Spotlight on Remote Teaching: Coping with the change to online learning

Photo credit: Samantha Gades, Unsplash CC0

In this Spotlight on Remote Teaching post, Dr Aaron Allen, an Academic Developer in the Institute for Academic Development (IAD), shares his thoughts with students about how they can cope (from an academic perspective) with the move to remote, online learning. This post was originally posted on the IAD’s Study Hub blog. Study Hub is an online platform, which is comprised of accessible online resources and networks that offer all taught students (pre-degree to taught postgraduate) at The University of Edinburgh the tools and support to make the most of their studies…

For all of us, this will be a time of uncertainty. We are worried about loved ones and we are worried about our studies. And many of us are far from home. But you are not alone! And in terms of your learning, the University is committed to continue with teaching.

The way we engage with learning will need to adapt, but many of the basic elements remain unchanged. From a teacher’s perspective, some wonderful learning opportunities, both for students and for staff, are being created. Staff will need to master online teaching technologies and techniques. Students will need to adapt to online learning and embrace independent learning. But is the latter really new?

One of the key transferrable skills which we have always tried to help our students to develop is the ability to be an independent learner. This has always been a key goal for the progression into and through higher education, from pre-honours to honours study. Being an independent learner and managing your time is critical from your very first lecture and tutorial, through to your fourth-year dissertations. So we try to encourage students to take initiative in their learning.

For lectures, the expectation is that students will later distil their notes during their own work or revision making sense of concepts and locking ideas into longer-term memory. When we discuss topics in small-group tutorials, the expectation is that students will prepare by doing necessary course reading on their own. And when we set exams, the expectation is that students will be reviewing and restructuring notes from reading, tutorials and lectures, and using past papers to practice. Much of your learning already happens individually.

While some of the elements will noticeably change in coming weeks (i.e. not going to lectures or practicals/labs), technology allows online alternatives, e.g. Collaborate sessions (a virtual classroom) or downloadable lectures (either a recording or screencast of lectures). These will take some getting used to, for all of us. Students will develop new skills for online learning whilst relying on traditional skills such as organising their study time, finding resources, reading, and revising. Some elements of teaching have already been cut (e.g. first and second year examinations) and new ones introduced (online exams for 3rd year and beyond). The opportunities to learn in new ways offers opportunities to learn key new skills.

The immediate crisis will pass, and whilst this will be challenging for everyone (change, sudden change, usually is), students are still able and encouraged to carry on with their studies. A degree of independence in learning has always been an essential element of a university degree programme, and students might need to take a bit more initiative over the coming months. Staff are working hard to minimise disruption for students. We will adjust, and we will get through this.

Useful resources

Aaron Allen

Dr Aaron Allen is an Academic Developer in the Taught Students Team at The University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Academic Development. In his current role, he helps develop resources and workshops for students on taught degrees and the staff which support them. Before joining the IAD, he taught history for several years, and he is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

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