Tales from my home office III: Sowing the seeds

By Patrick Bijsmans

One of the few good things about the the need to stay at and work from home, is that we’ve managed to get a lot of work done in the garden. We’ve enlarged one of the borders, planted a tiny forest consisting of native trees, shrubs and herbs, and have started preparations for putting in a wildlife pond. Last week I’ve also finally sowed the first flower and vegetable seeds in the greenhouse.

I’ve also started sowing the seeds for my online teaching this period.

I am organising a series of webinars on online teaching and learning and am learning a lot from listening and talking to colleagues. For instance regarding technical issues, such as how to best make use of breakout rooms while being unable to see what happens in them, or how to use screen-sharing to produce collective notes. But also regarding group dynamics, which can be less dynamic due to more limited online attention spans, but which can also be improved due to the increased importance of letting someone finish their contribution. Or regarding the role of the tutor – taking over the note-taking role from students can help to offer much-needed structure.

But my own experience has so far been limited. As I wrote before, I am not teaching any tutorials, only lectures and supervision of BA and MA theses.

My experience using Zoom for meetings with my BA and MA supervises (and with colleagues) has been quite good. I’ve utilised breakout rooms, screen sharing and the whiteboard to support discussions and allow detailed discussions. As always, some students are more engaged than others, but interestingly enough these divisions mirror students’ normal in-class behaviour. The screen doesn’t seem to matter too much here.

Even though I will not be teaching any tutorials,  I’ve nevertheless asked two colleagues – Marisa Mori and Mirko Reithler – if I could join one of their online tutorials. I want to experience online tutorials for two reasons. First, to see how things are going – how students and colleagues translate PBL to an online environment – and to learn from Marisa and Mirko. Second, since it may be possible that online teaching and learning continues into the next academic year, I might as well be prepared. But even when normality resumes as of September, I expect to still be inspired to rethink some of my regular teaching.

I’m also going to join online lectures of two other colleagues – Andreea Nastase and Anna Herranz-Surrallés – both in our BA-level EU politics course. Here my interest is more evident, as I have to give a couple of lectures in May. One of these lectures will be on Euroscepticism and will be in the same EU politics course. I’m currently considering doing a mixture of knowledge clips and/or podcasts plus online discussions, not that different from your normal flipped classroom.

For two other lectures in our BA European Studies mentor programme I am considering making them completely asynchronous. These are lectures in which colleagues and myself present BA students with some need-to-know information about their upcoming second or third year and some of the important choices to be made (e.g. concerning elective courses, Erasmus exchange, internship). Here, we’re probably going to update existing slides and accompany them with short matter-of-fact videos from colleagues and experience videos from senior students, plus a short instruction on how to best view this material.

For our third-years we’d normally do a final session in which we review the whole BA. I’m not yet quite sure what to do here. Yet, given that my experience using Zoom for larger groups (staff webinars) has been rather good, I suspect that we’ll reenact a more standard think-pair-share setting.

So, the seeds are sown. But obviously additional efforts are needed to make sure that they’ll germinate. I’m seeing some first succes in the greenhouse; now to translate this to my online teaching.

About the author

Patrick Bijsmans is assistant professor in European Studies and one of the editors of the FASoS Teaching & Learning Blog. He teaches European Studies at BA and MA level and is faculty coordinator of the teaching staff professionalisation programme Continuing Professional Development. He is slowly finding his way in the online teaching and learning universe.