Teaching on-line with Collaborate
French lecturer Sophie Rankin says the key to a successful move into the virtual learning environment is to go slow. ‘I did it gradually, introducing one thing at a time. With the incredible support from the BOLD team, each semester I’d design a new element to my course.’
With one student in Japan, others in Port Macquarie and on the Central Coast, Sophie wanted to ensure that distance students have the same opportunities as those she teaches face to face at Callaghan campus. ‘Students from the Coast have said that they enjoy the flexibility that Collaborate has given them, because they don’t need to drive for two hours to attend a one hour tutorial.’ Collaborate has also eased the burden of the international time difference. Sophie can be available after hours for her student in Japan, wherever she is.
This is the third year Sophie has blended face to face with online teaching, but this semester has been the first time she’s uploaded all assessments to the web. Sophie was satisfied that hosting the test online didn’t pose a stumbling block for her students, as their first online test grades were comparable with the first paper test grades.
Implementing new teaching methods can bring challenges, as well as success. Despite her best efforts to provide comprehensive guidelines on using Collaborate, students have admitted that they didn’t always meet Sophie’s expectations. ‘A few students told me they didn’t do the practice test, and others had changed computers between the prep test and the actual test, so they were not familiar with their own machine, let alone Collaborate.’
Sophie still teaches parts of her course face to face, but has introduced a weekly Collaborate tutorial session. While not all her students log on, whoever turns up benefits from her full attention.
Teachers should not under-estimate the amount of time they will need to help students become familiar with the technology, says Sophie. ‘I spent a lot of time training students how to use the technology.’ To help spread the technical load, she found competent students to act as peer supporters. ‘Training the first cohort has made teaching the second year easier.’
Not all Jenny Schneider’s students use Collaborate. Jenny found that some students don’t use technology to the same extent as their peers, and others don’t need to ask her questions, as they are more confident in their understanding of the course material.
Pharmacy lecturer Jenny Schneider had been using a virtual classroom in Blackboard for a number of years before moving to Collaborate. Jenny found online discussions were a useful way to engage with students about the material they were covering in class. It was often done after hours, at night and Jenny had previously run them early in trimester. ‘I changed it, though. I found that students really came online late in the trimester, when they were organising their studies for final assessments.’
‘While the virtual classroom in Blackboard had been useful, moving to Collaborate meant that we could talk instead of having to type things. I am possibly the world’s worst typist, so the video gave it a warmer, more human feel to it. Students who didn’t want to talk on video could still type in a question and I could answer.’
Jenny mainly uses Collaborate for supporting students at exam time, not for teaching new material. She’s found it useful for getting students to engage more with the material, discussing it with their peers, which promotes deeper learning.
‘Initially, I tried to lead the conversation, but I decided to let students put questions up for others, and to sit back and allow them to engage. It’s more about facilitating a conversation instead of driving it.’ Jenny has relished the option of addressing a topic and clarifying it online once, for all students, instead of having to deal with the same question ten times.
Posting her availability online means that Jenny can multi-task. ‘I can work at my desk and set up Collaborate on my iPad. It gives students the ability to get in contact with me easily. The most useful aspect of Collaborate for me is that I’m much more accessible to them, especially when they have a heavy study load.’
The positive feedback from her students has been the driving force in Jenny continuing to implement new teaching technologies.
‘I haven’t measured their response in any quantifiable way, but anecdotally they have said ‘thanks for that, that’s great.’ Using Collaborate gave them the sense that I was available and connected.’
Building on her success so far, Jenny’s next step is looking at how she can introduce simulations into the pharmacy courses she teaches. ‘I’m keen to see how I can use technology as a way to further enhance learning.’
Contact CTL for advice on how you can start to use Collaborate or other technologies to support your teaching.