Dr Dyedra Morrissey - Successful Online Teaching

Dr Dyedra Morrissey (2010, Experimental Psychology) currently works as a Retained Lecturer in Study Skills at Pembroke College and a guest lecturer at the Saïd Business School and has recently written some blog posts on how to teach successfully online based on her upcoming book '100 Tips for Successful Learning – In Life and Education'.

Successful online teaching: put the student first, remember the goal of education and don’t try to replicate the classroom!

Remember the purpose of education

It might help to remind ourselves why we are teaching or learning a subject – what is our goal? In a recent class for executive Masters students studying programme management at the University of Oxford, I asked them: why write essays?  Here’s my own list of ‘good’ reasons to write an essay: enjoyment, being innovative, learning something for life, making time for ‘deep-reading’ around the subject, creating space to think, engaging with new ideas, comparing and contrasting alternative theories and models, thinking about real-life applications, improving an organisation and (for that particular class) becoming a better programme manager. I suggested that if even some of these reasons are students’ genuine motivation for writing an essay then a good grade is likely to follow much more easily than if their primary objective is simply to get a good grade.

New beginnings for teaching and learning

Many of us feel unnerved by the current forced working-from-home, online-only situation but it does provide us with an opportunity to re-think the way we teach and to improve upon conventional teaching methods. Many guides to remote teaching focus on replicating the experience of the traditional face-to-face setting but this risks merely falling short of ‘the real thing'. That approach overlooks the potential that the online set-up has in its own right as a completely new form of education.

Creativity and Innovation

There are clearly many downsides to being stuck at home, but some positives too, including time, mental space, and greater opportunity to focus. We should seek to make the most of this time, learning new languages or skills, revisiting much-loved texts and giving ourselves the licence to experiment more, to explore strands of an argument that we may have skipped over in more ‘normal’ times. Teachers need to encourage students to use this opportunity, rather than insisting on our previous timetables and methodologies. We need to nurture rather than stifle curiosity.

Again, this requires a shift in mindset. If we are driven by a fear that students might lose out on what they had ‘originally signed up for’, we might enforce stricter rules and regulations than necessary, reducing spontaneity and enjoyment. In the online lecture environment for example, there’s a tendency for lecturers to ask all questions to be pre-submitted. I have even read suggestions that advocate cutting out jokes from online lectures and writing a script before recording. These are well-intentioned tips, but we need to find ways to communicate our passion for the subjects we teach and remain spontaneous – and human! - in the online environment. If we don’t, then we might as well just write textbooks and put those online.

Time Management & Priorities

Time-management skills are vital. When many of us are working and studying at home, it is all too easy to get up late and not create a good routine. But by planning out our days at home, we can get an incredible amount done over the coming weeks and months. It is also important to schedule in breaks to re-set your brain and to make sure that you get enough fresh-air, exercise, and (virtual!) social contact. Not having external schedules imposed on us means that it is in our hands to take care of ourselves and make sure that we still lead balanced lives, even within the current restrictions. Creating new routines is important and we can use this to our great advantage and really follow our own bodies’ rhythm and use those times of day where we are at our best to do the work that really matters. The workspace that you create for yourself will also be important for your academic success and mental well-being. It has to be a space that is conducive to productive thoughts and a positive working mind-set. Think about ways how you can transform your current setting into a creative learning and working environment. There is of course no ‘one-size fits all’, especially given the fact that you might not have an ideal space for both working and living. However, small things can make a big difference, such as creating a separation between where you work and where you relax.

Support each other

Students and teachers will all need extra support throughout these changes. It’s stressful adapting our lives: collaboration, teamwork, and taking care of each other are fundamental. We will need to break out of old cliques and hierarchies. Everyone in educational intuitions has to now pull on the same rope – from admin staff to AV technicians, junior teaching staff and experienced educators, students and parents. We all need to do what we can to make these times easer for everyone by sharing our knowledge and skill-sets, and by talking openly and honestly about both the challenges ahead and our hopes and expectations. Most importantly, however, we should all welcome creative new ideas and innovations and not dismiss them as something ‘impossible’. Sharing things that work when it comes to teaching and learning better online is to be encouraged – without any sense of competition. If we can think bigger, this our opportunity to change teaching and learning for the better, forever.

Find Dyedra’s full blog post at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/successful-online-teaching-put-student-first-remember-morrissey/ with her follow up article at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/getting-most-out-online-teaching-practical-tips-points-morrissey/

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