During last week, I tweeted and article entitled One in eight primary pupils classrooms are overcrowded.I have worked in classrooms with over thirty children and there is no doubt the amount of time available to promote individual learning suffers when class sizes become to big. However, is this also the case for sessions within higher education? and is it possible that technology could essential replace some of the face-to-face teaching, therefore allowing for effective large ‘virtual’ groups. In this waffle I consider some of the advantages of the using virtual face-to-face teaching.
Whole cohort lectures
Initially when I started to work within higher education I continued to apply the strategies and techniques I had used within the primary classroom to my higher education sessions. It was not long before I realised that, even though the basic learning theories still apply, there was a uniqueness to learning and teaching within higher education that I had not been aware off. Within initial teacher education, students do have whole cohort lectures but more often work in rooms which are in a similar setup to a classroom which allows the students to carry out practical activities within the subjects, as well as learning about creating displays and other resources. The majority of the teaching is face-to-face. By this I mean that the sessions are led in the presence of the tutor who leads, directs or challenges learning. But can technology replace this face to face teaching and move it more into the virtual learning environment?
Participation from a distant time and place– A couple of years ago, my module had an assignment hand in shortly after the Easter vacation. The students, after finishing their second placement, went home to work on their assignments. Before long my inbox started to fill up with assignment questions, many of which were similar and requested the same information. It was soon after the first few days that I announced that I would be online at various times of the week on Big Blue Button (Moodle’s version of a conference chat) for the students to log in and ask me questions. This proved very popular, with sessions occurring nearly every day. The students asked me to alter the timings to fit around their other work commitments and although not all the students attended, there was a ‘crowd’ every day. It felt, to me, almost like a normal information giving session. I would share my powerpoint presentation, identifying the important information on the screen as well as responding to questioning being asked within the chat. The students could access the information from their own houses and at appropriate times, although the latter was always within my own working day. Some of the students did ask at the end of the sessions whether all their lectures could be this way.
Possibilities of repeats– As well as producing the ‘live sessions, Moodle recorded all everything and these were available to watch straight after. Initially this was an inclusion concern since I wanted to ensure that no student were put at a disadvantage for not being able to access the ‘live’ sessions. However, a side effect of these recordings were that students could go back and see the information again, even stopping them at the appropriate time to take notes. Since this time, any information giving lectures I have recorded using screen capturing software and have uploaded this to the virtual learning environment. This has allowed the students to have a second or even third look at the session as well as providing the lecture for student who were ill and could not attend the session.
Extended Collaboration– Although this has not actually happened to my knowledge, yet, I would hope that having sessions and information online might encourage collaboration and discussion to extend beyond the initial sessions. I have had sessions when I have been tweeting questions within the sessions and other students and people on twitter have participated and provided answers. I always have this perception that students are engaging with their learning at every opportunity. Although this might be a little naive on my behalf, I think it is always important to provide the opportunity for this for it to happen.
Eventhough I would consider myself an avid user of technology, I would never want it to completely replace the face-to-face teaching time, although I would use the technology to improve the interaction/learning during face-to-face sessions but providing pre-material for the learners to engage with. This essentially is the concept of the flipped classroom although this does require some commitment from all participants in order to work effectively. Distant learning in the form of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) use technology to provide an almost purely online learning experience which could replace courses and sessions, although the still exists the reliance on the learners to participate fully. I would say that some areas of learning are more suitable to virtual learning, although, despite the advantages I have mentioned above, these would not replace effective face-to-face teaching with a skilled practitioner.