As leaders and instructors at U.S. colleges and universities try to navigate what education looks like in a COVID-19 reality, they can learn a lot from their peers in China who are settling into the new normal and finding success.
Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University was an early adopter of Mediasite for online learning last month as the coronavirus quickly spread in China. The long-time Mediasite user converted to a 100 percent online campus in just days, giving all faculty access to Mediasite’s personal capture software to record on-demand lectures for 14,000 students to watch. During the first two days of the semester, they created more than 2,000 videos that students viewed nearly 100,000 times in the Moodle learning management system. Those are incredible usage numbers! Plus, the instructors already had all their academic video content from previous years to share with students.
The university is seeing such success because it understands an important piece of their virtual learning puzzle that other institutions may be overlooking: There’s incredible value in mixing this asynchronous on-demand video learning with synchronous student-instructor collaboration via web conferencing. Striking that balance is key.
The institutions that are pivoting to online education most seamlessly are those like XJTLU, New York University, Marshall B. Ketchum University, Western University of Health Sciences and Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) that are leveraging their library of academic video content from previous years, recording new supplemental videos and letting students break into web conferencing groups to do peer-based, collaborative learning. [Infographic: Solving the Virtual Learning Puzzle]
How the most successful schools are doing it
Think of it this way: If conferencing systems like Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams are your virtual, real-time classrooms, on-demand streaming video is your textbook. The flipped classroom concept, blending on-demand content with real-time discussion, has never been more relevant than it is today. Here’s what XJTLU does:
- At the beginning of the week, students read study materials.
- During the middle of the week, they watch pre-recorded Mediasite lectures via their Moodle learning management system.
- At the end of the week, students and their instructor have synchronous discussions via Zoom about the video lecture and study materials.
“I don’t use the virtual classroom (with Zoom) to deliver content, I use it to discuss content,” said Roberto Dona, a professor in XJTLU’s business school in a recent Campus Technology article “Remote Learning on the Fly: Notes from China.” “The students are obliged to study to prepare themselves and we have the entire virtual class period to discuss. By combining synchronous and asynchronous classes, I am not just replacing the physical class, I can enhance the course.”
As schools are quickly pivoting to virtual learning, it’s important to recognize which tools are effective for different aspects of distance learning. Students don’t want to sit in a Zoom meeting and listen to their professor lecture for an hour. That’s not engaging and it doesn’t allow for self-paced learning of important material. Sitting in a lecture hall is one thing but sitting through a distracting web conference to hear a lecture is not ideal.
Students see lectures like textbooks or assigned reading. You wouldn’t expect students to show up for a live class and have the teacher read them the textbook while they passively listen. So why try to do it in a live session? Students prefer lecture content to be served up to them on-demand so they can self-pace and time-shift their learning, which is one of the key benefits of on-demand streaming video.
In the April 2 Chronicle of Higher Education article, ‘Zoomed Out’: Why ‘Live’ Teaching Isn’t Always the Best, Tanya Joosten, a senior scientist and director of digital learning research and development at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (the university is a Mediasite user), says that professors are flocking to real-time videoconferencing because it feels initially like the best stand-in for teaching face to face. However, that is not the best way to teach online.
“Videoconferencing tools end up encouraging ‘Teacher-centered learning,” Joosten said in the article.
The reporter writes that while these platforms are meant to “facilitate multiway interaction,” they quickly turn into “one-way communication after a certain number of people join in.”
“You and me and four of our colleagues can jump into a Zoom room – OK,” Joosten said in the article. “Thirty of us jump into a Zoom room – how interactive is that? … When you put students in small groups, there’s peer learning. They can utilize each other as tech support. It’s just a much better way to go than trying to have these large-group, synchronous, live sessions to replicate the face-to-face.” [Read the full article here.]
The 3 Pillars to Successful Virtual Learning
Like anything, the right tool for the job is critical. Fully virtualized campuses need to establish three pillars of technology to be successful.
- Web conferencing: Zoom was the immediate go-to tech for most campuses. Yes, it’s great for office hours, real-time dialogue with students, for students working together on projects. But that’s just one piece of it.
- Streaming video: This lets students learn at their own pace. It’s perfect for lectures, micro-learning or delivering content ahead of an office hours or group dialog session on Zoom. Students are pushing back because they don’t see use of Zoom/Teams as effective for lectures. They want on-demand video recordings to watch on their own time.
- The LMS:A learning management system is the obvious structure to all of this, whether in person or virtual.
How to find that balance
Zoom is not the end-all, be-all of technologies for going virtual, though it certainly plays a major role as the new “virtual classroom.” Mediasite is playing an equally major role of “library/textbook/advanced reading before that virtual class.”
Don’t just focus on being synchronous (live). Flipping instruction during this crisis and not simply replicating the classroom model online is critical to the success of this new normal now and as schools prepare for the likely possibility of a virtual fall semester.
Post crisis once classes resume on campus, a blended approach to virtual learning is the likely path. There won’t be a world where campuses stay 100 percent virtual, so a mix of physical and virtual classrooms together with online learning is the more persistent long-term solution.
Dona, the XJTLU business school instructor, agrees.
“Instead of my taking 20 to 30 minutes to explain a theory in a class of 50 where some students already know it, technology can allow those who don’t understand the concept to drill into that information. I then have more time to spend doing individual coaching,” he said. “Now that we have had this experience with online teaching, I don’t think we will every go back entirely to the way we taught before.”
Read the full Campus Technology article about XJTLU here.
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