When we were asked to create an online version of our face-to-face workshop, aligned to the university’s Common Framework for Online Education, it presented an exciting opportunity to develop something new – and a challenge. The content of our workshop was well suited to supporting staff moving to online and blended learning delivery, but how could we make it work online?
Step back, move forward
Our experiences reimagining a workshop designed to help participants adapt a course for online delivery fed directly into the session. One participant suggested “it was most useful at a meta-level,” and that was certainly true for us.
We had to start by taking a step back. The question wasn’t “how do I re-create these activities online?” but “how do I meet the session aims?”, or even, “are the aims still relevant?”. A key element of the workshop was to give participants that same opportunity – space to step back and review the bigger picture.
We also wanted to equip participants to move forward, ensuring that at the end of the session they would have a plan they could take away and use – or at least the start of one.
Utilise asynchronous opportunity
To get the most out of our synchronous session, we set up some pre-learning activities in Blackboard. Participants were asked to answer questions about the aims and learning outcomes of their course and watch two brief introductory videos. As well as beginning the thought process that would develop through the workshop, it gave participants a chance to practically prepare the materials they’d need.
The ‘meta-ness’ of our session continued with the video demonstrating the storyboarding activity, as the example given was the storyboarding for the workshop itself – with the decision to move these activities into the pre-learning.
Engage and interact
One participant said, “The first part engaged me with you and…committed me if you like to engaging with the activity.” Online, you have plenty of tools for interaction, along with a need to consciously build it in: it’s perhaps easier online to become distracted or disengaged. Ensuring that participants know how to interact with the platform, and starting with simple activities to practise this, can help.
Drawing on elements of UCL’s ABC Learning Design for curriculum development, in our workshop participants usually annotate their curriculum map with different categories of activity, and are provided with examples of what might fit these categories. Getting participants to generate examples of activities using Padlet gave a more active and collaborative way of introducing this.
The ‘buzz’ of activity as participants settle to a task is a very quiet one online. In a face-to-face session, there are informal opportunities for reflection and discussion. A tea break can consolidate an idea; something glanced at across a table can offer a solution. Online, this is difficult to re-create, but as the session developed we learned to give more time for individual activities, to allow that space, and to not be afraid of what feels like silence – but may be productivity or inspiration!
The most important learning resource in this session is the participants. Plans are formed and problems solved through discussion, the pooling of knowledge and experiences. This element was essential, so after participants had mapped out and annotated their course, they were allocated to smaller breakout groups to each share their outline map, and discuss. The process of doing this online can feel a bit obstructive: getting microphones to work and sharing files successfully are hurdles to overcome before meaningful discussion can happen. Again, extending the time allocated to this helped make the most of this, and participants spoke positively about the value of this activity.
What is realistic?
Some of the practical elements that we needed for this workshop (accessing materials to create a storyboard and capture it in order to share with others) took additional time, so we removed other parts of the workshop altogether to accommodate this.
This translated into the planning activity in the session. Time and resource are limited, so being pragmatic about what is possible is important. What’s nice to have, and what’s essential? What’s most worth spending time on? What opportunities are there for sharing resources with colleagues? Who else (staff or students) can be involved?
Test, review, revise
Before our first workshop, we had the opportunity to run it through with colleagues, to check what we planned would work, and get feedback. If you’re trying something new for the first time this is very helpful.
Feedback from participants throughout the session and afterwards has been really useful and enabled us to make changes as we’ve gone on. The same is true for any online learning: while it’s good to have a clear structure and overall vision, communicating with learners about what works, and taking an iterative approach is also important. Our experience is that not everything works the first time: learners recognise this, and when consulted can help in moving towards something more successful for all involved.
If you are interested in knowing more about the FLOW (Flexible Learning Online Workshop) session on Rapid Review & Implementation, do get in touch with Bobbi Moore or Anna Ruff via firstname.lastname@example.org.