Quick guide to digital teaching and learning

A laptop, phone, cup of coffee, signifying home workingThis page gives you an overview of the key considerations for digital teaching.

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Digital learning

What is the same?

  • Modules and sessions still need to have learning activities, teaching and assessment based on learning outcomes.
  • A programme level approach will ensure variety with a consistent offer.
  • Students’ independent learning skills are enhanced and developed.

What is different? 

  • Loss of the dynamic face-to-face environment, so student engagement requires more active consideration.
  • Clear course structuring and communications are paramount.
  • Issues of connectivity and confidence with technology are an important consideration: think about yourself, your GTAs and your students.
  • 'One size will not fit all'- variations in access to broadband and equipment, as well as students being located in different timezones, require a flexible and compassionate approach.

Grant Hill, from the Department of Chemistry, has offered his top tips (and suggested two tasks) for teaching digitally:

  • Don’t make all of the learning activities simply acquisitional (listening/reading/watching), include tasks that encourage students to collaborate, discuss, practise, produce or investigate.
  • Add regular formative micro-assessments or other touchpoints for feedback to help keep students on track. These can be simple Google Forms
  • Help students understand what they need to do. Where do they go in the virtual learning environment to find “the map”? Aim to make this consistent across modules.
  • Consider how to “humanise” your course and reassure students you are there. This could be including yourself in some course videos and/or giving audio or video feedback.
  • Set clear expectations for both you and your students. Being available to students can increase engagement and retention, but must be manageable. Consider virtual office hours where you answer questions and have a text-based chat function if possible, such as in Blackboard Collaborate 
  • Follow the regular course lifecycle, including evaluation and refinement. Keep evaluations short and regular - think about how to get useful and quick feedback from students.

Try this 1: Complete a couple of hours of an online course in something you’re interested in (photography/playing a musical instrument/computer programming…) - gain experience of what it is like to learn online.

Try this 2: Co-design with a critical friend. Develop/plan with assistance from each other (use virtual chat) and share your experiences afterwards. Use this reflectively to refine your approach.

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What do I need to do?

Be 'present' to your students
  • A weekly introduction and closing message - by short video or email - provides a structure. These can be pre-recorded, and offer a personal and friendly touch, providing reassurance as well as information.
  • Encourage engagement and manage expectations by discussing an online working code of conduct with your students (see this template for Powerpoint presentations, adapted from Cumbria University).
  • Be clear when you are available to students, offer FAQs and encourage them to check these before contacting you! (See Gary Wood’s blog post: Covid-19: educator priorities and some tools to help.)

Scaffold independent learning

  • It is worth considering who your students are from a connectivity and independent learning skills point of view. (See this Futurelearn Student Persona resource.)
  • Encourage the development of independent learning by gradually increasing the complexity of tasks, and include signposts to available support. (For example, the Digital Study Strategies from 301 or IT Services' advice on working from home or off-campus.)
  • Offer choice in tasks where possible (e.g. subject choice for a project, type of assessment).
    Provide opportunities for peer working, both formal (e.g. group work or peer assessment) and informal (e.g. study groups, peer mentoring and buddying through for example Google Meet). See more information on group work here.
Offer a clearly structured timetable

Students need to know what is happening and when, so provide information that covers all aspects of the week’s activities for that course in a set place, at a designated time. It is likely that this will include more detail about their independent study than usual, and possibly include more, smaller, formative tasks. Set clear expectations for how long each activity should take.
Week by week course breakdown for students

Exemplar of module design/presentation in Blackboard

Example of a Blackboard Blended Course: We have made a snapshot of the course for you to access here. After opening the link, click the Submit button to enrol on the course.

'Chunk up' your content

You no longer need to work in 50 minute 'sessions' as students will be accessing the content and tasks at different times. To make best use of digital learning, both structure and content will need to be rethought. Using your learning outcomes, identify the most appropriate activities in a digital setting to enable students to achieve them. ABC learning Design cards or Bloom’s taxonomy skills are useful tools for doing this.
(See this session plan example and template from FutureLearn)

Consider the balance between synchronous and asynchronous delivery

While some ‘real-time’ activity is useful, use of asynchronous (‘any-time’) delivery can mitigate problems with connectivity and be more inclusive. Consider also how much learning can take place off-line and make sure that the ‘contact’ time you have is as interactive as possible. For more detailed guidance, see our resource on Choosing appropriate learning activities.

Ask students what works and what doesn't

Build in time to share issues and to discuss solutions. This engages students in the learning process, and gives you on-the-spot feedback to act on. It also offers extra contact and promotes a reflective approach for you. Find out more about tools for checking in with your students.
Get students to share plans, progress and problems, promoting their self reflection.

Make digital teaching and assessment inclusive
  • Plan your teaching and assessment so that all students, regardless of circumstances, are able to fully participate.
  • Consider the accessibility issues. (See this guidance on digital accessibility). Videos need to have transcripts, and closed captions should be enabled.
  • Consider the barriers that online teaching and assessment will create for disabled students. (See this guidance from DDSS).
  • ‘Front-load’ your feedback (offer more feedback at earlier stages so students can act on it prior to summative assessment).
  • Consider where your students are living and check the global availability of digital tools.
Be kind to yourself and your students
  • Keep it simple, use familiar technologies where possible and don't overload teaching or assessment - this is a learning curve for us all.
  • Don’t make sessions too long, especially synchronous ones (1 hour maximum).
  • Use existing materials wherever you can - yours or someone else’s.
  • Be aware that designing digital work (for you) and carrying it out (for your students) takes longer than standard, ‘live’ teaching - adjust demand accordingly.
  • Follow University guidance - it’s there to help you! Please see the Digital Learning Team's guidance on teaching digitally and also use the Elevate resources
Keep things simple and use the digital learning tools supported by the University

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Further information

Further information