Choosing tools to support your activities
Just as different learning outcomes can be addressed by different activity types, the activity types can themselves be supported by different tools. A key challenge is to establish which tool is best suited for which types of task or desired mode of communication.
Digital tools can help maintain learning momentum, improve collaboration between students, and provide useful feedback to staff on student progress and understanding. They can be usefully employed at module level to connect asynchronous and synchronous activity.
They can, however, also have an inhibiting effect, especially:
- if there are technical or access issues relating to how, where and when students are connecting to the desired activity that can interrupt engagement (especially with synchronous teaching)
- if people are unfamiliar with using the tools
- if too many different tools are used, or if the tool is unsuited to the intended learning approach.
This can lead to uneven engagement across cohorts, especially with asynchronous tools.
Questions to ask yourself when choosing a digital tool include:
- How will the tool support the intended learning outcomes of the module, the blended learning block (synchronously and asynchronously supported), asynchronous study on specific topics, or the specific synchronous session?
- Staff should identify and clearly articulate a strategy, ideally in discussion with your students, for when digital tools should be used and why.
Learner readiness and digital literacy
- What is your students’ level of readiness to use digital tools? What prior experience or existing perceptions do they have about using them? Do they need additional support developing the digital literacy skills they will need to engage effectively?
- Learner readiness to engage with digital tools will be strongly dependent on prior experience and understanding of expected conventions of behaviour. Staff should guard against assumptions that students are “digital natives” and instead identify mechanisms to determine confidence and readiness levels, providing or signposting additional digital literacy support where necessary.
- Learner readiness can also be attitudinal or relate to students’ competence to engage effectively with the task. For example, if they “don’t see the point” of the digital tool then they will struggle to engage with the intended activity. Ensuring work undertaken to complete asynchronous tasks feeds clearly into staff/student contact points can go a long way to alleviating this kind of resistance.
- Collaboration online can also be inhibited if any students have preconceptions about the (in)authenticity of social interactions in virtual reality, especially if they have no or limited experience of genuine online communities. Blended learning can here be usefully used to support these students to extend relationships and communication from in-person settings to online ones.
Approaches to learning
- How do you expect students to engage with the digital tool? Have you identified any risk of unintended or undesirable behaviours and how you might mitigate these?
- Expectations for engagement should also be articulated to your students, including whether this is to be staff- or student-led, or whether a formal or informal tone is to be encouraged.
- Not having clear expectations of engagement can lead to information overload and disorientation resulting in:
- a lack or diminishing level of student engagement in dedicated forums
- a lack of or low peer interaction in dedicated forums or increased expectation that every student contribution receives staff feedback
- an increase in individual email queries sent directly to teaching staff
- very rarely, it can lead to disruptive or inappropriate behaviour.
Student presentations and demonstrations
- How will you facilitate student presentations and demonstrations if used? Is there any scope or benefit in offering a choice of medium to your students or are you intending to support them to develop specific presentation or demonstration skills?
- Blended learning design can potentially be more flexible in terms of how students can give presentations and demonstrations, which can be delivered synchronously in-person or in a webinar, pre-recorded and posted to the VLE for asynchronous feedback and discussion, or pre-recorded and aired in-person.
- How much time do you expect everyone to spend engaging with the tool (staff and students)?
- How will engagement be monitored - if at all? One of the benefits to staff in using digital tools is the additional opportunity they afford to monitor student engagement and progress. However, staff are advised to be strategic in identifying monitoring points, not just to protect your own workload, but also to consider the impact that monitoring may have on student interaction.
- If you are only responsible for one element of a module using blended learning approaches, how does your area relate to other student work on the course?
- For example, if you are only responsible for facilitating specific synchronous sessions, have your students been creating work using digital tools asynchronously on the module that could be drawn on for your session(s)?
- Alternatively, if you are only supporting asynchronous tools (eg moderating a discussion board), is this work intended to help your students' prepare for synchronous sessions or their assessment that you are not involved in?