Digital Winter is Coming. Exploring the Brave New Digital Worlds at the EdTech Winter Conference 2021. A Reflective Audio Comic

The Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) organised the EdTech Winter Online Conference 2021 Paradigm Shift: Reflection, Resilience and Renewal in Digital Education that took place on 14th-15th January 2021 on Zoom.

Having experimented with using both comics and graphic novels in education boefore which was presented at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Winter Conference entitled ‘It’s Beginning to look a lot like learning. Using Sanako technology to support the language learning process’, in 2016, I was familiar with the potential of the pedagogic value of comics. Having worked in a University Language Centre, I discovered we had Frankenstein The Graphic Novel: Original Text (British English) in the collection. The teacher resource pack had a CD ROM with supplementary audio material. A free sample of the comic is available to download here. What if students continued the story by creating blank comic frames for them to fill in? I used comic templates from Presenter Media and Slides Carnival. Perhaps comics and graphic novels are an important part of visual literacy which can be defined as “…decribing the complex act of meaning making using still or moving images” (Fisher & Frey, 2008: p1). It has been argued that comics “…are on the cutting edge of pop culture” (Fisher & Frey, 2008: p29) Using a popular cultural artifact as a frame can help to engage students. The idea to comibine audio and the comic came from the Star Wars Audio Comics on YouTube available here. Combining two modalities could be argued to have a positive pedagogic impact as a committment to multimodal learning using “semiotic resources” (Bezemer & Kress, 2016: p3).

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The’ brave new digital world’ idea in the title of the blog draws on the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley in 1932. Perhaps Learning Technologists will support the creation of digital environments by being a “World Controller” (Huxkey, 1932: p38). In the same way that I finished writing this blog post, let us embrace “Brave New Digital Classroom” (Blake, 2013). It’s not all Zoom, Doom & Gloom, but rather Zoom, Boom & Bloom!

Bibliography

Catalina, J (2021) Colorful Comic. Free PowerPoint Template & Google Slides in Slides Carnival (Online) Available at: Themehttps://www.slidescarnival.com/jachimo-free-presentation-template/1393 [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Bezemer, J & Kress, G (2016) Multimodality, Learning and Communication: A social semiotic frame (Oxon: Routledge)

Blake, R, J, Guillén, G & Thorne, S, L (2020) Brave New Digital Classroom: Technology and Foreign Language Learning (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press)

Classical Comics Ltd (2021) Frankenstein Teacher Resources Pack (Online) Available at: http://www.classicalcomics.com/product/frankenstein-teaching-resource-pack/ [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Classical Comics Ltd (n.d.) Frankenstein The Graphic Novel: Original Text (British English) [pdf] Sample pdf Available at: FrankensteinOriginalTextSamplerOpt.pdf (classicalcomics.com) [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Fisher, D & Frew, N (eds) (2008) Teaching Visual Literacy: Using Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Anime, Cartoons, and More to Develop Comprehension and Thinking Skills (California, New Delhi, London & Singapore: Corwin Press)

Huxley, A (1932) Brave New World (Great Britain: Penguin Randon House)

Leschallas, W & McDonald, P (2020) Techno-autobiography & the Transnational Online Pivot: Exploring a Lecturer’s Experience of Teaching Online. Digitalrau.wordpress.com Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 12th Dec. Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/techno-autobiography-the-transnational-online-pivot-exploring-a-lecturers-experience-of-teaching-online/ [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Presenter Media (2020) Presenter Media (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/ [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

McDonald, P (2016), ‘It’s Beginning to look a lot like learning. Using Sanako technology to support the language learning process’ In: Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Winter Conference, 6th-8th December 2016. Online.

Shelley, M, Bryant, C, Shalvey, D, Wiley, T, Cobley, J, Wenborn, K, Haward, J, Cardy, J, Nicholson, K, Placentino, J & Wheeler, J (2008) Frankenstein The Graphic Novel: Original Text (British English) (United Kingdom: Classical Comics Ltd)

Star Wars Audio Comics (n.d.) Home [YouTube Channel] (Online) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtt_HbmqOrM6fQMQBr4oVDA?reload=9 [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Techno-autobiography & the Transnational Online Pivot: Exploring a Lecturer’s Experience of Teaching Online

In previous blog posts in the China series, content was created by the Learning Technology team and Bonnie and Lola from SDAU. Therefore, we actively welcome a contribution from a Lecturer who taught on the SDAU project. It is with great pleasure to both work with and interview William Leschallas, Head of School of Real Estate and Land Management. William was able to provide a unique pedagogical insight into the experience of teaching in China in both a face-to-face and online capacity. When I first met with William, he showed me pictures of his China trip and the work students had produced in a group in the form of a poster. We then worked together to adapt a face-to-face assessment task to an online activity.

William was asked a series of questions exploring the theme of the transnational online pivot.

PM: Describe your ‘techautobiography’ in a couple of sentences. A techno-autobiography is the history of your relationship with learning technology in the past.

WL: 2.5 years ago I had no idea about learning technology and I amnow  teaching 140 Chinese in Tai’An from my home. It has been so rewarding and great to see the student engagement.

PM: How do you compare the being in China in a F2F capacity to teaching online?

WL: ? I did miss not being in front of the students. Whilst student engagement on my module was good, I think both the students and myself missed out on that face to face interaction. However the quality of the work they produced was still very good.

PM: How did you find adapting your lectures for online learning? 

WL: Adapting the lectures was not that difficult as I had to be well organised before going to China.

PM: How did you adapt delivery and content for the interactive sessions? 

WL: Building on the answers above this was the most challenging part of the teaching. My subject benefits from seeing how the students react to what is being said and requires team work. The latter is much better placed when done face to face. Therefore I had to deliver in a way that I thought would be interesting and spur them on in the practical activities that were given to them.

PM: How can we improve support for Lecturers for the move to online learning? 

WL: I thought the support I was given was excellent. More training on using the technology would be brilliant so that we can be more creative. This applies whether delivering remotely and in the room.

PM: If you could tell the story of the move to online learning in three words, what would your (micro) story be? 

WL: Challenging, time consuming, rewarding (apologies 4 words!!)

PM: How did you adapt the poster assessment for online learning? 

WL: The poster assessment that I set just needed a clear explanation in the record lectures. Judging by the results this seemed to work. However the students have to take a lot of credit for engaging so well and enthusiastically. Poorang (Poorang Piroozfar also taught on the SDAU project with William for the Y3 Business Practice & Project Management module) managed to achieve the same result with his recorded presentations. Poorang’s presentations also were assessed for 10% of the module so there was an added incentive in our absence.

PM: What was the hardest part of online teaching? 

WL: Not knowing how the students were reacting to each lecture. Not knowing how engaged the students were in the online seminar sessions. Not seeing the students in person. See comments below about language

PM: What was the most enjoyable part of online teaching? 

WL: Seeing the work the students churned out and the fact that on request, they sent through photographs of themselves working in teams on their projects. We could therefore see them at work, which made such a difference.

PM: What advice would you give to a Lecturer who has not taught on the SDAU project before? 

WL: Do not under-estimate the time and care that is needed to prepare and record the lectures and assessments.

PM: How do you think the SDAU project will be in future given the impact of the global impact of the pandemic?

WL: Provided the students like our style and the results are good and we at the RAU learn from our experiences and improve our delivery then no problem. However being face to face makes all the difference especially with the language barrier. This latter point applies to some of my answers above as well. 

Reflection: A Pivot with a Pivot. A Digital Wheel within a Digital Wheel. Exploring Hope, Tropes & Pivot Folklore.

From the perspective of a Learning Technologist, I was able to ‘drop into’ the interactive sessions taking place on Zoom. The online classroom can be a challenging online environment to get used to, particularly in light of the “Zoom Gaze” (Caines, 2020) ontology, transparency and “(in)visibility” (Gallagher, Breines & Blaney, 2020). It was fascinating to see how different Lecturers approached planning and delivery of their interactive sessions. The variety of pedagogical approaches really added value to the digital student experience. Whilst training was provided to prepare Lecturers for teaching on Zoom that covered the ways that it is possible to engage students such as sharing scree, using chat, whiteboard and polling, teacher autonomy and Lecturer’s bringing putting their own ‘pedagogical stamp’ on the sessions can be acknowledged. Meeting the Lecturers before the sessions went ‘live’ was a unique opportunity to find out about them, their subject specialism and ideas about online teaching. Drumm (2019) identified the idea of “folk pedagogies” as a way to describe how Lecturers explore their ideas about online pedagogy. It is also the case that Learning Technologists have ideas about how they perceive pedagogical reflections and how to support Lecturers with the online pivot. The critical question is always how can we work together effectively and explore our ideas together? Whatever “folk pedagogies” we have or have not, I would like to thank the Lecturers involved with the SDAU project for their willingness to embrace the challenges that teaching online can bring to make a success of the opportunity (Drumm, 2019). In future, given that it can be argued that teaching online is different from teaching in a tradition face-to-face setting, it may be possible to explore peer review of online teaching in a supportive capacity. The positive student feedback was acknowledged at the RAU & SDAU annual general meeting. I reflected on the AGM in a blog post here.

The term techno-autobiography was discovered in a presentation here (Zheng, 2015). When educators ask themselves what about what their relationship with learning technology has been in the past, it is  a powerful process which opens how we can overcome challenges in speculative futures. For me, my techno-autobiography was realised with the awareness that it is possible to be enthusiastic about learning technology, yet critical at the same time. The critical lens through which it is possible to view learning technology is a helpful way to embrace complexity and navigate uncertain pedagogic worlds.

What is your techno-autobiography? How does it impact your approach to online pedagogy? Can we re-frame our narrative?

Group 1 of William Leschallas’ student group in the interactive sessions created a poster using the visual structure of an octopus.

Group 1’s poster with the visual structure of an octopus

In this blog post, tropes were identified as a way to make sense of the transnational online pivot. It has been argued that “…pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought action. Our conceptual system…is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003: p3). After having been award a Global OER Graduate Network (GOGN) fellowship, a picture book about open education was co-created where a question in the survey was asked about animal came to mind when reflecting on open education (Nerantzi, 2020). If it was possible to choose an animal that the project could ‘be’ in a metaphorical sense, perhaps it could be an octopus in terms of seamlessly gliding through the ocean of challenges both technological and pedagogical, perhaps this what Learning Technologists strive to do. The #creativeHE group is a helpful community of practice to support what they call “pedagogical rebels and free-thinking innovators in experimenting with, developing, sharing and getting support for novel learning and teaching ideas” (#creativeHE, n.d.). Perhaps a case can be made for creative approaches to learning technology and further research can be carried into the extent to which creative approaches can cross disciplinary and transnational boundaries to improve the digital student experience. Here’s to the “Brave New Digital Classroom” (Blake, 2013). Here;s to the “Brave New Digital Classroom” (Blake, 2013).

Bibliography

Blake, R, J, Guillén, G & Thorne, S, L (2020) Brave New Digital Classroom: Technology and Foreign Language Learning (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press)

Caines, A (2020) The Zoom Gaze in Real Life (Online) Available at: https://reallifemag.com/the-zoom-gaze/ [Accessed: 8th January 2021]

Drumm, L. (2019). Folk pedagogies and pseudo-theories: how lecturers rationalise their digital teaching. Research in Learning Technology, 27 (Online) Available at: https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/2094 [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Gallagher, M, Breines, M &  Blaney, M (2020) Ontological Transparency, (In)visibility, and Hidden Curricula: Critical Pedagogy Amidst Contentious Edtech in Postdigital Science and Education (2020) [e-journal] (Online) Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42438-020-00198-1 [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

Lakoff, G & Johnson, M (2003) Metaphors We Live By with a new afterward (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press)

McDonald, P (2020) Lost (and found) in Translation: Transfiction, Tropes & Transnational Imaginaries  Digitalrau.wordpress.com Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 7th Dec. (Online) Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/lost-and-found-in-translation-transfiction-tropes-transnational-imaginaries/ [Accessed: 21st January 2021]

Nerantz, C (2020) GOGN Fellowship Project: Co-creating an open picture about open education. http//go-gn.net/research Global OER Graduate Network Blog [blog] 22 October (Online) Available at: http://go-gn.net/research/fellowship-open-picture-book/ [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Nerantz, C (2020) Open invitation to seed ideas for a collaborative open picture book story about open education, a GOGN Fellowship (Online) Available at: projecthttps://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSemyGWWm4orA72VlEnZ1Gzk8lAkvG_GFWWn8rKOV-_ezapH2g/viewform [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Global OER Graduate Network (n.d.)  http://go-gn.net/ (Online) Available at: http://go-gn.net/ [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

#creativeHE (n.d.) CreativeHE Community (Online) Available at: https://creativehecommunity.wordpress.com/ [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Zheng, I (2015) Techno Autobiography [Prezi Presentation]. (Online) Available at: https://prezi.com/8seyqaa4rk82/techno-autobiography/ [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Royal Agricultural University (RAU) Biography William Leschallas (Online) Available at: https://www.rau.ac.uk/about/organisation/staff/william-leschallas [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Lost (and found) in Translation: Transfiction, Tropes & Transnational Imaginaries.

The RAU & SDAU annual general meeting took place on Thursday 7th January 2021. It was a privilege to be invited to contribute to the meeting and share a summary of the research Marieke Guy, RAU’s former Digital Learning Manager (@digitalrau) and I carried out on the transnational online pivot in 2020. The presentation can be accessed here. The China blog series can be accessed here.

The RAU & SDAU annual general meeting was an opportunity to hear from a range of individuals from both institutions deliver their annual reports and reflections. SDAU staff attended the meeting in a face-to-face capacity on campus, RAU staff attended the meeting in a virtual capacity using Zoom, the popular videoconferencing tool.

A Road Less Translated

We heard from Prof. Ran Zhang Vice President of SDAU in the opening speech with translated version in English.

A slide from the presentation delivered by Professor Ran Zhang, Vice President of the SDAU

It was possible to relate to a great deal of what Prof. Ran Zhang was saying particularly the trope, concerning how the “…road ahead is long and striving is the only way forward” and how both staff and students have been “…striving hand in hand, together at heart to overcome challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic” (Zhang, 2020). This felt like an incredibly positive narrative, almost poetic, to both in order set the tone of the AGM itself and to share the transnational partnership narrative with SDAU. The translation intrigued me and led me down a path of exploring how we can make sense of translated text in a meaningful way.

Translation has been argued to be a “…a travelling concept” (Kaindl, 2014: p2). a “master metaphor epitomizing our present condition humaine in a globalised and centreless context, evoking the human search for a sense of self and belonging in a puzzling world full of change and difference” (Delabastita, 2009: p111 in Kaindl, 2014: p2). Having worked in a University Language Centre in a technical capacity working with translation and interpreting software called Sanako and having taught English for Academic Purposes (EAP), I was keen to explore translated texts of presentations and the verbal contributions of both institutions. A trope “…can refer to any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used many times. Any kind of literary device or any specific example can be a trope” (Literary Terms, n.d.). What tropes have we used and can we use to make sense of transnational learning realities? Transfiction can be defined as “…the introduction and (increased) use of translation-related phenomena in fiction” (Kaindl, 2014: p4). It felt like the stories were telling and the way that language was used in the meeting in a translated capacity and other contexts was compelling and opened up new ways of framing transnational projects. Drawing on fiction as a tool helps us to frame the transnational narrative as an opportunity to tell stories in a collaborative capacity. How can we use the translated realities to create new transnational imaginaries? Whilst it may seem odd to draw on translation as a lens through which to reflect on the AGM itself, it has been argued that translation can be applied in an interdisciplinary capacity in virtue of its “chameleonlike changeability” (D’hulst. 2010: p54 in Kaindl, 2014: p1).

A really positive message from Prof. Ran Zhang was that the “…epidemic did not stop the pace of cooperation. Our cooperation was more profound, more extensive and more fruitful” (Zhang, 2020). The use of the word “pace” invoked the idea of acceleration and speed.

A slide from the presentation delivered by Professor Ran Zhang, Vice President of the SDAU

The part of the speech exploring the idea of building “…a community with a shared future for mankind in higher education” reminded me of the question of the purpose of education. This question has a long genealogy. For example, in the Robbins Report in 1963, it is acknowledged that “The question is not a new one” and the  goes on to ask “…what purposes, what general social ends should be served by higher education?”  (London. The Robbins Report. 1963, p6).

@pipmcdonald delivering a presentation at the RAU & SDAU annual general meeting

I was required to submit my presentation a few days before the meeting itself for the purposes of translation. It would have been interesting to see the translated version.Whilst it is important to “…to acknowledge a plurality of aims”, it is identified that “There are controversial issues here concerning the balance between teaching and research in the various institutions of higher education…” (London. The Robbins Report. 1963, pp6-7). The tension between teaching and research is an issue I discussed in the presentation I delivered. It was argued that research-informed practice was an important professional value.

A slide from the presentation delivered by Professor Ran Zhang, Vice President of the SDAU

The final message about friendship and fruitful cooperation was also positive. Ultimately, learning  is about relationships and I hope this transnational partnership will also continue to be “fruitful” in a cooperative capacity (Zhang, 2020).

Positive messages for the future from the SDAU

Prof. Neil Ravenscroft, Pro Vice Chancellor at RAU then delivered a speech. I am very grateful to both Prof. Neil Ravenscroft and Dr Xianmin Chang, Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for the opportunity to be involved with the AGM. Steve Finch, Director of China Programmes, who taught on the cohorts during both summer and winter in 2020, Tiger Wang, Director of RAU China Office & Daniel Wang, Deputy Director of RAU China Office were also present.

Professor Neil Ravenscroft delivering his speech at the RAU & SDAU annual general meeting

Lola Huo, who supported the SDAU project, contributed to a blog post about the SDAU project previously with Bonnie Wang here, delivered a presentation. We are very grateful for the contribution of both Lula Huo and Bonnie Wang to the SDAU project.

It was helpful to see how staff and students from SDAU experienced what I had been curating from RAU in both synchronous (interactive sessions) and asynchronous (pre-recorded lecturers in Panopto) capacities.

How the work we did at the RAU was turned into a pedagogical reality at SDAU

Lola’s thoroughly presentation included key points from the digital learning evaluation which was positive.

Positive Digital Learning Evaluation

Imaginaries have a rich genealogy and application and can be argued to be “…a jargon term that has been gaining currency in a number of social sciences” (Nerlich & Morris, 2015). A history of the term imaginaries and the different types including sociotechnical imaginaries can be found here (Nerlich & Morris, 2015). Castoriadis explored the imaginary and the “institution” in the book The Imaginary Institution of Society (Castoriadis, 1987: p115). Having studied Philosophy at Durham University, I discovered discussions about imagination in The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination by Sartre. The critical question is how can we collectively re-imagine the transnational partnership?

It could be argued that the AGM itself was a multimodal experience in that visual, audio, and video modalities were present simultaneously. Multimodality can be defined as “…representations in many modes…” (Kress, 2010: p22). One of the core findings from the poster presentation delivered at the University of East London Learning & Teaching Symposium and the and the presentation delivered at the University of Manchester #ChinaHE2020 China and Higher Education: Navigating Uncertain Futures conference was that multimodal learning was identified as a significant type of learning that was taking place. I have explored multimodality in the context of technology enhanced language learning (TELL) in a blog post for the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT), in the Twitter conference, PressEd Conference in 2019 and at the MFL Twitterati conference in 2019 oragnised by the Association for Language Learning (ALL). Perhaps the presentations containing both text and image were more powerful than those containing text alone. Potentially, the case for the multimodal imaginary is compelling.

Both text and image: a powerful multimodal message for future intentionality?

There is a sense that the transnational online pivot has enabled us to travel “…through sociocultural space” (Kaindl & Spitzl, 2014). I concluded the presentation I delivered with a tweet from Virna Rossi, an Education Developer (@VirnaRossi) which I also discussed in the presentation co-delivered with @MariekeGuy at the University of Manchester #ChinaHE2020 conference in December 2020. The slides are available here, blog post here, and recording is here. The idea of of the university operating in a “…translocal…[and] transtemporal form…” is compelling (Ross, 2020). This echoes the idea of translation as acting as a ‘deterritorialisator’, perhaps “virtual space” creates “non-places” (Rapport & Dawson, 1998: p6 in Kaindl, 2014: p3).

(Rossi, 2020) @VirnaRossi

It felt like what was discussed in the SDAU AGM helped us reflect on what the university is and what it could be in the context of adaptive, resilient, and hopeful transnational partnership. Lost in Translation was a film in released 2003 exploring how strangers meet in Tokyo (IMDB, n.d.). The title of this blog draws on the notion of being ‘lost’ but then also stresses being ‘found’, a critical transformational process. This blog is entitled the ‘RAU Digital Trasformation’ blog. Supporting the SDAU project through the lens of learning technology has truly been a transformational opportunity.

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Guy, M & McDonald, P (2020) Presentation slides: The certainty of uncertainty: Transnational Online Pivot in China (Online) Available at: https://www2.slideshare.net/MariekeGuy/the-certainty-of-uncertainty-transnational-online-pivot-in-china-239927325 [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

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Guy, M (2020) Quán lì yǐ fù: Delivering online teaching in China. Digitalrau.wordpress.com, Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 16 June (Online) Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2020/06/16/quan-li-yi-fu-delivering-online-teaching-in-china/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

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Literary Terms (n.d.) Trope (Online) Available at: https://literaryterms.net/trope/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

Nerlich, B & Morris, C (2015) Imagining Imaginaries. Blogs.nottingham.ac.uk, Public Science blog, [blog] 23 April (Online) Available at: https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2015/04/23/imagining-imaginaries/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

Sartre, J, P (2010) The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination (Oxon: Routledge)

The Certainty of Uncertainty: Transnational Online Pivot in China

Today Pip McDonald and I presented at the China and Higher Education: Navigating Uncertain Futures online conference organised by Manchester University.

Our 20 minute presentation was part of the Pivots to online learning session chaired by Jenna Mittelmeier, Lecturer in International Education at Manchester Institute of Education. You can see the slides on Slideshare.

During the presentation Pip explored the idea of uncertainty when moving to online and suggested a concept of ‘uncertainty literacy’ with it’s own taxonomy.

The research for this exploration was collated through use of an online questionnaire sent out to the SDAU lecturers.

Hold Your Digital Horses. Time for an Online Symposium.

The University of East London (UEL) hosted their Learning & Teaching Symposium on Microsoft Teams on Thursday 17th September. A slide from the final keynote delivered by Simon Thomson (@digisim) from the Centre for Innovation in Education exploring the Physical and Digital: Exploring places and spaces for hybrid teaching in a post-lockdown world.

Pivot within a Pivot. Digital Wheel within a Digital Wheel.

Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams have played an important role at RAU, a Zoom with the SDAU project which was the topic of a poster presentation delivered at the event by @digitalrau, Digital Learning Manager and @pipmcdonald, Learning Technologist. The event had different rooms with different themes where presentations were delivered simultaneously. Our room explored Teaching Principles in Practice. We successfully submitted a proposal to the symposium exploring the transnational online pivot relating to the longstanding project the RAU is involved with working with Shandong University in China. The transational pivot was almost like a pivot within a pivot, a digital wheel within a digital wheel.

A Learning & Teaching Symposium: Tech Incognita for Terra Incognita?

As a learning and teaching event, my initial concern was that both our roles and activity were concerned with learning technology and not pedagogy in an explicit capacity. Some Learning technologist roles are more technical and others are more focused on pedagogy. However, the more work I carried out on the project the more I realised the pedagogy was driving the narrative of the project rather than the technology. This was echoed In the Microsoft Teams chat during our poster presentation.

Never Mind the Buzztech. Putting the Learning in Learning Technology.

“When a ‘learner’ sits alone in front of a computer and engages with a text displayed on screen there is more going on than the interaction of that individual with the screen” (Jewitt, 2006: p76). An evaluation form in Microsoft Forms with a range a questions including using Likert scale and ranking was created and emailed to lecturers who taught on the project. The benefit of using Microsoft Forms is that the results are created in real time. One of the questions asked what types of learning took place during the interactive sessions? Lecturers identified that multimodal learning was form of learning that took place the most. Multimodality can be understood whereby “…all modes of communication are attended to as part of meaning making…” (Jewitt, 2006: p3 ). More specifically, multimodality can be seen as “…images, sounds, space, and movement representing and communicating meaning (Kress, 2010, in Miller & McVee). Multimodal approaches to pedagogy are becoming widely used in academia (Jewitt, Bezemer & O’Halloran, 2016). Having explored multimodality in education at the MFL Twitterati conference at the Ashcombe school  in Dorking organised by the Association for Language Learning (ALL) in 2019 and at the Missing Maps mapathon event at University College London (UCL) in 2019 – , I was keen to explore this more. Zoom could be argued to be a platform for “multimodal discourse” (Kress & van Leewen, 2001). It could also be argued that multimodality literacy could potentially help to move across any potential language barriers. Participating in a Zoom meeting is a multimodal experience – “When a ‘learner’ sits alone in front of a computer and engages with a text displayed on screen there is more going on than the interaction of that individual with the screen” (Jewitt, 2006: p76). A further study could be completed to explore the impact of multimodal approaches to learning and teaching.  

The Power of Research Informed Pedagogic Practice

Lecturers wanted to explore how to use the interactive features in Zoom included break out rooms, polling and whiteboard. The technology was a platform for the pedagogy. There is a well-known quotation that ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear’. What about the Learning Technologist?  The truth is Learning Technologists appeared in a radical way particularly during lockdown to facilitate the online pivot.

When asked what approaches Lecturers took in the interactive sessions on Zoom, the majority used the chat function and share screen. What emerged pedagogically was that some teachers wanted to explore more features such as polling, breakout rooms and whiteboard. As a Learning Technologist, this was exciting to support and a model we hope to follow up on the next iteration of the project. Pedagogy driving the narrative of the project and not necessarily the technology was the critical thread we wanted to stress in the presentation.

With respect to how Lecturers engaged with students in interactive sessions, approaches included  team teaching or having more than one lecturer is a Zoom meeting. This seemed like an effective approach for example while one Lecturer presented content, another Lecturer could manage the chat. This approach makes sense particularly in virtue of the fact that over one time with a hundred students were in meetings at any one time.  Successfully engaging with such a large number of students is always challenge. Lecturers’ ideas were impressive, for example, one lecturer was going to do a live auction in Zoom which was a really engaging scenario-based approach.

Two Hats or Two Tribes: A Teacher & A Learning Technologist

From my experience in the role of a Teacher of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), one of the challenges is that few students speak up in transnational contexts. This was also a point that was raised as part of the research project.  One of the approaches one Lecturer took was to have smaller groups running consecutively where students had to work collaboratively to create a proposal on PowerPoint and each person would have a role assigned to them a bit like De Bono’s thinking hats (De Bono, 2000). We hope to take this model forward. Emergent pedagogies were important for us. We could move towards a model of De Bono’s Digital Thinking Hats. One of the questions we were asked about our research project was about this approach:

My response was to remind everyone that learning is always about relationships and explained how the approach worked in terms of smaller groups helping students to actively contribute. It was also meaningful to feedback to the lecturer who created the approach that the approach he took was shared and successful.

Zoom, Boom & Bloom

Both student and lecturer feedback was similar about not having a personal connection in a face to face setting, there was evidence of valuable personalised touches to pedagogy. The phrase I used in the presentation was that it was not the ‘ghost ion the zoom machine’. For example, one of Lecturers showed the students her garden and environment during an interactive session. Students of Agriculture as a curriculum area would find this helpful in real time. Additionally, a Lecturer allowed students to talk with her son who was a student studying Mining Engineering and they shared a valuable discussion on sustainability. Even given the contextual restraints of the transnational online pivot, unplanned valuable pedagogic moments can still take place. It is not just Zoom, doom and gloom, but rather Zoom, Boom and Bloom! Bloom’s taxonomy has been revised to include digital skills (McNulty, 2020). Perhaps a specific taxonomy could be created for Zoom or video meeting-based platforms.

Back to the Future, Feedback & Feedforward

The first keynote of the symposium was delivered by Dr. Naomi Winstone (@DocWinstone) from University of Surrey exploring moving feedback forwards in higher education. She showed a word cloud about how people feel about feedback and talked about embracing vulnerability in feedback scenarios:

The idea of feedback was also relevant to our research project. We wanted to explore the extent to which peer review of the interactive sessions would be helpful:

We also received some positive feedback from our poster presentation from one of the session Chairs, Ella Mitchell (@meatyloafy) on Twitter:

The Power of Blogging, Reflection and Digital Transformation

At RAU we have a digital transformation blog as a platform for reflection. One of the interesting parts of this project was the reflective blogs posts created by Marieke, myself and Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from Sinocampus in China. Reflective blogs are useful tool particularly in a case study to dig deep and immerse in the complexities. The blog series can be accessed here. When working in a collaborative capacity with transnational patterns, it felt important to invite our colleagues, Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from Sincocampus in China to reflect too.

The Dissolution of face-to-face learning. You have reached the end of education. Stuck between a digital rock and a digital hard place?

Lecturers are used to traditional face-to-face settings and one lecturer made reference to how they checked students faces for understanding in the online questionnaire. As Simon Thompson (@digisim) said in the final keynote, “We hold face to face very dear” (Thompson, 2020). Notwithstanding, the Lecturers’ ability to adapt content and deliver was impressive. In the final keynote of the Learning & Teaching symposium, Simon Thompson (@digisim) said “we have all had to learn new skills in digital space. [It’s about]…digital need not digital skills” (Thompson, 2020).  The need to adapt was undeniable. Perhaps we can change the saying ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear’ to ‘when the lecturers are ready the learning technologist will appear’.

Thoroughly Modern Technology. Unpacking the logistics of Online Learning

Other presentations were both relevant and helpful. For example, it was interesting to hear how David Murray, Dr Caroline McGlynn and Khadija Ahmed from the University of East London (UEL) had introduced welcome slides as a simple yet highly effective way to engage students and overcome what they called what they called ‘unexpected barriers’ to online learning and teaching. The Salsa music was an effective way to engage students.

Going, Growing & Knowing?

In conclusion, we hope to explore working with China within the JISC international community, we are keen to unpack how digital accessibility will have an impact on how we plan the delivery of next part of the project, more specifically with respect to captions. We hope to contribute to the #ChinaHE20 online event by University of Manchester exploring how to work with uncertainty – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/china-and-higher-education-navigating-uncertain-futures-tickets-112516945212. A key idea that resonated with me in relation to this project was that “We don’t just go through projects, we GROW through projects”. The opportunity to participate in this symposium in this capacity as a research informed model has undoubtedly helped us with this growth process. Pivots aside, let’s keep growing together.

It is possible to access the poster on Slideshare here.

The video recordings of the presentations can be accessed on YouTube here.

The recording of our presentation can be accessed at 19:04 here:

Bibliography

De Bono, E (2000) Six Thinking Hats (Penguin: London)

Guy, M & McDonald, P (2020) The Transational Online Pivot: A Case Study Exploring Online Delivery in ChinaIn: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

Jewitt, C (2006) Technology, Literacy, Learning: A Multimodal Apprach (Oxon & New York: Routeldge)

Jewitt, C, Bezemer, J & O’Halloran, K (2016) Introducing Multimodality (Oxon & New York: Routledge)

Kress, G & van Leewen, T (2001) Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media of Contemporary Communication (London: Arnold; New York, Oxford University Press)

University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September.

McNulty, N (2020) Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (Cape Town: HH Books)

Miller, S, M & McVee, M, B () Multimodal Composing: The Essential 21st Century Literacy in Multimodal Composing in Classrooms Learning and Teaching for the Digital World (Routledge: London and New York). pp1-13

Murray, D, McGlynn, C & Ahmed, Khadija (2020) The logistics of online learning. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

Thomson, S (2020) Exploring places and spaces for hybrid teaching in a post-lockdown world. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

UEL Learning and Teaching Symposium 2020 (2020) UEL Learning and Teaching Symposium 2020 – Room 1 – Teaching Principles in Practice [online video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtvJB4KnO2Q&list=PLuuOV6nj7vpT9pbYj2Xy889O4C0X6_FoZ&index=4&t=1154s [Accessed 6th October 2020]

Winstone, N (2020) Moving feedback forwards in higher education. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

 

Dēng gāo bì zì: Delivering online teaching in China

In the fourth blog post in our series on the delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU), Bonnie and Lola from Sinocampus are taking the baton and sharing their perceptions and reflections about our online teaching delivery experience.

Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from Sinocampus

Bonnie Wang (left) and Lola Huo (right) from Sinocampus

Due to the influence of the epidemic, not only our lecturers, but also the students cannot return to campus. All the students in SDAU have had to study and take the online classes at home. After discussion, the format of 3 pre-recorded lectures and 1 interactive session per day for each module was set.

Pre-recorded Lectures

For the pre-recorded lectures, Marieke and Pip opened the permissions on the Panopto videos and shared the lectures’ links to us so that we could download the videos. As we have mentioned in the previous post, attendance accounts for 30% of the marks. In order to urge students acquire the knowledge better, make students study as if they were in the classroom settings, and record their attendance, we decided to play the pre-recorded lectures for students in the form of normal classes with 45 mins of each. At first, we would like to use Zoom to play the lectures. However, it was found out that Zoom has suspended all new user registration in China. After searching and discussion, we finally found VooV meeting to deliver the lectures instead of Zoom. VooV meeting is free to the public during the COVID-19 outbreak to help people stay connected while working remotely. It supports up to 300 participants and offers secure, reliable, convenient and cloud-based HD conferencing services so we can host video meetings freely. But it cannot directly play web videos because the sound will be distorted. Luckily, after further study of this software, we found later that the videos downloaded to the computers could be played well with no worry of affected sound. Furthermore, unlike Zoom, VooV meeting cannot provide attendance monitoring reports to us. Thus we had to check the participants one by one by ourselves and keep an eye on them when they were listening to the lectures. At the end of the day, we would organize all the video links for different lectures and send them to the students for review. Besides this, we also reminded them not to spread the Panopto videos outside.

A picture of pre-recored lectures delivered by VooV Meeting

A picture of pre-recored lectures delivered by VooV Meeting

Interactive Sessions

The interactive sessions were conducted via Zoom using the RAU account. All the students loved this part very much since they could communicate with the lecturers directly and discuss questions they didn’t understand with teachers. One problem we encountered was that some meetings were conflicted at the beginning because there were two or three interactive sessions for different courses at the same time normally. But as we mentioned, the same host cannot host two or more meetings simultaneously with the same account. Thanks to Pip, this problem has been solved perfectly. We also took part in the interactive sessions with the lecturers and students and followed through. Once any problem happened, we contacted the corresponding people immediately.

A picture of interactive sessions on Zoom

A picture of interactive sessions on Zoom

After three whole weeks of teaching and learning, we asked for teaching observations from our students on their lecturers. It is apparent that the students generally think highly of teachers and the online teaching.

Student Joy said excitedly that every academic year’s foreign teacher curriculum is his most anticipated part, and this year is no exception. He didn’t expect to receive such high-quality teaching from foreign teachers even under the influence of the epidemic. When we asked his reflections about the online teaching, he added that:

Everyone’s enthusiasm for learning has not been reduced even if we are online. We could see the fast rolling barrage in each session. The interactive session not only stimulates my interest and determination to participate in the discussion, but also makes me feel the sense of responsibility and deep concern of foreign teachers across the ocean.

Student Mike also said,

The two ways of online teaching — pre-recorded lectures and interactive sessions — complement each other, providing students with a good learning atmosphere, improving our learning enthusiasm and promoting our autonomous learning ability.

Almost all the students who were interviewed stated that they are really looking forward to the next meeting of foreign teachers! We think the high evaluations of students should be contributed to the efforts all the staff working on this project have taken. However, we knew that we still need to keep working in the future. Thus we will make best use of the advantages and bypass the disadvantages to better improve the teaching quality, promote the projects and strengthen the cooperation.

The stone tablet of Dēng gāo bì zì at the foot of Mount Tai

The stone tablet of Dēng gāo bì zì at the foot of Mount Tai

Dēng gāo bì zì (登高必自) is a stone tablet at the foot of Mount Tai and also the motto of SDAU, representing that climbing must start from a low place. We believe this is just our first step and we would climb higher and do better in the future.

Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià. Laozi: Delivering online teaching in China

In the next in our series of blog posts on delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU) Pip takes over and shares highs and lows from the first week of interactive teaching.

And remember each 10,000 mile journey begins with just 1 step (千里之行,始於足下 Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià. Laozi.

IMG_9810

I started working at RAU in May 2020 and immediately started on the online teaching project at SDAU in June 2020. Early in June it was acknowledged that students would not be able to return to campus and so all pre-recorded content was passed over to the SDAU team, they would take responsibility for delivering it to students. When teaching officially began on 15th June our biggest concern was the interactive sessions.

Interactive sessions using Zoom

We had changed from using WeChat to using Zoom a short time before teaching was planned to go ahead. It was time to ‘deep dive’ into exploring how to use Zoom as a platform on which interactive sessions would take place. Zoom had become used widely as a platform for remote and online learning and working throughout the pandemic. I had heard a great deal about new phrases such as ’Zoom bombing’ (O’Flaherty, 2020). Additionally, there was a great deal of discussion of ‘Zoom fatigue’ (Fosslien & Duffy, 2020). Whilst I had some experience of using Zoom before for example as a platform for delivering presentations using the chat and sharing screen features but I was not a Zoom expert and did not have experience being a ‘host’ so I felt that I needed to rapidly upskill if I was to support our lecturing staff using Zoom.

To support use of Zoom I offered ‘Zoom Drop In’ sessions to our lecturers who wanted to try out some the features before teaching went live. I was committed to exploring what ‘Zoom Literacy’ would be. When you have to teach someone else something, it is a good way of making sure you know how to use to first. I created approximately one hundred meetings so experienced my own version of ‘Pre-Zoom fatigue’. What we discovered during the first week was that it was not possible for the same host with the same account to host simultaneous meetings which prevented some of the interactive sessions from taking place on time or altogether. The error message ’The host has another meeting in progress’ became very familiar. This meant that we rapidly developed a workaround to solve the problems. For example, Chantal and Husna, the other RAU Learning Technologists created meetings. When it became clear that there were just too many parallel sessions required our IT Service Desk created some additional accounts for me to use. As a result, the timetabling process became very complex. Some of the interactive capabilities were restricted as the lecturers were not ‘hosts’. As a result, one of the Lecturers, Deepak Pathak and I decided to test out polling and break rooms in an exploratory longer case study interactive session. The two hour session involved exploring Starbucks. Deepak shared screens to reinforce the correct answers for example showing a Google Map of the location of RAU.

It was positive when the lecturing staff emailed me after their session to reflect on how it went. This helped identify ways to improve what we do for subsequent iterations of online teaching. I dropped into the majority of interactive sessions to see how teachers were using Zoom to engage students for example one of our lecturers, Nicola Cannon used a quiz format effectively.

Later on in the week I set up an online community of practice on Gateway, RAU’s Moodle VLE as part of a forum to share best practice.

“We all belong to communities of practice” (Wenger, 1998, p6)

An additional idea I had was to create a ‘sandbox’ approach on Zoom where all the Lecturers could share ideas of how to create interactive sessions without worrying about making a mistake during a live session.

I shared a Zoom webinar led by Eden Project Communities which was a ‘testpad’ for Zoom practices with Lecturers. I attended and it was great to see one of RAU’s Lecturers participate too. The session involved taking part in a breakout room as a student which was helpful to understand what the Zoom experience is like from the perspective of the student. One of the most helpful activities was a collaborative whiteboard led by host Samantha Evans where we explored games, collaborative activities, Zoom and other tools.

At this point in time we are currently starting the third and final week of teaching. My reflections are concerned with moving towards an evaluation of the project, I’ve recently created a problem-solution spreadsheet where I identified areas of development and potential strategies to overcome the problems.

Assessment

Throughout the three weeks of teaching, it was intended that assessments would take place every Friday. Accordingly, I tried to develop a workflow for assessment which involved the Lecturers creating the tests with the answers and articulating what invigilation might look like with Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from SDAU. Early on in the process we found out that 30% of the marks were for attendance. We explored how Zoom can provide attendance monitoring reports and discovered that this was possible. Another challenge we experienced was that during week two of teaching, the Department of Education of Shandong informed SDAU that examinations need to be postponed. As a result, we responded by identifying alternative dates and ways of carrying out assessment.

The SDAU project journey began with one step. We learned a great deal in a short space of time and developed ways to overcome challnges rapidly. I’m looking forward to the next steps. In future, we would like to work with JISC to explore how their transnational expertise can help us improve what we do. We attended a webinar led by UCISA on the topic of Improving online access in China and had a positive meeting with Dr. Esther Wilkinson, Baoyu Wang and Anne Prior from JISC about how we can work together in a constructive capacity. JISC have recently launched a pilot to explore what quality online education looks like for Chinese students (JISC, 2020).

A huge thank you to Marieke Guy, Xianmin Chang, Steve Finch, Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo for their hard work and support to make the project happen.

In the next post we’ll look the final week of teaching delivery and lessons learnt.

By Falling We Learn to Go Safely, Chī yī qiàn, zhǎng yī zhì,吃一堑,长一智

Bibliography

Yībù yīgè jiǎoyìn: Delivering online teaching in China

The Chinese proverb Yībù yīgè jiǎoyìn means ‘Every step makes a footprint’. In the second of our blog posts on delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU) we will start to look at how our steady work started to make good progress, and some of the curve balls that were thrown at us. We will cover how the pre-recorded video content was created, our initial interactive session plans using WeChat and then pass the baton on to our new Learning Technologist support.

At the base of Taishan Mountain

At the base of Taishan Mountain, Shandong

As explained in the previous post SDAU teaching was to commence in China in June and would last for three weeks. This three weeks would become (to some extent) our pilot project.

In discussions with SDAU it was agreed that the format for a day of module teaching would consist of 3 pre-recorded lectures (approximately 40-45 minutes each) and 1 interactive session. These teaching sessions would follow the existing timetable. At this point it was not know if the students would be back on site or still at home, we also didn’t know if Panopto would work completely…so there were plans and contingency plans, and then further contingency plans! They looked a little like this:

If Panopto works in China:

  1. Setting up an account for the SDAU Sinocampus staff and allowing them to deliver the content from Gateway during lessons
  2. Making the Panopto videos open and sharing the links so the SDAU Sinocampus staff could share in lessons

If Panopto does not work in China:

  1. Delivering the videos through an alternate video service like Stream, or another Webinar service
  2. Downloading the videos and sharing either through Gateway or some other online service (depending on which service works in China)
  3. Downloading the videos and sharing through a file transfer service
  4. Downloading the videos and sharing using old school methods such as CDs, memory sticks etc.

If the students fail to return to campus:

  1. Allowing the students to access the Panopto content themselves using open links
  2. Passing all video content over (either using Panopto or a download service) to the SDAU Sinocampus staff so they could pass on to the students

Sinocampus is an education provider that helps broker our relationship with SDAU.

We weren’t very keen on giving access to our VLE so number 2 looked the favourite at this stage.

Pre-recorded content

As explained in the previous post some of the SDAU lecturers were externals so we began by setting up RAU accounts for them giving them access to our VLE. Our VLE (Moodle) is integrated with our video management system (Panopto). A page was set on Moodle for the SDAU delivery and Panopto folders were created for every module to be delivered. The academics were trained in creating Panopto videos and given advice on content creation e.g. use of language, structure of lectures, folder usage and naming conventions.

  • Day X – Lecture X – Title of lecture – Initials e.g.
    Day 1 – Lecture 1 – Food supply chain – MG

For the first three weeks of teaching there were approximately 200 videos required so managing this process involved some very big spreadsheets!

Examples of pre-recorded content in Panopto

Examples of pre-recorded content in Panopto

Interactive sessions and WeChat

Once we had started the ball rolling on content creation the focus began to move to how these interactive sessions would work. Ideally they would be led by the academics and offer opportunities for students to work together as a class and in groups. Chinese class sizes are large and the small-group element was important in ensuring all students would get their turn to discuss topics. Initial investigations and trawls of mailing lists suggested that while there were many webinar solutions that might fit the bill (for example Zoom was working well and had been used for some of our meetings with China) there was only one service that could be guaranteed to work in China – WeChat. Other services such as Zoom were currently working but there was no guarantee long term.

WeChat is (according to Wikipedia) a “Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app developed by Tencent. It was first released in 2011, and became one of the world’s largest standalone mobile apps in 2018, with over 1 billion monthly active users”.  It has video and chat features and has been used by SDAU and RAU to organise groups and to engage with students. I used it while out in China to communicate with classroom monitors and other people. However while it is well-used and loved in China there are some security concerns predominantly about around its use of data. Many of our academics have used WeChat while out in China but in late 2019 our ITS department sent out an email setting out some concerns:

  • There is no end-to-end encryption making traffic vulnerable to being intercepted and viewed
  • The Chinese Government actively monitor WeChat traffic to gather information
  • Once WeChat is installed on a device, it can be used as a remote listening device
  • WeChat can also be used to gather other data stored on devices, such as emails, documents, photos and videos
  • WeChat Pay is frequently used as a means for attempting credit card fraud

Clearly in an ideal world we would not recommend WeChat but on occasions it is the only practical method for communications with China. ITS were taking a number of steps to help mitigate the risks of using WeChat which included only using temporary RAU-supplied mobile phone to access it and insisting that academics must not use this phone to access RAU emails. These suggestions had not really been put into action before but meant in practice that if we were going to recommend WeChat for the interactive sessions we would need to provide SDAU lecturers with an RAU phone each with WeChat on it. These might be regarded by some as ‘burner phones’ in that they would serve one purpose and would be separated from user data. Our Service Desk purchased 15 android phones for us to use. Due to Covid-19 getting hold of the phones and the sim cards wasn’t easy and it took a few weeks for their delivery – which left us with very little set up and testing time. Once they arrived each phone was given a Gmail account and set up with nothing but the WeChat app on. The plan was to start testing how the interactive sessions would work once we had a couple of phones up and running.

However setting up the accounts proved to be more difficult than initially anticipated. In order to set up a new WeChat account it needs to be verified by an existing user. The criteria here was for someone who had registered over 6 months ago, uses WeChat pay and hadn’t registered another user in the last month. There was also a very short time period after the account was ready to go (with a numeric code and QR code) that the registered user could verify in. Numerous attempts by many of our SDAU colleagues resulted in failure and with only a couple of weeks till the first delivery date we decided to abandon our WeChat plans.

Discussions with SDAU Sinocampus staff also highlighted a few issues that may have caused problems later down the line. WeChat can be used for sending text and voice messages, files and pictures. Hundreds of people can chat in a Wechat group by text messages but it only supports nine people at most for voice and video calls, and the function of polling is not available.

Getting the band together

By now we had appointed our new Learning Technologist support person – Pip McDonald. Pip has done an amazing job of taking this project forward and will be writing the next posts in this series.

Our first Zoom call with Bonnie and Lola

Our first Zoom call with Bonnie and Lola

Not long after Pip’s appointment we had a Zoom call with the SDAU Sinocampus staff on the ground – Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo. Bonnie and Lola have also been incredible throughout this project.

At RAU the academic leads on the project are Xianmin Chang and Steve Finch.

SDAU Systems

During this time we began to understand the SDAU systems that were being used a little better.

These include:

  • VooV meeting – A webinar system similar to Zoom
  • Rain class – A teaching tool that is available as a WeChat app

In our next post Pip will take the baton and look at our new approach to interactive sessions, assessment plans, attendance monitoring, teacher observation and the lead up to the first week of teaching.

Quán lì yǐ fù: Delivering online teaching in China

This blog is the first in a series of posts covering our delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU).

The RAU have had a partnership arrangement with SDAU for many years and our academics teach on a number of Food and Real Estate Management courses at the University. In normal circumstances our academics, some of who are RAU staff members and others who are external lecturers, would fly out to China and spend several weeks teaching the students in a classroom setting. [You can read more about my 2019 visit to China to teach on the English for Academic Purposes course.] It is great experience for both the students and the academics.

Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU)

Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU)

As Covid-19 progressed and we headed towards lockdown it became apparent that sending people over to China in June was not going to be possible and we needed a different approach. This realisation came around the same time that we were pivoting all our onsite courses to online and a solution was needed that could be implemented both quickly and with as little resource as possible.

We were already in discussions with the Jisc team regarding TNE provision in relation to a new partnership with another Chinese institution, so we contacted them to ask for guidance and support.  Mailing lists also proved invaluable and we began to monitor what other institutions in a similar predicament were doing.

The initial decisions made were:

  • That a Learning Technologist support person would be required to project manage the delivery as the existing RAU team would not be able to cover the work. An advert went out for someone to fill this role.
  • That in this particular case content was key and that in order to fulfil our teaching obligation we would need to start collecting content as soon as possible. It was agreed to pre-record this content using Panopto, our existing video content management system and the tool we were already using for lecture delivery. This content would need to be delivered to the students either in class (if they returned to University) or at home.
  • That this content would need to be complemented with an opportunity for students to interact with the academics delivering the lectures. This could be done using an asynchronous mechanism (such as chat) or some form of online webinar. The solution would clearly need further investigation, possible options were Zoom, WeChat (the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp), Office365 (Teams).
  • That various services would need to be tested. Due to the restrictions of the great firewall of China some technologies are known to be blocked (for example YouTube and Facebook) while others are unreliable. The restrictions are a movable feast and can be changed with little notice. Some tools such as WeChat have significant security implications. The Comparitech site monitors the status of sites in China to check if they are blocked.

There were also many other questions including:

  • How would we work with the SDAU team? What would be the division of labour?
  • What about assessment? How would it be delivered and marked?
  • What about training for the academics? This was particularly pertinent for the external academics who didn’t currently have RAU accounts and weren’t familiar with our tools.
  • How would we translate the onsite timetable to online?
  • How would teaching be assessed?

Quán lì yǐ fù is a Chinese idiom that means to give something your all. Its literal translation is to “exert all your strength for a goal”. Given the tight timeline for this work we really needed to exert all our remaining strength and start thinking very creatively about routes forward.

In the next post we will talk about the first steps in collecting content and initial investigations in to interactive sessions.