Authored by altLAB

The Challenge

I was appointed to my first lecturing role in 2019. No, I didn’t have it down to a fine art by January. Then COVID-19 struck and preparing a PowerPoint was suddenly the least of my teaching worries.

Fast forward a month to my first online class. The group activities were a disaster and not just because I wasn’t familiar with the technology!

I’d told myself my on-campus lectures were interactive. Rather than just talk for two hours, I’d intersperse explanations of law with discussion activities, giving groups 5-10 minutes to apply the learnings to case studies.

I’d noticed this wasn’t particularly successful, however. Students don’t discuss a topic just because you tell them to; I’d be lying if I said 5-10 minutes was enough; and I was foolish to think the same approach was going to work online.

Solutions and Advice

Five tips for best practice learned from trial and error and a lot of support from my peers:

Keep what works
The tasks I’d written for students were great! Authentic, controversial, eye-opening, drawn from real cases I’d worked on. I decided to stick with them.

Flip the learning
With blended learning design, the focus is on what students do, and when they do it is not bound by the start and finish times of a lecture. So why not post the case studies in Blackboard before class each week, and make those the main focus of the week’s learning? This became my new approach, which guided not only the structure of group activities, but the whole’s week’s teaching.

Encourage collaboration – both synchronous and asynchronous
The case studies didn’t have to be solved on the spot. I decided to give Blackboard Groups a go, on the advice that each group would have their own discussion board and Collaborate Room to work on the task during the week.

Consider shortening lecture times
I soon shortened the online lecture by an hour. With much of the learning happening in groups, the lecture became an opportunity to clarify aspects of the current topic and discuss solutions. I spent the extra hour checking in with each group and providing feedback.

Start now, refine later
I still haven’t got this mastered, but it’s getting easier, and students are responding well.