Expectations, availability and learning: Online teaching and learning in the Maastricht Science Programme
After reading Mirko Reithler’s blog post, I was thinking about how to build a boat for my teaching in period 5 of the Maastricht Science Programme, a bachelor programme that is offered by the Faculty of Science and Engineering. As I had no teaching duties during period 4, I had slightly more time to prepare for the switch to online teaching and learning. Luckily, the skills course that I teach is a collaborative effort, with colleagues from the Maastricht Science Programme, the Language Centre, and the University Library involved.
Colleagues, both within our university and from other universities, inspired me. Many shared their useful insights into online teaching and learning. After watching several webinars and reading some literature, I felt empowered to run this course online. The framework of Cooper, highlighted in this systematic review, got my attention and I asked myself some questions: How do the students learn online? How do I present content online? What is my role as instructor?
I started by revisiting the intended learning outcomes (ILO) of the course. I asked myself the question if we were able to properly address these in online teaching and learning activities. Fortunately, this question could mostly be answered affirmatively. However, one ILO – ‘you will experiment with physics equipment and employ it in order to measure something about the Universe’ – was related to a physical lab experiment in which students normally collect data themselves at the Chemelot labs. So, we had to adjust this to an online variant and decided to guide them through the experiment set-up and provide them with a dataset to be used for data analyses. Students would still be able to develop the skills in analysing data (even though the experience would be different).
The next challenge was to preserve the heart of PBL by using the principles of constructive, contextual, collaborative, and self-directed learning. We made sure that the ILOS were constructively aligned with teaching and learning activities and assessment. Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis was used to contextualise several elements of the skills course, as one of the aims of the course is to improve information literacy and related media and data literacy. We could share plenty of relevant examples (here and here) of fake news and misinformation in these times of crisis. In addition, we tried to stimulate self-directed learning, by providing a range of sources, from text books, to asynchronous video lectures, to online modules provided by Khan Academy (for example this, this, this and this source). We also shared additional resources about study smart at home.
During the course
I primarily focus on three aspects of online teaching and learning: clear communication of expectations, being present (online), and make sure that students learn the basics of research and information literacy skills. I provided the students with an elaborate update about the expectation in each week.
I considered it to be important students would see my face during an asynchronous video, so I recorded the lectures with both the PowerPoint presentation and my webcam on and uploaded these videos via MyMediasite (for example this video). Several students reached out to me by email to ask questions and I tried to answer these within a day. I also planned regular virtual office hours, but it seemed that students preferred email.
Students could learn about information literacy and research skills in multiple ways. The major focus is on academic writing. And we provided several asynchronous lectures and synchronous Zoom tutorials. Even though the attendance was waivered, many students joined these sessions. We decided to have several smaller assessment components within the course, ranging from formative online quizzes via BlackBoard to summative assignments via Feedback Fruits.
What did I learn?
Disruption boosts innovation. The challenges that arose during this crisis forced me to dig deeper into innovative elements of teaching. I learned to work with different tools (for example MyMediasite, FeedbackFruits, and Zoom) and it seemed that students were well able to cope with these differences of online learning.
Moreover, starting with the didactical models (constructive alignment and the PBL principles) helped me in shaping the course. It helped me to see online teaching and learning as a different way of arranging teaching and learning, while still meeting similar intended learning outcomes of the skills course. Although the assignments (lab report, academic paper, critical reflection, and presentation video) also lend themselves quite easily for translating into an online format.
I do miss the non-verbal communication during teaching activities. I found it quite odd to record my lectures without any non-verbal feedback from the students. I also generally miss connecting with students. I assume they are doing well and that they are able to cope with the current situation. However, I am not 100% sure. I am a bit worried about students who have lower self-regulated skills. But I hope they feel comfortable enough to reach out to me in case of any difficulties.
About the author
Stefan Jongen is lecturer at the Maastricht Science Programme, a programme offered by the Faculty of Science and Engineering. At this faculty, he also coordinates teaching staff development programmes, including University Teaching Qualification and Continuing Professional Development. He is also faculty liaison at EDLAB, the Maastricht University Institute of Education Innovation.