.
  2. Insist that students use webcams all the time so you can see if they are engaged. Seeing themselves and other students on camera may be more distracting than helpful for some students.
  3. Simply ask students, ‘do you understand?’ or ‘are you following?’ They may be unaware they don’t understand or may be embarrassed to admit they don’t.
  4. Only ever direct questions to the whole class, e.g. ask ‘does anyone have any questions?’ Less confident students may never volunteer questions. This approach allows students to be passive receivers of information rather than actively engaging in knowledge construction.
  5. Require students always to identify themselves when asking/answering questions.
  6. Expect students to listen attentively for long periods, whether in live sessions or when watching recorded videos. Concentration drops off very quickly and most people cannot retain more than 3 or 4 new things in their working memory.
  7. Focus only on new information without also checking students’ existing knowledge. It’s hard to stay engaged when you don’t understand the underlying ideas.
  8. Provide no opportunities to practice newly created knowledge. New knowledge is easily forgotten without the chance to practice and embed it.
  9. Avoid using the digital tools available that may help increase student engagement.

Do this

  1. Check for engagement in live sessions by asking students to actively respond via text chat or by making use of emojis, for example.
  2. Check for understanding continually throughout live sessions, every few minutes or after every significant point.
  3. Ask concept-checking questions that can be answered quickly (so the flow of the session is not disrupted) that allow students to demonstrate they understand. Make it okay for students to say they don’t understand.
  4. Direct questions to the whole class sometimes but also choose several non-volunteers to individually answer concept-checking questions. Select different non-volunteers each time. Tell students beforehand you will do this to help set expectations for engagement.
  5. Allow some questions to be asked/answered anonymously. Anonymity can help to elicit awkward questions/answers and encourages students to be honest about their own (mis)understanding.
  6. Maintain engagement by breaking live sessions and videos up into smaller chunks, so there are frequent short activities interspersed between any passive elements (e.g. listening, watching, reading).
  7. Use activities to check the veracity of students’ existing understanding – the foundation on which new knowledge is constructed.
  8. Use activities to enable students to demonstrate and practice newly formed knowledge.
  9. Use a range of digital tools (polls, quizzes, text chat, flashcards, mindmaps, virtual flip charts etc.) to provide synchronous and asynchronous activities to maintain student engagement.

Feedback

Don’t do this

  1. ‘Hide’ feedback in standard lectures and conversations.
  2. Only provide feedback on summative assessments.
  3. Provide no feedback at all on students’ weekly asynchronous work during the course.
  4. Make excessive and repetitive work for yourself providing feedback.
  5. Say, “you don’t understand X”.
  6. Focus on feedback (what students did well/badly) to the detriment of feedforward.
  7. Just give marks, not feedback.
  8. Only provide written feedback or feedback in a single format.

Do this

  1. Make feedback an explicit part of the learning process. Tell students when you are providing feedback. Make students go through the feedback you provide and get them to do something with it.
  2. Provide timely feedback throughout the course, including on formative assessments. Feedback on summative assessments is often too late to be of use within the current module.
  3. Provide feedback on students’ weekly asynchronous work. If not individual feedback (which can be time-consuming) then generic feedback for the whole class – common problems encountered, model answers etc.
  4. Take advantage of automated feedback in online quizzes/tests or by using Adaptive Release in Blackboard. Make a bank of feedback statements you can use repeatedly. Facilitate students providing peer feedback for each other.
  5. Be positive. Say, “you don’t understand X yet. Here’s how you can improve”.
  6. When students do not perform as expected, let them know and tell them how to improve (feedforward).
  7. Ideally, if providing marks and feedback, get students to engage with the feedback before providing marks. Or don’t provide marks at all on formative work.
  8. Provide audio and/or video feedback (e.g. by screen recording or recording audio on a smartphone). Use automated feedback in online quizzes/test.

Video

Don’t do this

  1. Record all your 1-hour (or longer) lectures for the whole module.
  2. Put too much text onto slides or distract students with unnecessary imagery or background music.
  3. Speak as if lecturing to a large group in a lecture theatre.
  4. Use tools or websites for hosting your videos other than those provided by UWE as there may be privacy (GDPR), accessibility and copyright issues.
  5. Worry too much about creating professional ‘broadcast quality’ recordings. 
  6. Expect students to watch recordings without you first describing and contextualising the recording.

Do this

  1. Record short videos (maximum 15 minutes) that make a small number of important points, reinforce key ideas, or demonstrate a method/technique. Focus on identifiable learning objectives and tell students what they are.
  2. Prioritise the quality of the audio and clarity of your slides. Use an external microphone or headset rather than the built-in microphone on your computer.
  3. Speak as though you are conversing with an individual student sat in front of you.
  4. Use tools provided by UWE to ensure you can get support when needed.
  5. Link to an existing recording produced by someone else (e.g. from YouTube) if it adequately expresses the ideas and content already. Use your time to help students understand and reflect on information rather than recording everything yourself.
  6. Give students reasons to watch recordings. Set tasks such as ‘look out for X’, ‘reflect on Y’ or ‘draw a diagram to explain Z’.

Blackboard

Don’t do this

  1. Make up your own unique structure for your module site without conferring with other module leaders on the programme. 
  2. Upload a jumble of files, folders, links etc. and expect students to know how to navigate the site.
  3. Keep adding content to the bottom of a page rather than finding the best location for it.
  4. Add content without providing any context for students.
  5. Add things to the Course Menu with confusingly similar terms like ‘resources’, ‘documents’ or ‘course materials’ without explaining the difference, if there is any.
  6. Overlook the accessibility issues that may be present in the content you provide.

Do this

  1. Use the faculty module template provided to ensure consistency across modules, so students don’t need to learn a new approach in every module site.
  2. Use a clear and consistent structure to organise content within your module site. Explain the structure to students and ensure colleagues editing the site follow the same structure.
  3. Move content up/down the page to present it in a logical order. New content added to a page appears at the bottom of the page by default, but this is not always the best location for it.
  4. Use Items (inside Content Folders where appropriate) as the main building blocks for your content.
  5. Attach Files to Items and include hyperlinks inside Items as this allows you to include signposting and context for students.
  6. Use the red/amber/green accessibility icons displayed to check the content you provide is accessible.

Accessibility

Don’t do this

  1. Think that making content accessible helps only people with disabilities.
  2. Use lots of different colours, fonts, sizes and layouts to organise and add emphasis to your content. Underline text for emphasis.
  3. Only show information in an image or video.
  4. Write uninformative links (e.g. click here) and headings (e.g. Topic 1).
  5. Assume that students don’t have accessibility issues. They may be undeclared or unknown by the students themselves.

Do this

  1. Focus on accessibility as it helps everyone – including those who don’t use the latest tech, have slow internet, have temporarily broken limbs, are on public transport, or speak another language.
  2. Use the pre-formatted styles (Title, Heading 1, Subheading, numbered list etc.) provided in the software you are using. Use bold for emphasis and avoid underlining as it looks like a hyperlink.
  3. Describe images and provide transcript/captions for video.
  4. Write descriptive links (e.g. Download document) and headings (Topic 1 – earth science).
  5. Ask students if they find your content accessible and how it can be improved.

Communication

Don’t do this

  1. Be permanently ‘on call’ and cause student dissatisfaction and/or staff burnout by setting up unrealistic expectations about your availability and response times.
  2. Use non-UWE email accounts.
  3. Call students without prior arrangement.
  4. Insist students use a webcam if they don’t want to.

Do this

  1. Set up office hours explaining when/if you are available to be contacted and for what purpose.
  2. Use UWE email accounts for staff and students.
  3. Explain which methods students can use to contact you (e.g. email, MS Teams or discussion boards).
  4. Be respectful of students’ choices regarding use of webcams. There may be legitimate reasons they do not want to use a webcam in their private space.