Teaching and Learning Uncategorised

Tales of a reluctant online educator

It’s easy for those of us who are more experienced at online delivery to forget how daunting it can be to do it for the first time. I’ve been delivering online courses now for 10 years, but I remember how I felt when I was first told that I had to deliver an established face-to-face undergraduate level course online.

Important elements of my course were highly practical, involving lots of hands-on with assistive technology and specialist equipment. I was unconvinced that it would be possible to move online without losing important experiential learning and naturally occurring peer support.

What helped move online at speed

Working with a trusted colleague really helped. Jisc’s Insights research demonstrates that many lecturers learn a lot of digital skills from colleagues. If you and your colleague have different strengths, you can more effectively help each other.

While it’s best to develop content specifically with online delivery in mind, when moving at speed I initially found it helpful to have a look at what I already had and could be re-purposed. Finding or making videos to demonstrate practical content was helpful and provided variety.

Using a platform that was tried and tested seemed a safe bet and it was helpful to look at how other organisations were using it. Something that took the pressure off was asking for feedback and really valuing and responding to student input. It’s a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

For the practical content, we needed to step back and think about what it was we needed people to learn and evidence. Going back to the origins of the course, what core competencies were we developing and testing?

What I wish I’d known

Looking back, there’s a lot of things I wish I’d known (and I still regularly discover new ideas from other online educators). I was really caught up in creating something perfect and too hung up on trying to replicate exactly what happened face to face. The first run of the course was somewhat over-designed, with post-session tasks and pre-session tasks, which was confusing, led to much more work for us and was too controlling.

It was stressful to feel I needed to basically entertain online for an hour, whereas when delivering face to face I wouldn’t have done that and would have been looking to the group to continually contribute and collaborate.

Over subsequent years, embedding my own values of universal design for learning and inclusive practice provided lots of good ideas, such as providing a range of asynchronous content at different levels to provide a range of entry points to a subject, i.e. some content for beginners that more experienced participants could skip to look at something more specialist.

Finally, I wish I’d just kept it simple and not felt the need to use new formats. An ePortfolio can be as simple as a Word document. The formats you use shouldn’t be as time consuming to learn as the course itself.

In a nutshell, my lessons learned are: relax a bit, learn from what others are doing, keep the learning objectives and your own values in mind, and seek feedback.

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

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