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December 10, 2020 • 1 minute read
By: Saskia Watts

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to recognize your continued hard work and adaptability in responding to the dramatic changes in education.

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Blog > Change one thing – set an activity in your online lecture: Teach Online Toolkit 'Refresher'

November, 19, 2020 . 3 minute read

Change one thing – set an activity in your online lecture: Teach Online Toolkit 'Refresher'

INTL_blogimages_remote teaching


Find out how to boost engagement levels and motivate your students by incorporating activities into your next live lecture.

Liven up your online lectures
Low attendance at your live lectures can be disheartening. Despite the demand for face-to-face teaching, many students are opting out of live lectures. Instead they are taking an 'on-demand' approach. This avoids having to get up for a 9am lecture, and allows them to watch at their own pace. But live lectures shouldn’t be interchangeable with pre-recorded content – they have the potential to be so much more. Try embedding relevant and meaningful activities into your lectures to give your students a reason to attend.

The student view
I interviewed students about their experiences of remote learning and they described what works and what doesn't. Their feedback suggests they are finding it hard to stay motivated and focused on their learning, and they would welcome higher levels of interaction in their live sessions.

Second year Biology student:

"Our molecular sessions are very interactive. We get the opportunity to ask questions and some of the sessions are led by students throwing ideas around. But not all the modules take this approach. One session was 2 hours and 20 minutes long. The lecturer went through 150 slides and then walked us through an exercise. You get all the theory in a session like this, but none of the interaction. We missed out on the experience of working through it together and conferring."

First year Fashion and Media student:

"She just talks through a powerpoint – for 3 hours with only a 15 minute break. You don’t want to just sit still for that long. In face-to-face class we’d usually have an activity or teamwork to break it up. If I had to contribute I’d be more engaged and listen harder."


Six things to consider when planning learning activities

Whether face-to-face, or in online lectures, planning is the key to a successful activity. By staying focused on your course and your students you can be confident that you are adding value to the session.

1. Course content
Students will be more enthusiastic if they can see how the activities align with learning objectives and their assessments. Activities can go beyond checking you have your students’ attention and understanding. Select activities that will build on their learning and help them develop skills that can be applied in their next assessment.

2. Timing
If your students haven’t worked together before, or are new to online learning, use activities during induction to create a positive learning environment. Develop trust between students and expand their online communication skills so they can get more out of your course.

3. Class size
Two-way discussions are difficult in a large group setting, and it is easy for students to disengage. Choose your activities with this in mind – consider using break-out rooms or having additional moderators or teaching assistants on hand for support.

4. Learning environment
Where will your students be when they join your lecture, and what devices they will be using? If they are likely to have unreliable WiFi, old equipment or a noisy environment, it may be better to ask them to contribute through the chat box rather than live discussion.

5. Your preferences
Online activities can take you out of your comfort zone. Start with something simple and build your experience gradually.

Learn more: Engaging your students


Activities to try

Activities can help your students enjoy your lectures and think more deeply about key questions, but they also enable you to assess their level of understanding and adjust your approach. The more tailored the activity the better – but here are some suggestions to get you started. Do share your experiences with colleagues so you can learn from one another.

1. Introduce checkpoints

"To keep students engaged, set 5 minute tasks every now and again. Make sure you know how to manage questions (hands up functions) on Zoom and Teams. Do at least one fun thing!"

Giskin Day, Principle Teaching Fellow, Imperial College London

Split your lecture into chunks, and check in with your students at the end of each section. Set quick response activities such as word clouds, short calculations, quizzes, and polls. Use functionality built into your video platform, tools such as Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter, or ask students to respond in the chat bar or raise their hands – you can resolve misunderstandings before moving onto the next section or set follow up work to help fill any remaining gaps.

2. Encourage higher-level learning
Use break-out rooms to give your students more space for higher level learning through discussion, analysis, and reflection. Make sure students are well prepared to complete the task you have set:

• Clearly communicate the task and provide them with a short-written outline they can refer to.
• Include the specific outputs you are expecting from them when they return to the group, e.g. a short verbal summary, 3 bullet points, the answer to 5 questions.
• Consider demonstrating a similar problem in advance.
• Point students to the relevant sections in their eTextbook if they need further support.
• You and your teaching assistants can visit each group to provide guidance, just as you might informally join discussions as you walk round a lecture hall.

Find out more: Setting effective group work

3. Use the class as an assignment
Set tasks for students ahead of their lecture and let them know you expect them to actively participate. This might mean contributing to a case-study, presenting their own recommendations or sharing a video they have made. Some lecturers incentivise students by allocating marks for participation that go towards the final module grades.

Whichever kind of activity you include, preparation is the key to success. Consider how you will introduce the activity, how long it will take, and how you will conclude it. As you introduce more ambitious or complex activities it is worth play-testing them with your colleagues in advance. This can help you assess their duration, refine your implementation and build your confidence.Learn More: Video lectures

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