Out of class – out of mind?

EOCCS community webinar - out of class out of mind

In an EOCCS Community webinar held on 31 May 2023, our focus was on what students get up to outside the classroom. In many conventional or traditional models of teaching the focus is on the key contact hours. What students do outside the classroom is often summarised as “private study”. Reading lists and guided reading from recommended texts have been the typical provision from faculty.

However, before the emergency remote delivery of the pandemic dismissed all learners from the campus classroom, practitioners noticed a fall in attendance at formal synchronous lectures. Some forward thinkers began to “flip” their classrooms in attempts to maximise engagement in face-to-face sessions. Consideration of whether “private study” had actually been completed was measured by assessing a final summative exam.

Many possible causes have been rehearsed in the pedagogic literature.  These include: the pervasiveness of recorded lectures, changing and non-traditional learner needs and the lack of learner engagement. But how can students be engaged if they do not or cannot attend or if their “private study” is not checked and supported in some way?

As more and more institutions and organizations shift to online, blended or hybrid learning models, asynchronous learning has become an increasingly important component of effective education. But how can we ensure that learners are engaged and motivated in this type of learning environment?…and what do we mean by “engagement” anyway?

The webinar panel

We asked two providers of software solutions, Ubicast and Annoto and an experienced academic for their views:

Ubicast is a French-based software company offering flexible video solutions to enhance asynchronous learning. Founder and CEO Jean-Marie Cognet joined fellow entrepreneur Hen Eytan of Annoto of Israel to share their experience of improved engagement through video production and engagement with online materials.  They were joined by Dr Sarah Montano, Deputy Director of Education (Digital) from Birmingham Business School early adopter of digital techniques at this highly ranked University.

Key observations

Our panellists shared their key points for making asynchronous engagement effective as a support for learning:

  • Engagement is something that should be fostered but could not, always, be measured. Engagement with ideas and concepts can take place without the learner entering a forum discussion.
  • Engagement, therefore, needs to take account of the context of learning, the learners’ motivations and the authenticity of materials.
  • A question from the audience underlined this by asking the difference between engagement and discipline – are they the same? In a traditional classroom the organised, disciplined learner who had undertaken the pre-reading was seen to be engaged. The online classroom needs to embrace this and, in addition, the learner who needs to be reminded, motivated, excited to learn more.
  • Pedagogic “scaffolding” and offering a structure that is accessed on the learner’s, rather than the institution’s timetable,  support engagement.
  • Using different digital pedagogies is also important, where content is provided in a variety of formats (although this could be seen as overlapping and duplication of content).
  • Content, itself, needs to be visually exciting. Not to pay too much attention to the “Netflix” generation, but to motivate learners in a variety of ways suited to their learning preferences.
  • Technology helps content to be presented in a number of ways, including video, interactive video and video as assessment. Animations help to make complex concepts more understandable.
  • The Institutional Learning Management system (LMS) gives both opportunities for engagement and offers restrictions. The best scenario, according to the panellists, was to integrate external tools in the existing LMS and not direct learners to another website. Reducing the number of “clicks” is a proven way to maintain engagement.
  • Finally, the use of data analytics and the advanced data available from today’s engagement tools is essential in the journey towards “personalised learning”. As systems collect data it is good practice to use that data to support learners in the ways that they prefer, rather than the ways that instructors think they should learn.

An excellent question from our engaged audience featured the hot topic of AI.

Our panel unanimously saw AI as a positive step for online engagement.  AI represents real-world skills that graduates will need to embrace.  AI also has the capacity to make learners’ personalised journeys smoother and to reduce administrative burdens on faculty members.

Watch a recording of the full webinar: