Sharing Good Teaching Practices: How Have We Coped In The Time Of A Pandemic?

KC LEE, Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Abel YANG, Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, NUS
Annie Dayani Hj AHAD, Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD)
Jessada SALATHONG, Chulalongkorn University

This blog is the synthesis of the NUS GRO-CDTL Regional Webinar Series on 27 August 2020 attended by more than 400 participants from ASEAN higher education institutions.

Photo courtesy of Volodymyr Hryshchenko from Unsplash

How have we managed in the time of a pandemic? Abel, Annie, and Jessada share how (and why) they have re-shaped their curricula, materials, learning tasks and activities, as well as assessments, drawing upon Chickering and Gamson’s seven broad principles (1987) of good teaching practice.

Abel on how he re-designed a stargazing field work class

I teach an introductory class on practical astronomy with a strong emphasis on experiential learning. When we had to move all our face-to-face courses online, the practical content within this course was redesigned with the idea that students might find themselves in quarantine, unable to access equipment or even meet their peers. Thus, a key guiding principle was that practical activities had to be doable without any special equipment beyond what an average student would have.

We used a combination of approaches to facilitate this, as follows:

1.   We extended the duration and scope of the naked-eye stargazing assignment within the course, in which students had to watch the night sky just like how ancient astronomers would. It introduced astronomy in a way the pioneers of the field would have done without any special equipment.

2.   Next, we had a celestial navigation activity, where students would determine the latitude and longitude from the sun’s shadow using a device constructed from paper and glue. Combined with a spreadsheet with the appropriate calculations, we made this activity as simple as possible.

3.   We also redesigned the course’ astrophotography activity where instead of using a camera on a telescope to capture an image of a deep sky object, students would now use their phone cameras to take a picture of a constellation, with similar post-processing steps.

4.   Finally, in case of bad-weather, the back-up activity was for students to reprocess an image from public astronomical archives.

The overall effect is that these activities have integrated ancient tech-free approaches to astronomy with practical activities that modern technology makes possible.

Annie on applying learning tools and activities to engage students online

Due to the recent pandemic, learning institutions worldwide have converted in-person classes to digital classes. One of the key questions is, how do we enhance student engagement and retention in a virtual world?

The Centre for Lifelong Learning (C3L) at UBD adopted both asynchronous and synchronous learning approaches. Both have their pros and cons, but preparation is key to enhancing student engagement and retention. Here are some suggestions:

    • Determine the learning platform for managing online classes, students, and their learning materials.
    • Next, prepare for your presentation by using good visuals, animations or attractive media, real-life stories, or reflection activities that enhance student engagement and retention.
    • Establish netiquette or good online behavioural practices throughout the sessions.
    • Enhance students’ attention by providing short introductory videos, “chunking” your lectures, or dividing the content into bite-sized portions, for example learning goals or objectives.
    • Try to act natural during your online session; use a personable tone, and sound welcoming. Practise regularly.
    • Tapping on students’ curiosity often works well in enhancing their engagement or retention. Achieve this via online discussions, forums, live polls, or quizzes using apps like BigBlueButton, Quizizz, Nearpod, or Padlet.
    • Be technically prepared, consider all contingencies, invest in quality audio equipment, or learn new digital learning skills.
    • Respect students’ privacy, in particular consider copyright and security issues on how digital content or recorded online sessions should be used and shared.

Jessada on inclusiveness and accessibility amidst changes and developments

Inclusiveness is a key consideration in education, especially as learning has moved online during this pandemic. As educators and higher educational institutions, we have to ensure that no one is left behind in this tough situation. The digital divide is a reality and challenge for students in developing countries, including Thailand. We must consider students who are unable to join a synchronous online class due to limited access to high-speed internet or even digital gadgets.

Therefore, an online class should be accessible at anytime, anywhere with the least requirements on connectivity and devices. A recorded video clip can be uploaded onto Google Classroom or Blackboard for students to access asynchronously. However, a synchronous online class is still important to check students’ understanding and connect with them in a dynamic classroom atmosphere that is interactive and engaging. Interactive media, games, debates and polls are ways to enhance online classroom engagement, as shared by Annie.

As instructors, we play the role of a facilitator to bridge the gap between all learning modes, whether synchronous and asynchronous online sessions, or in-person classes, to ensure that all students follow our classes at the same pace. At the same time, we should also assist students with special needs and provide consultation for those in need.

In summary, the sharing from Abel, Annie, and Jessada and very importantly, the questions and comments raised by participants strongly suggest the following three points:

  1. Fundamental principles for curriculum, material, task, and assessment design apply in achieving learning regardless of tools, platforms, and modes.
  2. Attention and student engagement matter for retention and learning. As reminded by Miller (2014), as we get distracted easily, we want to minimise distraction for our students. Therefore, whether it is in-person or online, the learning environment should be seamless and not cumbersome. Otherwise, we risk losing our students’ attention.
  3. In any learning environment, issues related to accessibility, inclusivity, internet connectivity, teacher and student readiness must be carefully deliberated and managed.

 

KC LEE is Deputy Director (Publications & Outreach) at the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL), National University of Singapore (NUS). She has a keen interest in looking at communication touchpoints, critical friends, and significant networks in enhancing teaching and learning conversations.

KC can be reached at cdtleekc@nus.edu.sg.

Abel YANG is Lecturer at the Department of Physics in National University of Singapore (NUS) where he teaches astrophysics and practical astronomy. He has been involved with blended learning methods since 2016, and currently teaches introductory practical astronomy with an experiential and authentic learning approach within a flipped classroom framework. Abel is a council member of the Institute of Physics, Singapore, and also actively involved in astronomy education and public outreach focusing on the practical relevance of astronomy and scientific literacy.

Abel can be reached at phyyja@nus.edu.sg.

Annie Dayani Hj AHAD is Deputy Director at the Centre for Lifelong Learning (C3L) and Lecturer at Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD). She received her Master’s degrees in Applied IT from Monash University, and her PhD in Communication Technology from the University of Queensland. She also holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from UBD. Her current research interests include 4th IR technologies and applications, lifelong education, e-learning, digital business and media, and mobile communications.

Annie can be reached at annie.ahad@ubd.edu.bn.

Jessada SALATHONG is a high-calibre young academic and media practitioner. He is Lecturer at the Faculty of Communication Arts and former Assistant to the President for International Affairs at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. He has a unique educational background with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Thammasat University, Thailand and degrees from Waseda University, Japan under the Japanese Government Scholarship, an MA in International Relations and a PhD in International Studies.

Jessada can be reached at jess.salathong@gmail.com.

References

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AHE Bulletin, 3-7. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED282491.pdf

Miller, M. (2014). Minds online: Teaching effectively with technology. Harvard University Press.