Teaching during the coronavirus outbreak

Posted by ALJOSA VALENTINCIC - Mar 18, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Many of us have faced partial or severe restrictions in the teaching process due to the coronavirus outbreak. In Slovenia, all primary and secondary scools and univeristies are shut down for at least 2 weeks. This period (mid March) for us is a month into the second semester. We faced either a suspension of the academic process with potentially unforeseen consequences (e.g. deadlines, coursework, exams, etc.) or an immediate switch to a fully on-line approach. We chose the latter and the semester at School of Economics & Business, University of Ljubljana, proceeds normally. I describe below briefly some of the approaces we took in two classes I am currently teaching or co-teaching (one accounting, one finance), the first experiences, the various tools we use, complications that arise, etc. Hopefully it will be helpful if you, too, face restrictions in your university work.

1. The tools. University of Ljubljana uses the Canvas system (https://www.instructure.com/canvas/en-gb) for the general administration of courses. Within this system, we use ether the Big Blue Button (https://bigbluebutton.org/) or the Zoom (https://zoom.us/) conferencing system. Both operate seamlessly even when the number of participants is large (>200). To those of you used to work via Skype – both the BBB and Zoom are several orders of magnitude better than Skype in all aspects.

2. The experience – teacher. Both systems allow various degree of interaction with students and co-operation among students. These include depending on the system you chose: vide/audio interaction (e.g. asking questions), group chat (e.g. students ask for a break), built-in polling tools (e.g. quick quizzies), sharing your screen with students (e.g. if you want to show them how the capital market is changing during the course), writing on the slides you project, using an integrated whiteboard or an external whiteboard (e.g. I use a separate iPad pro for this), cobine lectures with video (e.g. other than slides you project a short instructional video on a particular topics). I teach from my home, using a relatively bad internet connection (this really worried me), but so far no problems whatsoever. The teaching experience is much better if you use comfort headphones with a built-in microphone, ideally noise-cancelling. This is so much different (read: better) than recording voice over slides, which you could do, or record a video lecture and post it on-line. In both cases the interaction would be non-existent or very limited, whilst here the interaction is on par with live classroom teaching and I suspect in some cases even better (also see below): as in private lives, younger generations prefer to communicate by typing rahter than by voice. By using the chat or polling tools you engage students you otherwise would not. If you walk during the lectures it takes some time before you get to the computer, find the page, etc. while sitting at the computer you can react almost instantaneously.

3. The experience – students. I fool myself not that I know everything that has crossed my students minds, but from what I could dell and a bti to my suprise, the class attendance was alomost complete, the students were fully engaged, responded to quizzes, commented on the chat I set up, gafe full feedback at the end, etc. Several commented afterwards that the whole experience is great. As mentioned above, several students confirm that they were more engaged than otherwise. They also mention that they were checking online some of the statements or references I made during lectures – which is good, becuase in this way the material stays with them for longer, and they appreciated the fact that I was able to show them live data quickly. Much to my relief the the audio and video experience was excellent. Several mentioned that because I used the red dot pointer (think of laser on a traditional projector) on slides helped them concentrate. They requested a break at about the same time as they would in a normal classroom.

4. The challenges. I had to adopt the teaching approach to a degree. I tend to use pictures, graphs, drawings depending on the discussions in the class. This is not always possible or has to be done slightly differently using these two tools. Wearing headphones for 6-8 hours a day is a challenge for comfort.

I hope that this will be useful. I'd be very happy to hear your experiences. We currently just don't know how long the coronavirus outbreak will last or, indeed, that after we are done with the current outbreak something else might appear in the globalised world. Stay healthy.

Aljoša Valentinčič


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