International perspectives on teaching and learning forged during Covid

Academics from around the globe share practical advice and lessons learned for those teaching online now or in future turbulent times

Katherine Mansfield's avatar
17 Oct 2022
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Worldwide teaching tips

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University of Westminster

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When the Covid-19 pandemic forced higher education institutions around the globe into online teaching, international institutions adapted quickly. Commonly cited issues in the online environment included: an increased workload; lack of student socialisation and motivation; and the endeavour to ensure the same teaching quality online as face to face. In International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning Academic English in Turbulent Times, which I co-edited, academics from 28 countries, united in their attempts to learn from each other during the pandemic, shared lessons that can be used now and in the future.

Here, I share a collection of these perspectives that I hope will be of use to our colleagues across the globe.

Movement and ways to mitigate online isolation

Reporting from the University of Turku in Finland, Averil Bolster and Peter Levrai acknowledge that although their institution already had the foundations for remote learning, the pandemic pivot was a steep learning curve. To reduce a teacher’s workload, they highlight the importance of limiting the variety of e-tools used and keeping things as simple and straightforward as possible.

To promote students’ and teachers’ mental and physical well-being, they encourage physical movement such as stretching during lessons, having regular screen breaks, sharing soothing pictures of natural landscapes and encouraging students to stand up and look out of the window every now and then.

To help mitigate social isolation and develop a social aspect of learning, the teachers suggest introducing students to digital tools that can re-create physical classroom experiences. Wonder and Gather are two options that offer an alternative experience to the two-dimensional online platforms offered by Zoom, for example. They also encourage the social aspect of learning, which can be achieved by setting up collaborative assignments shared in a folder in OneDrive, then asking groups of students to complete tasks in a breakout room.

This should be allied with creating new channels of communication that are easily accessible, where teachers can provide students with the support they need – for example, an online platform (for synchronous teaching), a shared OneDrive folder (for group tasks) and Moodle (for course information).   

Meet students where they are

Recounting her experience in Argentina’s IES en Lenguas Vivas “Juan Ramón Fernández”, Laura Colombo reveals how, due to the institution’s lack of financial support or paid online materials being made available, lecturers were forced to rely on their personal skills and resources. Wanting to foster a deep relationship with her students, she adopted a highly personalised and flexible approach to online teaching. She did this by trying to understand each student’s personal situation, which began by asking them to show a picture of their workspace, finding out their preferred class times and sharing her own situation.

She set up numerous channels to help student learning and online socialisation, but on reflection admits that “although using different platforms can encourage students to be involved in dialogue, teachers should be careful to avoid overtaxing themselves and getting involved in every conversation”. She noted the importance of dialogue as a simple (and free) means of aiding student motivation and thus had frequent conversations with her students, including listening to their thoughts and evaluations of the apps they were using – while also establishing clear rules about communication channels and contact hours.   

Flexibility, interactivity and personalisation

Katrien Deroey and Jennifer Skipp, reflecting on delivering an online doctoral research writing course at the University of Luxembourg, say that instead of trying to replicate the face-to-face version of the course, they recognised that it needed to be reorganised. They opted for varied approaches to teaching, using both synchronous and asynchronous sessions, adopting a flipped classroom approach and encouraging a variety of types of online interaction (student-teacher, student-student, teacher-student).

They highlighted three features that were key to the success of their online course: flexibility, interactivity and personalisation. Flexibility was created via the variety of teaching approaches they adopted. Interactivity was achieved by asking students to work in small groups, encouraging peer review and giving students the option of a 45-minute consultation slot where they could discuss their writing issues. Personalisation was accomplished via the lecturers constantly reminding themselves that needs vary, acting accordingly and ensuring discipline-specific tasks were incorporated at each stage. 

More spaces for students and teachers to connect

Joe Lennon and colleagues at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic recount how the shift to online teaching led to innovative approaches that created more spaces for teachers and students to connect and learn from each other. To reduce the distance between their students and give them a reprieve from the monotony of online lessons, the team created exercises using multimedia websites such as WindowSwap and Field Recordings, which give students a novel way to practise observation and descriptive writing skills. 

They recognise there will always be new online tools and activities they can use to “sustain and even enhance physical and social connections in the hybrid and blended-learning landscape of post-Covid higher education” – and feel it is the teachers’ responsibility to continue to search for them. 

Katherine Mansfield is a lecturer in academic English and works in the Centre for Education and Teaching Innovation at the University of Westminster. International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning Academic English in Turbulent Times, which she co-edited, is out now.

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