If you’ve unexpectedly found yourself in the midst of a terrifying global pandemic and have been told that you will now be delivering all your classes online, then you may find one or two things in this blog post that will help you.
1. Which tool(s) should I use for online teaching?
In the world of online teaching, you will often find people referring to synchronous and asynchronous tools. All this means is real-time, or not. Synchronous tools are real-time online tools, and are those that are used instead of a face-to-face classroom session – they allow people to interact online with one another in real time: think Skype, or Facetime, or just being on the phone with someone. Asynchronous tools are those that are used when people can interact as and when they have time – they do not typically require an instantaneous response: think email, or text messaging, or simply writing letters.
At the University of Northampton, your synchronous teaching and learning tool of choice is Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. It is the University’s virtual classroom tool, and has been part of NILE and enabled and available in your NILE sites for a few years now. If you are moving a face-to-face class online it is highly probable that you will want to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (hereafter simply Collaborate). Asynchronous tools are a little more varied, but given the current situation let’s keep it simple and say that unless you have a better idea (which is perfectly possible), Blackboard’s Discussion Board tool is your asynchronous tool of choice.
The University’s Learning Technology Team will support you to understand and use these tools, both from a technical and a pedagogical perspective. However, as you will appreciate, they’re pretty busy at the moment, so here are a few things that may help you out while you’re waiting for a response to that email you just sent them.
What you need to know about Collaborate
Collaborate is already in all of your NILE module site(s) – each and every one of them. You don’t need to do anything to start using it with your students, apart from making the ‘Virtual classroom’ link available (which is covered in the staff Collaborate guide).
There is guidance on using Collaborate for staff and students available here:
Collaborate Guide for Staff
Collaborate Guide for your Students
What you need to know about Discussion Boards
Discussion Boards are also already activated and available in your NILE site(s). You may want to use these in between Collaborate sessions in order to facilitate class discussions in the days or weeks in between classes.
If you’d like to know more about Discussion Boards (and Blogs and Journals too), you’ll find this guide useful:
Blogs, Journals and Discussion Boards – A Guide for Staff
2. What happens with assessments online?
For the most part, coursework assessments will be able to continue normally. However, if your students were due to take an in-class test then this is going to be a problem.
A good option here is to consider making your in-class test into an open book or take home exam. It may be the case that with minor modifications your in-class test paper can be revised to work well when students are at home with access to their books and to the Internet. You may also consider giving students a longer window in which to take the exam – if you’ve not thought about using a 24 hour exam before then perhaps this is the time to try it out!
If this appeals, then then the best way to put it into practice is to release your open book/take home exam paper on NILE at the point at which the exam begins, and to setup a Turnitin submission point with a submission due date/time for the end of the exam to collect the papers in at the end (make sure it accepts submissions after the due date though, as some students may be allowed extra time). Most students are familiar with using Turnitin by this point in the year, and Turnitin’s text matching feature will deter collusion and plagiarism.
Full guidance on setting up and using Turnitin is available on our website at:
3. Do I have to teach differently online?
Online teaching is certainly different from face-to-face teaching, but many, if not all, of the principles of good teaching apply regardless of whether you are teaching online or face-to-face.
One of my favourite books about teaching is Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (2004). In a study entitled What the Best Online Teachers Should Do, which was conducted a few years after Bain published his book, a group of teachers tried out Bain’s recommendations in the online teaching and learning environment. While they found that online teaching was different to, and, sometimes, more difficult than, face-to-face teaching, the three key principles of ‘good teaching’ applied both in the online and in the face-to-face teaching worlds. In a nutshell, these principles are:
Principle 1. Foster student engagement
“Bain (2004) asserts that the best college teachers foster engagement through effective student interactions with faculty, peers, and content. They see the potential in every student, demonstrate a strong trust in their students, encourage them to be reflective and candid, and foster intrinsic motivation moving students toward learning goals.”
“In the online environment, lecture need not and should not be the primary teaching strategy because it leads to learner isolation and attrition. The most important role of the teacher is to ensure a high level of interaction and participation … student engagement with teachers, peers, and content is vital in the online learning environment.”
Principle 2. Stimulate intellectual development
“According to Bain the best teachers create a natural critical learning environment. … when it comes to stimulating intellectual development in students, questions are the key to creating a natural critical learning environment … Questions are universal; they can be asked and answered anytime or anywhere. They work best when the students ask them or when the students find them interesting. As long as it is possible to ask questions in an online class, then Bain’s natural critical learning environment can exist in an online class.”
Principle 3. Build rapport with students
“One way that Bain identified highly effective teachers was by how they treated their students. He recognized that such teachers ‘tend to reflect a strong trust in students. These teachers usually believe that students want to learn and they assume, until proven otherwise, that they can.'”
” … when it comes to building rapport with students, the best online teachers should understand the characteristics of their students and adapt accordingly … An important element of rapport building is that teachers are flexible – with regard to getting to know their students, getting their students to know them, working around deadlines, and creating an atmosphere that enhances learning.”
And if those three principles sound pretty much like what you’re doing already in your regular face-to-face classes, that’s probably because they are! So maybe online teaching is not too different from face-to-face teaching after all. While the environment is certainly different, the aims and principles of good teaching remain the same.
NB. All the above quotes are from Brinthaupt, T. M., et al., (2011) What the Best Online Teachers Should Do. Merlot Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(4). Available from: https://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no4/brinthaupt_1211.htm
4. Where can I get more help and support?
There is more help and support available about all aspects of technology-enabled teaching and learning from the Learning Technology Team.
You can find lots of information about NILE and about the various digital tools available to you and your students on our website:
You can take our online, self-study NILE training course:
If you are a member of staff at the University of Northampton you can also get more help from your learning technologist:
If you are a member of staff at one of our UK partner or international partner organisations, you can get more help from the NILE champion at your institution:
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- Learntech Summer news and updates 2020
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