Putting “content” online: Supporting student learning

Inclusivity in course design—curricular interventions by Ellie Kennedy, NTU.

A key focus of the Success for All educational development initiative was to ensure that curricular interventions—i.e. interventions into mainstream learning and teaching on the course—remain in focus.

Studies on inclusive interventions in the sector (e.g. Thomas 2012; Hockings 2010; Mountford-Zimdars 2016; UUK 2019) emphasise the importance of direct interventions into curricula, pedagogies and assessment practices. These studies found a strong reliance on “bolt-on” interventions, i.e. those in the “exclusive” and “co-curricular” areas of the matrix below. The same landmark studies emphasise, however, that inclusive integrated interventions are more likely to be successful. Within the landscape of intervention types, these “inclusive curricular” interventions sit in the upper left quadrant of the matrix below.

Courtesy of Ellie Kennedy, NTU.

The most effective strategies for addressing disparities, then, are often direct interventions into what is taught, how it is taught, and how learning is assessed. Further, inclusive interventions into learning and teaching can potentially provide the most transformative learning experiences, in that all students can learn from the diverse challenges and perspectives of their peers (in line with NTU’s Creating Opportunity strategy). Future work should include strategies to ensure that inclusive curricular interventions are embedded into learning, teaching and assessment.

The outline (below) may be used as a standalone resource or – better – incorporated in the existing advice and resources on putting lectures online:

The following are useful points to bear in mind when moving lectures or other “content” online. These points are in line with good practice to support Success for All as well as general student learning and engagement.

  1. Pre-record or curate existing content

Lectures do not need to be delivered synchronously, i.e. in real time. Any parts of a “traditional” lecture that involve the tutor speaking, or showing or demonstrating something, can be pre-recorded. Pre-recordings, or screen casts, can be made available to students instead of or in advance of live online sessions. Most students are likely to appreciate this, in particular those whose learning benefits from extra time to pause or rewind, and those whose schedule or IT access is disrupted in the current circumstance. Pre-recording also reduces the likelihood of technical glitches that can occur when large numbers of students try to access the content at the same time.

  • Use “chunking” if it’s convenient

In the current situation, tutors should use the most convenient means available to move content online as quickly as possible. This may mean screen casting full-length lectures. However, tutors should not feel under pressure to produce “lecture-length” content. A series of shorter “content chunks”, each with one or more associated activities, is more likely to increase engagement and support learning. This approach can benefit all students and may also help to narrow attainment gaps. Teaching teams can create their own “chunks” (for example, lecture segments) and/or curate existing resources such as podcasts, text excerpts, and short videos.

  • Embed short tasks

Content by itself does not assure learning: activities such as focussing tasks and knowledge-check quizzes will help students identify and grasp the key points. This is even more vital in the online realm, where the tutor cannot gauge understanding from physical cues such as body language. Such activities can be provided alongside content chunks or can be embedded into longer lectures. In this way students can use their own—and in some cases their peers’—responses in real time to check their own learning. Tutors can access student responses in real time or after the fact to check understanding and address any misconceptions.

  • Make content accessible

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