We asked Lancs lecturers their opinions on online teaching
‘Online teaching has on the whole been a positive experience for me’
Lockdown learning has given everybody new obstacles to overcome, the most prominent of which have been the dreaded online lessons. It seems as though online learning software has been purposely programmed to come up with new technical glitches every week, and as every Lancs student knows, if Moodle is down, there’s no chance of you getting any work done.
As students, we spend hours every day staring at our computer screens, reminiscing the days when degrees were about more than just slogging through the pre-recorded lectures that fill our Moodle dashboard. However, it is not just students who are having to combat the hardships of online learning. Lecturers also have to face the unpredictable manner of learning software and spend days with their eyes fixated on the little boxes of light that we call laptops. Therefore, we decided to give Lancs lecturers a chance to voice their feelings about online teaching.
“I am learning as well, day by day”
Dr Luigi Sedda, a lecturer from the Medical School, told us: “Delivering sessions via video does not allow to get those feelings on how teaching is going, how to improve and who is doing well and who is not… which allows you to adjust the course week by week and individual by individual.”
However, finding a light among the darkness, Dr Sedda explained how he likes the new addition of Q&A sessions, since they “provide an hour to discuss with students about material/issues without being constrained to a number of slides or topics.” Yet, Dr Sedda expressed concern for “a risk of lack of inclusivity.” Elaborating, he told us: “In my sessions probably around 40 per cent of students came with question or comment. Most of them stayed quiet.” Clearly Dr Sedda misses the personal element that accompanies in-person teaching, and he finished his response saying, “I am learning as well, day by day.”
“This year, it’s been much harder to get to know students”
Also missing the personal aspect of in-person teaching, Dr Catherine Salzedo, of the Accounting and Finance Department, explained to us how she usually is able to build relationships with her students from first year through to the end of their degrees, but this year feels that possibility is lacking.
Dr Salzedo said: “I teach first years and often get to know students over the whole of their degree from their first year onwards. However, this year, it’s been much harder to get to know students.” Despite teaching lots of students, Dr Salzedo told us how few attend her office hours, “even though I can have one to one chats with them.” She explained that whilst she doesn’t know exactly why this is, she speculates that is due to the fact that students “don’t get to know you in the same way as if you were teaching them all the time.”
However, she also believes that this year “we’ve thought more about how much we teach, and it will probably lead to some good ideas about how we continue to teach next year.”
“I’m constantly switching between my professional and parent selves”
We also have to take into account the fact that for many of our lecturers, teaching from home means teaching within a family environment. Professor Veronika Koller, of the Department of English Language and Linguistics, explained to us how working at home whilst having her son around means she is “constantly switching between my professional and parent selves”.
According to Professor Koller, there have been instances in which home-life has mixed with teaching, which have been “rather stressful and epitomised the challenge of teaching online.” Professor Koller finds that: “Work time other than teaching and meetings is reduced and I work late into the evenings.”
However, much like many lecturers, Professor Koller finds the positives in the dramatic change to teaching life, and told us: “On the plus side, online teaching has forced me to look at my materials again to see how pedagogically sound they are.” Professor Koller expressed to us that even though “online teaching takes three times as long”, she is “really taking a fresh look.”
“Online teaching has on the whole been a positive experience for me”
Dr Kwok Tong Soo, from the Economics department, told us: “Online teaching has on the whole been a positive experience for me.” Placing his focus on the benefits of online teaching, Dr Soo said: “Sure, recording lecture videos and running seminars and workshops on Teams is different from what we have done in the past. But different is not the same as bad.”
Dr Soo believes that these changes have brought positives to the uni lifestyle. “I would argue that the short videoed lectures are a far better way of doing the lectures. Many students appreciate the flexibility.” Also, according to Dr Soo, online teaching, “helps develop key skills for students, which go far beyond the course content.” So, whilst he does not “deny the many challenges both students and staff face”, he also sees the upside, and believes there are “a lot of positives”.
“It is really hard work and very tiring”
Lecturers all across the uni have had a pretty tough year, there’s no denying that. The general consensus however is that online teaching has provided both benefits and hinderances. For example, Professor Christopher May, of the Politics, Philosophy and Religion Department, is finding that students’ lack of willingness to turn on their cameras is having an unfortunate effect on the seminars themselves. Professor May told us: “As a course convenor and tutor on two courses I am finding it is really hard work and very tiring.”
“I really miss the alchemy that happens when you’re in a lecture hall with students”
Dr Eleri Cousins from the History Department is also finding frustration with having to record lectures “to a faceless computer screen!” Dr Cousins told us: “I really miss the alchemy that happens when you’re in a lecture hall with students.” Dr Cousins elaborated by saying: “I’m never entirely sure what I’m going to say next because I’m responding to the room and to the adrenaline of performance”.
Yet, Dr Cousins also told us that: “One of the nicest things this year has been when a student has emailed me or dropped into an office hour to tell me that they found a lecture interesting”, and added in, “If you’ve been inspired by a lecture this year, drop your lecturer a line. We love to hear it.”
“I felt exhausted when I finished my block of teaching”
Psychology Department’s Dr Calum Hartley showed us how much effort online teaching can be by explaining how each one-minute of speech takes at least three to four minutes of subtitle editing, and how strange it is having to adjust to delivering lectures to a laptop with no audience. “I felt exhausted when I finished my block of teaching in term 1.” However, Dr Hartley also said: “I was so glad that the students had a positive learning experience despite the difficult circumstances.”
Lancs lecturers clearly have an array of opinions when it comes to online teaching, and departments from all over the uni are having to combat the same obstacles. However, there is always a positive light shining through the gloom of Teams, and our lecturers are staying optimistic.