Teach-meet about online colleges
Whereas online lectures used to be an extra service for students who had slept through their alarm, or didn’t understand something that was said, in times of COVID-19 they constitute a vital part of the curriculum. Often combined with Q&A or plenary Zoom sessions. Nevertheless, how do you hold students’ attention online? Education institute EDLAB held an online ‘teach-meet’ for lecturers last week. “The evaluation figures are even higher than for live lectures.”
She has the attention span of a goldfish, says Donna Carroll, lecturer at the Maastricht Science Programme. Which, she feels, also has its advantages. “I get bored so easily that as a lecturer, I am constantly worried whether my students find my story interesting.”
In a lecture hall, you can create a personal connection with students, she says in her dynamic Zoom presentation. Is that also possible online? Yes, says Carroll. “I present myself in the first video, I say who I am, what I do. It creates trust and solidarity.” She finds it more difficult to hold the students’ attention. “It makes a difference if you record short videos instead of one long recording, if you regularly introduce new terms, and if you start with a puzzle or a problem and only give the solution at the end.”
Another thing you miss in online education, is the immediate feedback from students. “You don’t see straight away whether they have understood. If they haven’t understood, hands go up.” But Carroll has even found something for that. In between the online videos, the students have to take small tests, the results of which the lecturer can see. The items that trip most of the students up, will be dealt with again in the weekly Q&A (Question and Answer) session.
“The difficult thing is that students do actually attend the Q&A sessions, but not everyone participates equally. Sometimes, when you do a round of questions, it remains eerily quiet. I find it demanding trying to reach students who don’t speak out.”
Listener Bram Schmitz, lecturer at University College Maastricht, recognises the silence, which he refers to as the lonely moments of a lecturer. “I urge students to think of questions before the Q&A session, otherwise the party is cancelled.” He feels that a bigger problem is that students don’t show up or they hide behind a black screen.
Speaker Kai Jonas, lecturer of Applied Social Psychology, demands that students switch on their cameras when they ask a question. “I also appoint a couple of them as moderators, who pick questions from the chat, read them out and present them to random students, so also those who are keeping their heads down.”
Then there is a flashy presentation from Stefan Jongen about ZIPS or Zoom interactive plenary session, which he put together with fellow lecturer Arie van der Lugt. Jongen quickly guides the online audience to Wooclap, a platform that makes the interaction between lecturer and students easier – it is accessible for everyone because of the UM licence.
Normally, you can hear a pin drop when you enter the digital space just before the session starts, but not with Jongen and Van der Lucht. Rap music by Missy Elliott is played at full volume. According to Jongen, students feel immediately welcomed. After that, Van der Lucht makes a few comments on the lyrics, it is all about bullshit. Exactly what these ZIPS are about. Or rather: about critical thinking.
One of the things the students get is a quiz in which their bullshit detection skills are tested. Bullshit or not: An extra glass of wine reduces the life expectancy by 30 minutes. Or: Google can predict the flu better than the centers for disease control (US). The students make an initial guess and afterwards they split up into so-called breakout rooms. After that, they hold a discussion and then do research. That is when they discover that Google cannot predict the flu better than the specialised institutes.
Before or after the ZIPS, students can watch a short twenty-minute lecture, in which the theory is dealt with. Gaining knowledge is clearly only one aspect, in addition to co-operation, holding discussions, researching (on the Internet) and application.
Students love it, says Van der Lugt. “The evaluation figures are without exception above 9, higher than live lectures. I am also completely surprised about the engagement and feedback from students during the lessons. I will continue to use this form of online education even after the COVID-19 crisis.”