Teaching practice during the pandemic 2020
Flipped classroom for online teaching
I have been leading a core module on communicable and non-communicable diseases for a Master in Public Health (MPH) for the last 2 years that introduces students to important public health issues, interventions to address them, as well as methods for evaluating the interventions. Speakers from multidisciplinary backgrounds teach on their topics of expertise; and for the assessment, students are asked to develop a grant proposal by identifying an important public health issue, devising a viable strategy to address the issue, and evaluating the impact of their proposed strategy.
In the past 2 years, sequential changes have been introduced to the module based on student feedback, mainly on (i) improving the coherence of topics covered by the module and (ii) providing greater support to students for developing the assignment. This semester, given the pandemic situation, the module has moved entirely to an online teaching and learning platform, with both asynchronous and synchronous elements. This year, the usual lecture on ‘infectious disease outbreak and surveillance’ delivered by staff from Public Health England, focused specifically on the COVID-19 response. This has exposed our students to the most up-to-date evidence and practice that public health authorities are utilising in response to the ongoing pandemic.
Reflections on positive teaching practices
In this article, I want to reflect and document some of the positives from the adaptations we have had to make to the teaching practices for this module within the context of a global pandemic.
Developing conducive online learning environments and approaches
Given the online teaching and learning platform, the first step taken was to restructure the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) site. Previously, the module was mainly delivered through face-to-face sessions, and the VLE was used for archiving PowerPoint slides and reading material, submission of module assessments, and providing useful links to relevant resources.
The main changes made during this semester have been: (i) standardising the lay-out for each session, so students can find all the learning material for any given week within one page, (ii) inclusion of a weekly discussion board for engagement throughout the week, and (iii) active and structured communication via emailed announcements.
The online platform has allowed a more cohesive outline for different lecturers to build their respective content
Student feedback received in 2019/20 suggested that having cohesive blocks of lecture topics (implemented in that year) did not improve overall module coherence. In discussing this with peer lecturers from MPH, it was realised that the format and delivery of the different lectures needed to be structured consistently throughout the module. We feel this has been more possible with the shift to online teaching.
Here is the general outline used for structuring each session:
> A flipped classroom technique has been employed for 2020/21. In-class lectures have been replaced with shorter recorded videos — these are uploaded a week in advance, to be viewed by students in their own time, prior to the weekly synchronous sessions held via zoom.
> In addition to pre-recorded lectures, other learning material uploaded to the VLE have included assigned reading, and YouTube videos. As different students may apprehend the same concepts at different levels, a diversity of ways have been included to present the same concepts, so that more uniform learning may be facilitated across the cohort.
> Weekly discussion board questions have allowed students to post their views about concepts learned from the diverse learning content, and also get a response from lecturers/peers. This has not only kept students engaged throughout the week, but also given us an opportunity to follow through with students’ understanding of the learning content. Discussion boards remained open for the whole week leading up to the synchronous session.
Active learning techniques employed in synchronous sessions
The primary motive for taking the flipped-classroom approach this year was to utilise the limited synchronous time with students for active learning, by engaging in interactive activities that build on the asynchronous learning material and discussion board. The synchronous sessions have involved various combinations of active learning techniques such as open questions, group activities, pair and share activities, student presentations and discussion.
The open Q&A has been a particularly popular format, which has prompted lecturers to respond to student queries across disciplines and think broader than their lecture topic. But these sessions have been designed flexibly to allow student-centeredness, and lecturers on the module have also been really flexible and very welcoming of discussions to be directed by students.
Active communications via announcements
This year it has been particularly important to communicate regularly with the students. However, we have been considerate in limiting the number of emails via announcements to prevent information overload.
Announcements have been used for signposting each week’s session and providing the link for the synchronous session. Each session with full content goes live at the same time each week and the announcement emails get sent simultaneously. Announcements are only otherwise used to communicate any changes or specific requests for the synchronous session from our lecturers.
Whether this year’s module design was effective for student learning and helped improve their assignment task can only be objectively assessed by looking at the marks from spring 2021 and comparing the results with previous years. Maybe, we will write another piece in the coming months reflecting on these results and feedback received…