Now that we are into the second semester of this academic year, with nearly all higher ed teaching taking place completely online, and many students studying from home, we are in effect seeing a nation of distance learners.
I know educators are working very hard to keep the process going, and don’t want to criticise anyone, but from things I’ve heard, I thought ‘d suggest some things that can be done fairly easily which will help students enormously. It is unrealistic to expect face to face providers to pivot online and to be operating with the same distance ed provision of a specialised provider like the OU. What needs to be developed effectively is a form of distance ed lite that doesn’t require a complete shift to the distance model, but provides some of the benefits for the learners. None of what follows is resource free, particularly in terms of time, but neither does it require a complete institutional overhaul. Here’s my list of some examples that might help:
- Get resources/courses/assessments posted early – a greater element of organisation falls to the students when studying at a distance so they need as much information as early as possible to help them plan. 2am the night before is not helpful.
- Ensure reading lists are online or open access – when students can’t access the physical library, a lengthy reading list of physical books housed there is just irritating and if you expect them to buy them, costly and elitist.
- Assessment rubrics – conducting new types of assessment (eg prolonged open book exams/essays) is difficult for students and it really helps to know how they will be marked. Vague instructions such as ‘give a brief account’ or ‘you can include this if you wish’ are confusing. Let the know where marks will be given and how many.
- Assessment feedback – when operating at a distance the feedback given on assignments becomes much more significant in learner progression. Give detailed feedback and also positive comments as well as areas for improvement.
- Don’t underestimate how much informal information you provided face to face – for example, it may seem that you give a presentation on exam tips every year, and providing the powerpoint is sufficient, but you probably provide a lot of clarification and extra points in that presentation which won’t be clear to the distance students.
- Use polls/interactive tools in place of asking for verbal responses – this is especially true in large lectures. In a lecture hall someone may stick their hand up and you can have dialogue but that might be less likely online. In addition using tools like Vevox and PollEverywhere are useful ways to break up a lecture and add interaction.
- Clarity, clarity, clarity – not only is it more easy to get the wrong end of the stick when you’re studying at a distance, it’s also more frustrating. However much clarity you think you provide in instructions, double it and add some more.
And institutions need to ensure that educators have the time and support to implement these actions. Fairly simple tweaks can make a big difference to students.