It is certainly true that some aspects of more traditional face-to-face education are more difficult to take online. For example, any training that requires the student to use a tool following a demonstration or any training involving group work will require a lot of thought and would be a real challenge to replicate online without significant investment.
Lectures, on the other hand, should be easy, right? Well… no, not exactly.
It seems like it should be as simple as giving your lecture via Zoom or similar, but why isn’t it?
For a start, the environment for both the educator and the student has changed. From a teacher’s point of view, they are not receiving the same visual cues on whether the students are still engaged. Ellen Gunning of the PR Training Academy said “In a classroom, it’s quite easy for your eyes to roam and see if you are losing someone. On a screen it is very different, it’s much more unnatural to be going around these boxes and think “Where is everybody and what are they doing?”” For example, who is to say the person with their head down hasn’t ‘frozen’ due to a bad connection rather than fallen asleep?
From a student’s point of view, distractions are a big factor and, although they are present in the lecture theatre, there are many more distractions in a home environment. George De Jongh of Dirsken Education in the Netherlands said it can be difficult, “The students are working from home, they have their partner, their kids and their dog running around”.
Student focus can also be an issue and according to Ellen, and mindset has a big part to play in this, “Students have not left to go somewhere where they are focused on studying, they may want to focus but life is happening all around them.”
The medium is also a big consideration for both the educator and the student. Does the teacher feel as confident sitting at home in front of a laptop looking at themselves, rather than in front of a group of students, something they have possibly done for years, if not decades?
You also need to consider the type of content that students usually consume on the devices they are now using for their lectures. Think Netflix, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. Mostly short form and easy to digest content. As Ellen says “The people taking your course are familiar with television, video, social media, they are used to everything being done in a cool fast snappy way. You need to provide them with the same quality experience that they have been used to on other platforms.”
Keep in short
It is worth considering making online lectures shorter than your physical offerings. This would minimise any reduction in focus and limit the distractions.
Try to build some interaction with your class. Although physical lectures are mostly a one-way medium, if you have a smaller group can you get the students to answer questions or share their thoughts. Students are much less likely to disengage if they know they could be called for comment at any moment.
Is a live lecture the right solution?
Consider whether the information in the lecture could be made into a punchier video with the addition of images and activities that can be weaved in. A pre-recorded video can also be viewed by a student when they have fewer distractions.
The disadvantage of a pre-recording is that it does not require attendance and students won’t worry about missing it, so you will have to motivate them in other ways to consume the information.
Have you performed any lectures over Zoom? What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?