Three lessons learned on how to use online components in a (post-)pandemic teaching environment

By Clara Weinhardt

As another academic year shaped by online teaching is coming to an end, everybody is longing to bringing education back to our campuses. While we may not like it, we currently do not know with certainty in what ways – and for how long – this will be possible. This makes it important to reflect upon ways in which we can use some of the advantages of online teaching, and at least mitigate disadvantages. Three lessons learned come to my mind.

1. Use online lectures more creatively: bringing in external guests – and new formats

The online teaching environment makes it easier to bring in new formats to lectures that emphasise external input. For one, it has become much easier to bring in external guest speakers that are not based at your university. Instead of having to travel to your university, they can now simply log in via the online teaching platform you are using – even if only for a short session of 20-30 minutes.

One way to use this is to bring in practitioners to your lectures that can provide a short input based on their own work experiences. In a lecture I gave on trade and development, for instance, Kholofelo Kugler, a Counsel at the Geneva-based Advisory Center on WTO Law, joined us to share her thoughts on the challenges that developing countries face in the world trading system.

Another way to make use of the online teaching environment is to turn the entire lecture into a student-led “meet the expert” session. Instead of the traditional lecturing format, these sessions can be run in a more interactive Q&A manner. The invited guest speaker does not have to prepare an input, but simply joins for questions on the topic of the week. This works particularly well if students themselves are responsible for preparing the Q&A. For a “meet the expert” session on multilateralism and Covid-19, for instance, I divided students into three groups that had to prepare questions based on different readings for the week. In the session itself, student groups then took turns in posing questions to our guest, Dr. Remco van de Pas. After the external speaker left, we took another 15-20 minutes to reflect upon his answers in the light of the broader themes of our course.

Lastly, the online setting of lectures also makes it easier to make use of the increasing number of online webinars that have become accessible during the pandemic. In one of my courses, for instance, we watched a recent high-level roundtable on “The Future of Europe” organised by the Council on Foreign Relations together. We then jointly discussed the positions adopted on the roundtable in the light of the conceptual perspectives discussed in our course.

2. Use the flexibility of scheduling that comes with online teaching

Another lesson learned is that it is advisable to use the flexibility that online teaching offers in terms of scheduling. While lecture halls and seminar rooms are usually booked throughout the day, leaving little room for adjustments, online teaching can be shifted around much more easily.

In one of my courses, we, for instance, increased the usual 30 minutes break between the first tutorial and the first lecture that were originally scheduled back-to-back to one hour. This was in response to student concerns that the online format is more tiring and a longer break would be needed. I also adjusted the lengths of the lectures and the tutorials, both of which were shortened.

3. Integrate online social interaction into the course

Lastly, it is important to have in mind that while the design of our courses revolves around our intended learning outcomes, the environment also has to be conducive to learning. It is here that online-only education is particularly challenging, since social interaction that usually takes place before and after our lectures or tutorials is completely cut off.

This effect can be mitigated at least to some extent by simply taking the first few minutes of each tutorial to briefly check in with the students to see how they are doing. For one course, moreover, I created an online platform for social interaction among the students on that they could log in to after the last tutorial of the week (see picture below). This gave them a chance to connect outside of the online classroom, even if they were not currently based in Maastricht.

Wonder platform with three different rooms for conversations

To sum up, while I hope that teaching on campus will indeed become the norm again starting from September, I have also learned about new opportunities offered by online teaching. Hence, it makes sense to proactively start thinking about what online elements we may want to integrate into our future teaching.

About the author

Clara Weinhardt is an Assistant Professor in International Relations at FASoS.