Englander, K. & Russell, B. TESL Ontario Contact November 28, 2021.
This article reports on insights gained during a COVID-19 pivot to remote teaching and learning in a university language program. Five key practices emerged from how learners and instructors handled the new technology-mediated curriculum. The article references the Community of Inquiry framework and its origins at Athabasca University in Alberta two decades ago. The framework was used to inform curriculum design and a research study on remote teaching and learning in the 2020-21 year, during COVID-19. The report discusses the three presences from the framework: cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence. These three presences are identified as central to learners’ experience in online teaching and learning. The research from this program indicated that the most important presence for learner satisfaction was teaching presence. Social presence during the phase reported on, was the least satisfactory in that learners did not feel they met other “real” students, that they were not able to build connections with either the class or the school.
As a result of the data collected, the program put together these five best practices that aim to maximize already positive teaching presence and enhance social presence.
- Your presence makes the difference.
- Keep cameras on.
- Create lecturettes.
- Make learning affordances explicit.
- Reconsider assessment.
Here are two examples of the five best practices:
When using a platform that allows cameras, keep all cameras on. Students said that seeing each other was much more satisfying during synchronous sessions. Despite valid concerns about privacy, students could be disengaged if they could not see their classmates; occasionally students were not physically online when there was no camera; and in break out rooms, when faces were represented by a shaded thumbnail, it was difficult to have discussions. Faces and voices were important for intellectual interaction with course content and other learners.
Create “lecturettes”. Classes in this program were normally three hours long, twice a week, in a classroom. When this was rethought for online delivery, one of the new components was a one-hour pre-recorded lecture to be watched before a synchronous class. After learners reacted negatively to these hour-long lectures, instructors experimented with breaking the content into more manageable 5-, 10- or 20-minute lecturettes. This type of content was managed by numbering the segments so the order was obvious. Learners could take advantage of these shorter content bursts using pause, rewind and replay as desired.
The remaining three best practices, Your presence makes the difference, Make affordances explicit and Reconsider assessment also provide excellent examples of how to help instructors make research-informed decisions about their own teaching in an online environment.