By Dr Tracey Harrington, Lecturer in Children’s and General Nursing, School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health, DCU.
This is about my experience completing the OpenTeach course. And thank you Orna for asking me to do this! I love technology and I am always looking at ways to keep the students actively involved and interested. I have used Twitter the past five year as a platform to share ideas in that are relevant to students and their module so I took time at the beginning to tell them about it and suggest they use it, emphasising the positive side of it. They all use other Social media platforms, such as Snap Chat and Instagram, and only a few had profiles set up on Twitter.
Each week I checked in on how they were getting on and I took the odd verbal “okay” as a positive but didn’t delve too much. Later on I found that some didn’t know how to use and were afraid to ask. Sometimes you need to peel back and start at the beginning to make sure everyone understands something that we take for granted. I assumed that because they are younger that they are all digitally savvy but students are a diverse group, from school leavers to mature students, access students, those living in direct provision, and cannot be treated as a homogenous group. Another factor was they couldn’t see the relevance of using it. However, when it came to their group work, I was able to show them how they could also find human right activists and champions, organisations, and other links that would assist them in data and information collections. Saying all that, still not sure I have converted them all!
When COVID hit and all hands on deck to move over to online teaching- the anxieties began for me. Having got used to Zoom, by participating in numerous introductions to Zoom sessions, I then had to think how I was going to cover the last sessions with my group. Initially I thought that maybe I could just record the sessions in advance, but didn’t really warm to that idea. Then OpenTeach was offered to us and it was the answer to my many questions about how to teach online- but more importantly, how to do it well!
Week one and the focus was on how to set the foundations for teaching online. It emphasises the importance of creating a social presence and it makes so much sense. My students and I said we missed the classroom setting, but ensuring they can see you and interact with you, helps keep the connection. It reminded me that lecturing is much more than the transfer of information, it’s about be invested in the subject and challenging your students to think differently.
I was not a fan of FaceTime so the idea of me being on the screen was less than appealing! However, this course demonstrated that I had to overcome this- as social presence is key for effective online teaching and learning (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer). And if the students see your face they were more likely to interact which was critical, as I did not want to be talking into a void! And they did, via Chat Box and conversations. It was great to have discussions, open and frank. And another bonus was that their names appear so you can speak to the person using their name- which personalised it so much!
As I grew more confident with the technology I would ease into the class, taking the time to check in with them, see how they were coping with COVID. This really helped I feel, as I was missing the in class interactions also.
Part of the module assessment was group presentations. Before starting the OpenTeach course I had considered changing this. But Unit 3 was all about Online Classes and Collaborative Activities, so I decided to go ahead. The students embraced the technology and used Zoom to collaborate with each other outside of the classroom. Group work is a team activity that reinforces social presence in the online class and also enables the sharing of skills and the construction of knowledge. When you complete Unit 3 you realise all the benefits of which I cannot elaborate at this time! As advised I kept it simple, suggesting they use Google Slides (actually Pat Doyle suggested this!) so they could work on the slides as a group, without needing to be physically in the same room. It also allowed me monitor their progress and offer advice and suggestions as they progressed.
The presentations went well as we tested the technology and ensured they were all happy before the actual day. And wow, their presentations… just amazing.
Here is Ciaran and he along with the rest of the group presented their topic with such ease and confidence, I was like a proud mother hen! The other students asked questions and I was delighted as it meant they were listening and engaging. In classroom settings some students are so nervous before they present, they don’t hear the other speakers. This time, the pressure was off and they told their story, with enthusiasm and understanding.
Unit 4 teaches you how best to support students building on ideas in previous units, such as letting students answer questions posed by each other. I noticed that the students did that in the Chat Box. It was the sense of community that had developed and it showed me the they were invested and taking an active approach to their learning. I cannot recommend this course enough. It was a massive learning curve packaged in a way that made it easy to understand. The module coordinators were so helpful and encouraging and I saw the benefits of discussion forums as we, the students, learned from each other also and we built up our own community of practice! I feel so much better equipped to teach online and am considering some ideas of how I could weave the approach in conjunction with the classroom, when we get back. Well done to the course creators! I consider myself “taught”!
And to quote a wonderful Dr Campbell, I will embrace all the ideas and technologies to try light a fire in my students!