In the second of a series of articles, Helen Taylor (Senior Lecturer at Nottingham Law School) discusses some of the challenges of team working in an online learning environment.
The move to an online synchronous module from a face to face teaching module (using SCALE Up methodologies) at a breakneck speed in a global pandemic has certainly proved a challenge for me personally. Some of the redesign was based on instinct, pragmatism and practicality.
One of the first considerations was how a class of 40 students in an online session could gain the benefits of teamworking whilst developing other professional skills (for example professional writing). From the perspective of employers, graduates (and educators) the skill of teamworking and associated benefits are well known.
The breakout function seemed to hold many attractive benefits. My naïve and idealistic view was that we could push a button and the students would be allocated to another room where tutors could breeze in, give some tips/feedback, assistance and then breeze out again. I was incredibly optimistic that this plan of using breakout rooms would replicate much of the face to face teaching.
Reality check: it didn’t. I had not considered how under-confident students (and tutors) felt about the technology, speaking to someone on a virtual platform that they had not met before (and perhaps could not see) and, conversely, how easily some groups went ‘off task’ without a tutor being physically in the room. Lose-Lose situation?
Not exactly. There were other methods to engender teamworking that we tested and found to be successful. We set tasks in the workshops and gave students freedom to work together in any other virtual platforms. We remained in the workshop for students to ask questions. In completing the task, students could use the technology we were using to teach to set up meetings. They could exchange documents on email and liaise with each other using messaging systems. The choice was entirely within their gift. No, I was not in same position to direct discussions, but I was still there if students needed to check understanding. The benefits of these other methods of working turned lose-lose into win-win. Why? I think this method has helped the students in terms of personal and skill development in a wider way with increased independence/responsibility in task management, enhanced digital literacy skills and hopefully, a better relationship as a community of learners.