This is a post for all of those colleagues attempting to convert face to face course to online without much time or training. It doesn’t involve long discussion about appropriate pedagogies, debates about the merits of different tools, or nerdy explanations about how to use the technologies at 100% capacity. My colleagues in the UCL Knowledge Lab can help with all of that. This is simply a how-to-guide explaining what you need to do, in what order, to create something presentable and educationally robust enough to keep your students learning properly. I’m writing it as someone who has been teaching online for fifteen years, six of which have been predominantly remote, working with students from all over the globe. My students like what I do, as seen in the course feedback and nominations for their awards. You too can create high quality sites without exhausting yourself mentally and physically by following this template.
For the purposes of this exercise, I make the following assumptions. 1. The course is ten weeks long. 2. You are using Moodle. 3. Your IT is working. 4. You’ve already worked out some of the key terminology used on Moodle. eg Collaborate.
BEFORE THE START OF TERM
- Open your course timetable and identify weeks 1, 5 and 10. On Moodle, book in a Collaborate session (synchronous teaching a bit like a Zoom meeting) of one hour long for each of these weeks. If you are teaching students in different time zones make this for 1200 noon and 1800 in the time zone you are working in. This covers most students’ needs whilst not wearing you out. The first of these sessions will cover an introduction to the module, the second will check their understanding of the readings so far, and the third will discuss the assessment. If you have a few students turn up, you can teach them via video and audio as in a small tutorial. If you have a lot turn up, it is better to talk to them generally about things as in a seminar, and take questions via the chat function. Upload the new timetable as a Word file with the Collaborate sessions highlighted. Tell the students they are not compulsory, but they are there for anyone who cares to attend. Ask them to indicate their attendance by the day before at the latest so you don’t sit there like a lemon if nobody comes (it does happen). On the day, remember to turn on the settings so the students can participate, and also the record function so students can play it back afterwards if they need to think about it all again, or if they couldn’t attend. (I often forget and remember about five minutes in).
- Upload your module handbook. At the very least this needs to contain a welcome message, the timetable (again), contact details if students have problems (include the admin, finance and pastoral teams in the list), the reading list, and details of what is expected in the assessment, the word count rules, and the marking criteria. I also include extension activities and readings for the more advanced students.
- Upload the reading list and make sure the library has digitised every single item. If for copyright reasons they can’t in some instances, replace these items with things they can.
- Upload information about the assignment – titles, submission dates, marking criteria, any other rules or links (eg links to the Turnitin submission box if you are forced to use it). Direct students towards this part of the course Moodle site every time they have a question about assessment, do not answer any questions that they can work out for themselves by reading the materials!
- Create a forum space for every week with at least two thinking points for the students to discuss. I set activities most weeks, and these rotate between individual responses to academic stimuli, pair work where students prepare a response together, small group work where they develop writing in groups of about four, and course debates, where they are in two groups and argue for and against a topic. (You will need to set these groups up in advance, Moodle can now automate this for you via student sign-ups). It’s important to respond to the posts but NOT EVERY ONE, as students rapidly become very dependant on the lecturer for approval. I tend to praise original thinking, correct misconceptions and suggest new lines of reading or enquiry in my comments. It is compulsory for my students to engage with the forum during at least 8 out of 10 weeks. The aim is to build knowledge together, and if students really enter into this enthusiastically they tend to score better in their assignments (and learn more!)
- Find at least five visual images or film clips that relate to your subject, preferably ten, and upload them as alternative academic stimuli to provoke additional discussion. Really exploit the multimedia capability of the modern computer. I tend to use materials from the IOE Newsam Library education archive as this is sensational, and I have excellent access to really topical and unusual items the students wouldn’t otherwise see. Your research librarians may be your best friends here. Remember to provide alternative text for any images so that your site is disability compliant. You should be able to do this in the edit function.
- Find one or two podcasts or recorded radio programmes that relate to your subject and provide links. Alternatively, record a quick 20 minute Question and Answer interview session with another member of staff or other interesting person about their research or thinking on the topic, and upload as an MP3 file. This is easily done using the free software Audacity (and you can usually edit it down to ten minutes once you have removed the ums and ahs).
- Create distinct sections so all the materials for a single week can be accessed by clicking in one place, preferably on a distinctive image with a theme corresponding to your course or subject. I use pencils – one for week one, two for week two, and so on.
- Finally, create a half-time informal feedback opportunity via an additional forum, where students can post suggestions for improving the course before the end, so they benefit from any improvements.
DURING THE COURSE
- Create an announcement every week with a Welcome Message. It doesn’t have to say much apart from introducing the theme for the week and perhaps suggesting a few ways of approaching the readings. You can also add a few personal comments and housekeeping items if necessary, to keep it current and helpful. Sometimes it is nice to include your personal reflections on anything students have written on the Moodle site, or academic things they have emailed you about. Praise any students who are doing particularly well or who have been contributing to the wider university or community helpfully in some way. Provide clear reminders about the Collaborate sessions during the weeks that they occur. Mention anything interesting and relevant in the news.
- Each week, read your lecture into Audacity, sounding as near to Laurie Taylor or Mariella Frostrup or Brian Cox or Mary Beard as you possibly can, and then edit the file so you cut out any mistakes or awkward pauses. You might have to do this two or three times while you learn how to sound interesting. Avoid the dreaded academic drone. The people I have listed here all use their voices well, with excellent inflection, rhythm and breathing. Copy them and you can’t go too far wrong. Upload your lecture as an MP3 – this is now a podcast. Your course has become instantly cool.
- Upload your lecture transcript to ensure your course is disability compliant and hearing impaired students can benefit from it too.
- Spend an hour or two a week engaging with forum discussions and trying to bring students on in their thinking. If you are short of time, just read their posts and send a round up piece of reflection a bit like an examiner’s report. You can do this as a group email within Moodle, or as a final forum post.
Finally two points. Moodle has other functions that can bring something to your course, such as quizzes, Wikis and real time chat functions, but you don’t need to use them unless you really want to. And once you have created this online course, it saves time as you can just roll it over when needed, change the dates, change the groups, and just spend a couple of hours a week helping it to tick over. So it’s a good time investment in the end.