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Ten tips for digital teaching

We've asked Robert Gray to give teachers ten tips for digital teaching.

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Robert Morris Gray Jr. works as a Associate Professor at the Department of EducationFaculty of Psychology

We have asked him to give us his best five advices for digital teaching: 

1.  When planning or redesigning your course for online or blended delivery, start with what it is you really want your students to learn in the course (i.e., learning outcomes)

It is always important to align your assessments and course teaching & learning activities with the course’s intended learning outcomes. This can help you identify what is truly most important and focus primarily on that.

2. Figure out which parts of the course material absolutely need to come out of your mouth and which parts the students can get from other places

When we lecture in the traditional classroom, students tend to take what is said there as the official curriculum, but 2 x 45-minute lecture videos just don’t work online. What are the things that students can only learn from us speaking those things? And what can be "delivered" to the students in other ways? In other words, in a 90-minute lecture, how many of those minutes are you saying things they couldn’t read or watch somewhere else (e.g., from actually reading the text or watching a video on YouTube)?

3. Make online lecture videos short

The research says that students typically watch a lecture video for about six minutes. Your videos and students might be better than those in the studies, but it’s best not to push it beyond 10 minutes. Of course, you can have more than one 6–10-minute lecture to cover that day’s worth of material, but reduce or distill your online lectures as much as possible.

4. Contextualize everything

When you give your students an online video or reading assignment or, really, anything else, it is best to write a few sentences that introduce the material, explain how it fits into the course context, and describes what they are supposed to get out of it.

5. Use Quizzes, Discussions, and Assignments in Mitt UiB to get students to engage and use the course content after they have watched a video or read a chapter/article/etc.

There is a lot of research showing how effective quizzes are for helping students retain information (i.e., move it from short-term to long-term memory) and how students don’t really learn much from watching a video unless you give them something to do after watching it. This is simply because retrieving and using new information makes us much more likely to remember that information. Mitt UiB offers lots of ways to do this.

6. Make synchronous (e.g., Zoom) sessions as interactive as possible

If you are doing all of the talking, there is no reason to do that in real time (i.e., you might as well record yourself and let the students watch it whenever they want). The value of synchronous sessions is so that students can participate actively in the class by asking questions and discussing the material. Try to make the class time more about what they can do than about what you do.

7. If your video is a narrated slideshow (e.g., Kaltura Capture), keep your slides moving

Video is a unique medium in that it is all about the eyes. When you listen to a podcast or even a song on the radio, your eyes can be looking at anything and you can still focus on what you are hearing, but when you are watching a video, if your eyes start looking at something else, you tend to stop listening to the video. If the video is a static image of a PowerPoint slide that doesn’t change for several minutes, there is really no reason for your eyes to keep looking at it, and if your eyes wander, your mind will soon follow. Therefore, try to make sure that something on your slides changes every 10-15 seconds (e.g., have bullets appear individually, make each bullet a separate slide, etc.).

8. Organize your online materials in Modules

Modules is one of the best tools in Mitt UiB / Canvas because it lets you organize the various aspects of your course by time or topic rather than by tool. For example, if you plan to use a discussion, quiz, and assignment in the same week where you will be covering a particular topic, and you will also have two slide decks, three content pages, four PDF articles, one YouTube video, and two video lectures, you can use Modules to organize and present those to your students together in a coherent and easy-to-navigate way.

9. Give students clear instructions on how to navigate your Canvas course site and perform the tasks they are supposed to complete

Every instructor designs their Mitt UiB / Canvas course sites differently. This is almost always in a way that is intuitive and obvious to the instructor but not so intuitive and obvious to the students (because they have been in other instructors’ course sites that are extremely different but equally intuitive and obvious to the one who made them). In other words, don’t just leave it to the students to figure out how to get around in the course or to know what they are supposed to do. Give clear instructions on the Course Home page on how to get started and give instructions along the way (usually at the bottom of select Pages).

10. Make the online learning experience as human as possible

One of the best aspects of the traditional classroom is that students come together in the same room and get to know each other and, more importantly, start feeling connected to the instructor and other students. The online classroom, on the other hand, can be a very alienating place where students feel isolated and disconnected. The more you can do to help them get to know and feel connected to you as a person (and not just as an aloof and lofty professional), as someone who cares about them and their learning, the more likely they are to persist in and be successful in the course.