This example describes how we approached the transition to online learning and teaching with first and second-year undergraduates in cohorts of 150-190 students in Civil Engineering, taught both at Leeds and at Southwest Jiatong University.
The online education approach adopted
For two undergraduate Maths & Modelling modules of 160-180 students each (at level 1 and level 2), we have increased the online nature of the courses to now about 95% online. Both modules are 20-credit, 2-semester modules, core to all Civil Engineering students. The modules have equivalents running for our students on our campus in China at Southwest Jiatong University, with two groups of 70 students.
Some key aspects of our active learning approach:
- We use a flipped approach and give students clear activities to prepare each week, prior to a live session.
- Minerva is used as an access point for everything and structured clearly following the timeline and topics.
- Weekly pre-recorded content is prepared and embedded in Minerva for each topic.
- TopHat quizzes are used for each topic as pre-work to engage and test prior knowledge.
- Weekly live sessions are held via Collaborate Ultra and we also make use of short TopHat live questions in these sessions. These cover questions arising from weekly lectures and information about what students need to be doing, etc.
- Weekly maths-based task completed on Möbius, an online assessment tool, accessed via Minerva (Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences pilot), which provides automated/specific feedback to the students.
All assessments are set up via Gradescope, including the final exam, which means they are submitted and marked online. There are a number of summative end-of-topic assessments throughout the module as well as regular formative ones (including automated content via Mobius).
The School/Faculty piloted Gradescope for end-of-module exams in May 2020 and colleagues were pleasantly surprised by its functionality and ease of use. This has led to a wide uptake of the online assessment tool for both in-course assessments and final exams or assessment of modules. It also has some advantages for managing assessments within the joint school in China where module teams can access the scripts conveniently.
Student discussion & interaction
We now use an MS TEAM for students as a discussion space and area to raise questions with the module team. So far this is proving very effective.
There are also a number of modelling workshops that were formally face-to-face, group-based activities. These were run for the first time online, initially using Collaborate Ultra with breakout groups, with demonstrators to support groups. We recently switched to the using a Class Team for workshops and we created channels for them all to break out into meetings within. The channel worked well as it meant we could have collaborative workbooks for the groups to complete together in their channel/group. We’ll be using this format for the three remaining Modelling workshops.
The positive impact on students’ educational experience
Having a good quality pre-recorded content available and clearly set out within Minerva (e.g. week by week content available) has been positively received. We have students with different levels of experience and the availability of the content has been received well as they can watch at their own pace and prepare for live sessions. Being able to set activities that engage the students and provide automated feedback is also key.
The Möbius weekly task allows students to both test themselves and get feedback on topics. Being able to run a live a TopHat quiz with a live Collaborate Ultra session has worked well for enabling a more interactive online session, i.e. students answer questions on their mobiles; this has worked surprisingly smoothly. The typical approach is to share a screen with PowerPoint slides, then annotate over the top with a WACOM style tablet. This allows us to go through examples and has been received well by students, who reported it to be more engaging and useful than ‘death by PowerPoint’. Students have been positive about their experience taking and submitting their May exams with Gradescope, as have staff who marked within the tool.
It’s early days with MS TEAM for the module, but we are seeing students using this as a place to ask questions on the module and also of each other. We are hopeful this will be a useful part of creating a cohort dynamic. We are also seeing that students are happy to post questions in the chat and ask questions during live Collaborate Ultra sessions. It is potentially easier to ask questions this way compared to a hand up in lectures.
The impact on my teaching practice
I hope it has meant that I am continuing to be an effective ‘educator’ and I certainly think the online options enable me to teach in a way that is more effective than simply what I could do with face-to-face alone. The process of moving delivery to be predominantly online makes you reflect on your practice even more than normal. To some extent, teaching is often about experimenting and seeing what works, getting feedback, and doing more of what works. We’ve been pushed to experiment at a quicker and faster pace than we had perhaps ever expected, but I think in some ways it’s quite liberating. Having had a reasonably blended module to start with, has been helpful for me, personally, and the move to >90% online has been ok (so far!). That said, there has been (and is still) a lot of work to prepare the pre-recorded content and to ensure content is structured and ready.
We have a lot of very useful tools within the University. I’m perhaps in a fortunate position as in my role I am already familiar with many of them and, as such, it has been ok making use of them (and I know who to ask). As an institution, I feel we are in a good place with the range of tools, experience and resources we have to call on. For some, it will take time to get up to speed with the various options and how to make good pedagogical use of them (and I’m sure for some it’s a bit overwhelming), but I’m seeing huge efforts by colleagues to share what they are doing in a way I have never seen before. This is an enormously refreshing aspect of the current situation. There is a massive effort to share, help and support colleagues with moving their delivery to online. So far, I’m pretty positive about how this will put us in a much stronger position to deliver flexibly and at a distance in future.
If you would like to hear more about the uses of Gradescope and Top Hat in online assessment and teaching, have a look at these videos on the TIPS video channel:
- Using Gradescope in 48hr final exams (Duncan Borman)
- Gradescope (Alison Voice, Joanne Shiel)
- An introduction to Top Hat (Alice Shepherd)
- Share, Adopt, Adapt Workshop: Assessment in 2020 (Alison Voice, Joanne Shiel)
By Duncan Borman, Engineering and Physical Sciences