Perry Samson of the University of Michigan gave a very lively and engaging presentation at ALT-C about LectureTools, the software he has developed with Echo360. The session was titled ‘Deconstructing the Large Lecture Environment Through Technology‘ and as Perry talked about students using mobile devices to make notes, ask and answer questions or just signal confusion, the potential of the technology to close the gap between lecturer and learner in large lecture classes was very clear.
He also talked about this suite of tools meaning that students, or even himself, did not have to be physically present in the lecture theatre – raising the possibility of distance learning.
And then it occurred to me that we can no longer really draw distinct lines between classroom/f2f teaching and online teaching. Certainly where I work we already record lectures and in the interests of inclusivity it is standard practice to post lecture notes on the VLE in advance of teaching sessions. Every module has a VLE site so there is an online component, though the extent to which this is used varies.
The tools being demonstrated today were impressive, but mainly because they brought together things that we already do or could do, in one place: there was the ability to set questions and poll answers from students (as with response system ‘clickers’, Socrative, PollEverywhere etc.) and take questions from students (as with Textwall or Twitter). Students could make notes on the screen side by side with the slides (it looked like videonot.es but was practically the same as downloading a PowerPoint and annotating it). There were a few nice additional features like the ability to put a pin on an image slide, a ‘star’ icon to mark a particular point as important and a ‘flag’ to signal confusion (enough raised flags would elicit the lecturer’s attention). The whole thing would then be available for students to save and review later.
The fact that so much of this is familiar, albeit in fragments, made me realise just how ‘online’ even our most traditional form of teaching, the lecture, is becoming and how blurred the boundaries are.
This blog post is partly a contribution to the How to Teach Online MOOC and reflecting on this morning’s session has given me a new perspective on what it might mean to ‘teach online’ at this point in the development of UK university teaching.