Online education frees up time for discussions with students
“I had sleepless nights over how we could continue to ensure the same quality of education and give students a valuable learning experience,” Leonie Reins confesses. She is Assistant Professor with the Law and Technology LLM program. We contacted her to find out how she experienced the past months and how she has prepared for the new term.
What was the transition to online education like for you?
Summer, 2020 | "The campus shutdown in March caught all of us off guard. Our main priority was recording lectures with the material and equipment available to us at that point. For example, we recorded on computer and via smartphone. Once term has finished, our department (LTMS) quickly decided that our approach had to be formalized as well as improved for the upcoming semester. We had training throughout the summer, relating to both technical aspects nature (such as how to create polls and use white boards in Zoom) and pedagogics, such as interacting with large groups, designing online lectures, and building a community. Two key lessons emerged for me from these training sessions: i) classical knowledge transfer should not take place in live sessions, and ii) going online actually has advantages, because we can let students prepare differently for the plenary sessions, through watching video clips and reading offline, and for the online discussion online.
We are now facing the challenge of maintaining or, ideally, improving the accessibility of our community to students.
In the Law and Technology LLM program we have over 100 students in different time zones, with different bandwidth qualities and different living conditions. How can we ensure that they have the same experience and how can we create a positive community feeling for all of them? We are now facing the challenge of maintaining or, ideally, improving the accessibility of our community to students."
How many additional hours a week do you need to invest in providing online education?
"It is very difficult to quantify this. We started using existing material, but completely revamped the entire structure, cut material into smaller pieces, rearranged storylines, developed exercises, etc. The recording of 18 clips for 12 lectures took my colleague and myself around 56 hours. And that’s not counting the time spent on editing the clips, restructuring the lectures, writing the scripts and designing the slides, preparing the 90 minutes online sessions, and searching for usable material. I also had sleepless nights over how we could continue to ensure the same quality of education and give students a valuable learning experience. To be honest, I had planned to do a lot of research during the summer, but I spent most of my time preparing for the upcoming semester."
How do you experience teaching online?
"As my preparations progress, the more advantages I see. My first thought was that online classes would be a nightmare, as they are so lonely for students and for us. And yes, I do miss the personal interaction with the students and nothing can replace it. But with knowledge transfer now taking place outside the assigned lectures, there’s a lot more time for discussion with students. We can experiment with many more tools and tricks."
How have you experienced students’ commitment to online education?
"My colleagues and I do our utmost, last term too, to be available for students and to initiate an interactive and stimulating dialogue. But what happened a lot during the Zoom sessions was that I found myself staring at a dark screen, because students did not want to turn on their camera and participate actively. This saddens me. For this online adventure to be a success, both sides need to commit: students as much as lecturers. That being said, there are students who understand that we give our best and I am very grateful for their appreciation."
How do you create interaction and which new technology, methods, and tools will you be using this term?
"In the new academic year, we try to ensure interaction on two levels: that of the LLM program and of lectures. At the LLM program level we are setting up an entire program for community building. It will help us stay in touch with our students, not only or solely in academic terms, but also in terms of trying to give them the actual “Class of 2020-2021” experience and by giving them room to actively engage with academic staff and with each other, albeit at a distance.
For this online adventure to be a success, both sides need to commit: students as much as lecturers.
The lectures we offer have different components: video clips (5 to 25 minutes) prepared by us and by others, reading materials, individual and group assignments and exercises, plenary online discussions, and streamed plenary lecturer talks. So there is a mix of methods and tools to keep things interesting and diverse. Activities take place at different times (before, during and after class). And in the online meetings we use breakout sessions where students can discuss statements, papers, etc. with each other and then report back to the plenary session."
Taking the long view, would you integrate online teaching into education?
"One of the major advantages of online education is that students can study whenever it suits them and not only in a pre-defined 90-minute lecture. So yes, in the long term, online teaching can usefully complement our educational offer, but only if it is combined with live interaction.
Time spent at university is not merely of an academic nature. Rather, it creates bonds, friendships, and yes even romantic relationships that can last a lifetime.
If I have to take sides, I still prefer seeing my students in real life. Similarly, for students – and recalling my own experience – the time spent at university is not merely of an academic nature. Rather, it creates bonds, friendships, and yes even romantic relationships that can last a lifetime. The experience of meeting and interacting with people from all across the globe is invaluable and while online education is technologically possible, I remain convinced that it ought not to entirely replace the personal, face-to-face learning environment that is and until very recently was our natural “habitat”."
Online Education yes/no/no choice
Because of corona we are all in the same boat
How do students and staff experience the transition to online education?