No going back – reconfiguring learning for a post-COVID world

On using technology to engage students in a blended learning environment

Dr Louise Robson, an award-winning senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, is a keen advocate for active learning – a methodology that encourages students to become active participants in the learning process.

In the second blog of this series, I want to showcase how Louise has used different technologies to enhance the learning experience of her STEM students and create a more active learning environment for them – both in-person and online.

Below are four key strategies Louise uses to incorporate active learning into the blended delivery of higher education.

1. Provide structure

Students feel more confident and supported when there is structure to a session – so they know what to expect and what’s expected of them. This is just as important with in-person teaching as it is when the learning takes place online.

If the lecture is being live streamed, for example, the instructor can simply run through the agenda and tasks students will be asked to complete at the start of the session. But there are some creative ways to bring structure to asynchronous teaching too.

You could record a short introductory video for students to view before they watch the main recorded content, offering an overview of the topics that will be covered in the session and outlining the activities students will engage in. They can then watch the full lecture with a better understanding of what’s coming up.

It can also be useful to provide a weekly round-up video to ‘check in’ with students, highlight tasks that need to be completed in the coming week and remind students of how they can find additional support if they need it. This helps learners feel connected to their institution if they’re learning remotely and supports them in keeping on top of their studies.

2. Adjust teaching to the learning environment

Consider adjusting the teaching style used for in-person sessions to better suit the online environment. This will help to keep students studying online motivated to learn and can be particularly helpful if they have other commitments to manage.

A typical 50-minute lecture could be chunked up into shorter sessions, for example, making them more easily digestible online. Quizzes and polls can be incorporated into both live and a-synchronous sessions using technology such as the Echo360 hybrid teaching and learning platform too, helping to keep students engaged.

Question and response activities are a great way for instructors to evaluate students’ knowledge and understanding of the topics being covered during live sessions. But students watching lecture recordings from home can also use them to identify any areas that would benefit from additional revision or support, helping them to continue making progress.

3. Encourage participation

The active learning model is built on student participation so think about the different ways you could use technology to increase interaction in all sessions, whether students are learning virtually or in the room.

With Echo360, questions can be posed that students answer anonymously. This offers a low-risk option for those who are unsure of the correct response or are nervous about getting it wrong in front of their peers. With their identity preserved, students are much more likely to have a go.

More responses can generate more diverse discussion of the topic, greater engagement and more opportunities for you to provide feedback or flag learning points.

In contrast, platforms such as Blackboard Collaborate are useful for enabling more direct contact with students, either individually or all at the same time. Virtual breakout rooms can be used to create activities such as group discussions and team-based problem-solving tasks too, adding another dimension to the learning experience.

So, take some time to explore how the different technologies you have access to might be used to enrich the student learning experience.

4. Enhance peer-to-peer learning

Group learning activities can be enhanced further by assigning students to groups or virtual breakout rooms randomly. This provides them with an opportunity to interact with different students in each session and broaden their knowledge.

Encourage students learning remotely to unmute their microphones and discuss the task or question that has been set as a group. That way, knowledge is shared and stronger students are more likely to help those students who may be struggling to get greater clarity on the subject.

By recording live and online sessions, group learning tasks and feedback, students will continue to get value from the delivery of active and engaging learning experiences – whether they attended in-person or virtually, simply want to refresh their knowledge, or are catching up from home.

Echo360 is a hybrid teaching and learning platform used by leading institutions across the UK and beyond to engage students and help them progress, wherever they happen to be.

Dr John Couperthwaite is a former online learning specialist at a Russell Group university, now customer success manager (EMEA) at Echo360.

Contact us to find out how Echo360 could support your institution. You can watch Dr Robson’s webinar, How Blending Technologies can Enhance Online Interactive STEM Classes, in full here.


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