Lost in translation: the lecture

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery.

One of the things I have noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were translating their usual practice to an online version. An example of this, is from Dave White in a recent blog post about his experiences at UAL, he called it practice mirroring.

So in the move to online teaching our initial instinct is to preserve Contact Hours by mirroring what would have been face-to-face sessions with webinar style sessions. What this looks like is exhausting 3-4 hour online sessions which must be almost impossible to stay engaged with.

As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.

Before having 4-5 hours in a lecture theatre or a classroom was certainly possible and done by many institutions. However merely translating that into 4 hours of Zoom video presentations and discussions is exhausting for those taking part, but also we need to remember that in this time there are huge number of other negative factors impacting on people’s wellbeing, energy and motivation.

When snow closed campuses, you probably could have got away with this kind of translation from the physical to the virtual, but now we have lockdown, anxiety about the virus, and let’s be brutal, people are actually dying everyday due to the virus.

People may not be able to participate in synchronous sessions, they may have childcare or other dependents they need to look after, they may be other household challenges.

So how do you, and how could you translate the one hour lecture into an effective learning experience that happens online. The key aspect is to identify the learning outcomes of that session and ensure that they are achievable in the translated session.

So at a simple level, you could translate your 60minute lecture into a 60 minute online video presentation.

There are some problems with this as you are not providing an online video version of the lecture. You are using a platform like Teams or Zoom to deliver the lecture via a webcam. You will not be able to “read” the room as you can in a face to face environment. Video presentations also lose much of the energy that a physical presentation has. It can flatten the experience and people will disengage quite rapidly.

What about translating into a 60 minute video recording or audio recording?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

If you have watched a 60 minute TV programme, you will realise few if any have a talking head for 60 minutes. How many people will have the technical and artistic capability or even the time to translate their lecture into an engaging video.

Radio is different to television and those differences should influence the design of how you deliver the content or teaching. Most 60 minute radio broadcasts are rarely a monologue, there are discussions and debates, as well as conversations. Some of the most successful podcasts follow a radio format with a variety of voices. Though potentially easier to create a 60 minute radio version of the lecture, it would require some kind of production time.

So another model of the translated 60minute lecture is to break it down into four shorter activities.

Start off with a 15 minute video presentation. Then move to a discussion using the online chat function of the platform. In the third part of the session, ask people to reflect or think about an aspect of the lesson, but to go offline to do this, turn off the webcam. Finally bring everyone back for a group video discussion.

This doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of synchronicity. but does reduce the negative aspects of a talking head.

A further version of this model is to spread the activities over the day. 

This reduces the need to be sitting in front of a computer for a whole hour. However it does mean that you need to be available at those particular time slots. The teacher interaction (mapped here as blue arrows).

So if  you have done this you could further translate the 60minute lecture into a series of activities that happen over a few days or across a week.

There is a 15 minute video, but the online chat becomes asynchronous, allowing people a chance to reflect and think about the topic and dip in and out as they want to. 

The teacher interaction (mapped here as blue arrows) becomes more flexible and previous experience will potentially see the students helping each other. The synchronous activity is reduced to a short session. Students can decide when to participate and adapt it to their own personal circumstances. It might be challenging to maintain engagement, but this doesn’t mean running a 60minute lecture will ensure engagement and learning.

It might also be useful to design activities that work asynchronously, so aren’t dependent on a continuous live internet connection to work.

In terms of contact hours, or timetabling you can see how the final model would be challenging.

This isn’t new, well it might be for some, but it was certainly something I have grappled with over the last twenty five years… Back in the 1990s I was tasked with delivering part of an online course, the challenge my manager had was how to block that out on the timetable. We (kind of) knew that what I was doing would “normally” be a two hour classroom session, with the expected preparation and marking time on top. However due the asynchronous nature of the platform, the way I actually “taught” was checking in and out of the platform across the week, assessment was happening continuously as well. I didn’t know when I would be checking the platform and I didn’t know for how long. If there were no new messages, then I wouldn’t hang around online, likewise there might be a flurry of messages from the students, so I would spend longer there. In the end we blocked out a two hour slot in my timetable that was for the online course, but we knew that in reality I would be working across the week online. 

pocket watch
Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Simply translating what we do in our physical buildings into a online remote version, is relatively simple, however it may not be effective. Thinking about what you want that learning experience to achieve and what you want the students to learn, means you can do different things. Of course knowing how to do those different things, is another challenge.

10 thoughts on “Lost in translation: the lecture”

  1. Very useful blog post – I’ll be using this as pre-reading in a development session I am giving later in the week.

    There is a challenge here – and it can come from the students themselves – regardless of it is effective or not – students on *existing* courses can legitimately say “I don’t want material spread across the week that is not what we have signed up for”.

    I think one of the big challenges we are all still adapting to is that this pivot is not simply a pedagogical challenge but one framed by resource and *contractual* issues.

  2. Great reflection James and a reminder of the often under-estimated complexities of supporting learning via an online mode and the absolute imperative of good planning and alignments to learning outcomes.

    A really good example (for me) of an online course which hit all those spots was the MentorShooc though Sheffield Hallam which used a range of approaches, centred around Pebblepad portfolios for the asynchronous reading and short e-tivities and the discussion forums in ATLAS, supplemented with synchronous webinars (which were recorded), Tweet chats at different times over a week, contributions to PADLETS. I’m sure trying to quantify the equivalent ‘teaching and supporting learning time’ into a national contact time was difficult! The facilitators did a fab job.

    for those seeking HEA Fellowship recognition and wish to reflect on their experiences in relation to what may be for them a very recent move to shifting some activities online, see The Digital lens on the UKPSF: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/digital-lens-uk-professional-standards-framework-ukpsf. In your reflections, remember to assess ‘effectiveness on supporting student learning’ and not what has been effective for you as the educator.

  3. This makes perfect sense. I just wonder how this will work with language learners at a beginners level where speaking and practicing new phrases and structures seems to be essential

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