In response to the challenges of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, an expert from The University of Manchester has developed a new tool to help students to learn effectively online while their physical lectures and seminars are not taking place.
Dr Joanne Tippett, a Lecturer in the University’s School of Environment, Education and Development, is an advocate of engaging the senses in learning – particularly learning through active physical engagement. Her award-winning methods combine visual communication, the written and spoken word, and hands-on movement of ideas to create clusters and develop connections.
With universities now defaulting to online as the safest medium for much of their teaching during the pandemic, she believes something valuable may be forfeited in the learning process.
When questioning students about learning remotely, Dr Tippett found that it was easy for them to become distracted - students admitted they would be checking mobile phones and losing focus.
She has addressed this challenge by putting together a kit - that looks a little like a board game at first glance - which students can use in conjunction with their online lectures. It is very much physical, keeping hands and minds focused and busy as a way to learn, alongside using the computer.
The kit can also drive engagement in physically-distanced lecture halls, and Dr Tippett will pioneer its use in hybrid teaching, coordinating learning and discussion simultaneously with her students in face-to-face lectures and online, to help build a learning community between the students studying remotely and those on campus.
Based on a tree that the student can ‘grow’, ‘leaf by leaf’ on a felt workspace, it has sticky, colour-coded ‘leaves’ that can be written on and icons for prioritising ideas. They can add and rearrange ‘leaves’ to capture thoughts and ideas. The ‘tree’ grows as the lecture or discussion goes on, and the fact that everyone is using the same physical toolkit at the same time - even when they are in different places - increases a sense of belonging to a learning community.
“I was worried about keeping students engaged in online lectures – I am pleased that student feedback from trials of the kit has been really positive,” said Dr Tippett. “It has struck a chord with educators, with orders and interest from universities in the UK, USA, Nigeria, New Zealand, France and Poland.”
While it was a response to the challenges of the pandemic, the kit has potential to become a fixture in universities when the crisis is over. Lecturers around the world are rapidly innovating and finding new ways to deliver their learning in small chunks, followed by some form of engagement suited to online learning - when universities are able to fully utilise teaching spaces again, some of these innovations are likely to continue.