Teaching practical learning activities: key considerations

Woman with long hair in a ponytail looking down a microscopeTeaching practical activities such as labs, field trips and performances is likely to pose particular challenges in the next academic year. Some students may not be on campus, some locations for practical activities might not be accessible, and some activities may not be practical to conduct within social distancing constraints.

This resource is split into two pages. This first page consists of some prompts and questions for consideration in planning the teaching of practical subjects, as well as an example of implementation of digital teaching of practical activities in Journalism.

The second page provides guidance and examples for specific activity types.

We recognise that your department is likely to have very specific needs and questions when it comes to practical teaching - our Elevate and Digital Learning advisers are happy to provide support in working through specific challenges.

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Key questions, considerations and decisions to make when thinking about teaching practical subjects in 2020-21

Stage 1: Review

  • Review the learning outcomes of the programme.
  • Review the learning outcomes of the module.
  • Review any requirements from accrediting bodies.
Stage 2: Decision
  • Which learning outcomes (honestly) CANNOT be achieved in an online/distance format, and therefore ideally need to take place on campus or in the field?
  • Even if you think a learning outcome can’t be achieved in online/distance format, is it even possible to access the location for this activity (e.g. overseas field trip?)
  • It might be tempting here to think about postponing this activity until later in the programme or academic year. However, at the moment the global situation is unpredictable and there is no guarantee that social distancing measures will be lifted in the near future, or that there won’t be further lockdowns. Even if some activity is postponed, think about the digital activities you could design and build in earlier on in the academic year so that students can start developing the skills they need.
Stage 3: Planning to manage on-campus or field activity (if it is possible to do so)
  • Review any University advice about campus-based activities and gatherings in the return to campus shared Google Drive.
  • Plan for how this will be managed.
  • How many students could be in the learning/field space at one time?
  • What impact will this have on how much time overall is needed in that learning space or field?
  • How will you maintain social distancing?
  • How will you manage students entering and exiting the learning/field space?
  • How will you make clear to students their health and safety responsibilities?
  • What will be the procedures and alternatives for students who cannot be on campus or in the field (e.g. through illness/self-isolation, travel bans etc)?
  • What are the implications for the rest of your teaching team (including other Lecturers, GTAs, Demonstrators, Lab Technicians)?
  • Another possible consideration - which learning activities are usually completed in groups (e.g. lab work, performance?) Can students still achieve learning outcomes by working individually or in socially distanced groups? Is that practical in the learning space you’ve got?
Stage 4: Decision
  • Which learning outcomes CAN be achieved in an online/distance format?
Stage 5: Planning digital teaching of practical activities
  • What alternatives are available to learning activities that would normally take place on campus?
  • What technologies are available and supported by the University to help you deliver these learning activities?
  • Are students likely to be able to access the resources and equipment they need to complete these activities and tasks?
  • What are the implications for the rest of your teaching team (including other Lecturers, GTAs, Demonstrators, Lab Technicians)?
Stage 6: Planning assessment
  • Does the current assessment involve practical activities (e.g. performance, lab work)?
  • Can these assessments be conducted within social distancing and health and safety guidelines?
  • If not, what are the alternatives? More information on alternative assessments.
  • What are the implications for the rest of your teaching team (e.g. GTAs, Demonstrators, Lab Technicians)?

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Example - Advanced Broadcast Journalism

The masters-level module ‘Advance Broadcast Journalism’ is based on practical learning with regular studio-based ‘news days’ culminating in a full ‘news week’ in week 10 of Semester Two. Once the University moved to digital teaching, the course team, led by Lynn Dixon and Colin Sykes, had to move the news days entirely online. They began with the learning outcomes for this module:

  • Handle stories that are editorially and technically complex and translate them into effective radio and television.
  • Show awareness of the demands of making a range of radio and television news and current affairs programmes.
  • Reversion and originate material for effective and creative use on the web.
  • Initiate story and feature ideas and see them through to completion.
  • Relate production skills and theoretical considerations to broadcast news situations.

The course team were confident that most of these learning outcomes could be addressed through a practical online experience, with the exception of the use of the broadcast studio equipment. However, taking a programme level view, the students had previously had experience of using the equipment in previous news days and workshops. The team sought advice from the accrediting body for the course, who had introduced some flexibility in requirements.

With key support from the Creative Media team, students were able to record and broadcast their news items from home, using their own equipment (with allowances made for technical quality). The news day followed its usual structure, but instead of just reporting on South Yorkshire news items, students reported from all around the world, and unsurprisingly, the pandemic and lockdowns were the subject of many of the news items. The course tutors established two all-day channels with the students, which allowed the tutors to provide regular formative feedback throughout the day. Students remained motivated and excited to participate despite the challenges, and they had a general awareness that their experience was actually very authentic, as it was what journalists around the world were dealing with in their professional lives.

Watch one of the news days the students produced.

On the next page, you will find guidance related to specific practical activities.

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Further information

Top tips

  1. Begin the process of planning practical learning activities by going back to the programme level and module level learning outcomes
  2. Speak to the Digital Learning team about the technologies that could support practical learning activities
  3. If access to practical learning spaces is limited, think about how to maximise the time your students will spend in there.
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