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Planning a course

consider all locations when planning a session

A number of students experience that teachers have not thought their planning through “to the other side” — even those who are meticulous in their planning.
For example, they experience that the teacher's PowerPoint presentation instructs to make 8 groups of 4 people. But often there are not enough people present, sometimes not even enough to create a single group. And rarely, if ever, do they experience groups that cut across campusses although this could help students relate to each other — not necessarily on a personal level, but as co-students and fellow peers.

This may seem a minor issue, but if such issues are met repeatedly by the students, they report that it affects their motivation a great deal. The good news is that it is relatively easy to resolve, once you - as teacher - become aware of it and begin to plan ahead across locations.

Make it easy

For example, try using a Google Sheet or Google Document to make groups. Add the number of groups in a table, share it with an open link (remember to ensure the link type is set to CAN EDIT) and let the students enter their names and perhaps an email or skype account, so they can reach each other during group work. Then you do not have to think about how they get in touch. Or if you want to be able to “visit” them in the groups, to see how the exercise is going, prebook a number of Skype for Business sessions that they can enter, and which you can visit on your “group rounds”.

Another example is display objects. If props are brought into the classroom, what considerations do you make when displaying them to your students? Check out the guidelines on using mobile phones and document cameras for presentations.

SHould (and Could?) the teachers and students meet?

There are indications that the physical meeting between teacher and student can benefit video teaching for both parties.

  • Some teachers reflect that they might be better at running video conference teaching, if they can establish a closer relationship with the students initially through physical attendance.
  • Some students in the “far end” location feel that they are less valued and have less access to the teachers.
  • Students at both locations seem to benefit from having some social and even physical meetings during the semester.

The organizing bodies (whether at the study board, coordinator or department level) can look into whether there are funds to support teachers travelling for some of the sessions, and if there are funds for students to meet, if video conference is used a lot during the same educational programme.

Teachers experience that teaching works better at the end of the semester in courses where they have students for a longer period of time. It takes time for both teacher and students to get to know one another. As one teacher puts it:

“ Then the students know what should happen. They know my routines. I know which students I will try to get more in touch with, and I can better differentiate. I.e. time to build relationships seems crucial.”

Teachers say that it gives greater satisfaction to be physically present among the students. It provides greater contact and relationships with the students, and this impression seems to be mutual, according to the teachers.

Good experiences with student- and teacher assistants

The students at "the far end" can feel a bit left to themselves. Ironically, this may happen more when exercise-based activitites take place, if this is not scaffolded. Also, if the group difference between "the near end" and "far end" is in such a way that "the far end" has less participants than "the near end". We find this is often the case between Aalborg and Esbjerg, but may occur in many situations. To some students this evolves to a degree where they feel less important to the teacher than the other students, even though this is not the case, of course. This issue is also discussed in the video on discussion of strategies for video conference use. Solutions can be to utilize group work in other forms as presented in some of the guidelines.

Student assistants

Student assistants have proven to be very valuable, in particular if you as teacher have an active dialogue with the student assistants, and e.g. ask them to tell which screen-views they prefer at the "far end", get feedback, keep an eye on questions etc. They can end up being more than technical assistants, and also represent the social clue, which is vital for the context to move from an “us” and “them” feeling between campuses, to a mutual feeling of coexisting classrooms that take care of each other and consider each of the classrooms' needs.

Teacher assistants

Several study programmes use teacher assistants, which is an excellent solution that provides a specialist at the "far end" location. The students, however, report that often the TA does not know the exercises, details about deadlines for hand-ins, relation to other modules, exams etc. Thus, the students recommend and request that teacher and TA conduct joint planning of the sessions, to ensure joint ownership, and that the main teacher teaches from both locations. In our experience, the process of teaching from both locations is well established in many courses. This is noteworthy although it does not eliminate the need for co-planning with TA and dialogue with SA, if they are used. 

it should not be an individual teacher's task to make a Plan A, B or c

Many teachers find they are left to themselves when deciding how to act when things do not work, leaving them alone with the students' frustration. They state that they want someone to take more explicit responsibility for the VC technology.

The organizing bodies must provide support here. See for example the two videos in the article Discussion on Strategies

Possible plans

Here are examples of plans you can adopt depending on your video conference use. The plan should be adjusted according to how frequently you use it, and the size of the classes.

When things go wrong:

  • Switch platform (Skype for Business / Adobe Connect). With Skype for Business, you can see if the room itself is able to connect, as shown in the article on bringing in a virtual guest
  • If the point-to-point video conference system does not work, connect via a computer at the "far end" as your student assistant or TA, and then project the image of your screen via the computer. 
  • If sound is the only problem (which used to happen more frequently in the past, but not so often anymore), you can connect the sound via the computer and simply use the video conference system in the room for screen activities.
  • You can also group students around their computers, but remember to mute computers to avoid echo if several groups stay in the same room.

Consider whether plan A, B and C always come in a fixed order or if the order may vary.

Most importantly, try all the choices out in practice, do not settle with thinking them through.

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