Online learning

The covid-19 pandemic has prompted a mass transition from in class tuition to virtual learning. It’s an incredible pedagogical experiment, and I’m intrigued as to how it will play out. ESCP Business School was an early mover – our Turin campus made a complete switch online on February 23rd. I’m the Teaching & Learning coordinator for our London campus, and we have been anticipating and managing as smooth a transition as possible since then. We go fully online on March 16th (the day after I write this).

This crisis situation has prompted an immediate action, but it reflects a deeper trend away from the classroom. I feel well placed to react because I’ve made online learning a key part of my professional strategy. In 2016 I launched an online Managerial Economics course as part of ESCP’s “Executive Master in International Business” (EMIB). Since then I’d added a new online course every year, such that in 2019/20 my online teaching exceeded my in class instruction. I am a digitally minded person, and have loved the opportunity to develop such courses to be able to recognise more clearly the value of being physically present. For me at least, those two forms of teaching are complementary and teasing out how they interact has been satisfying.

This article isn’t intended to be updated in real time, and maybe it will become quickly outdated. But to start off with here are some key resources I’ve used recently:

It’s not obvious that teachers have the right skillset to create online courses.

The key skillset for a lecturer:

  • Knowledge of the content
  • Personable delivery
  • Ability to grade exams

The key skillset for an online instructor:

I see a major advantage for online courses being the opportunity to crowdsource and aggregate grading into quick, responsive, 360 feedback. My ideal grading system would be:

  • A web form to enter information and then WHAM it converts it into a report.
  • Students see each others and vote on which are the best ones.
  • Or, it just prints them all out and I grade them in one batch.

In terms of technology there’s a few different ways to create content:

  1. Powerpoint with voiceover – this is probably the simplest, and I have several examples. There’s also products such as Adobe Spark that perform the same function but slightly slicker. do be careful about whether to put the slides online as well, since this can reduce the likelihood of students watching the video.
  2. Dual video and slides – this is a great way to convey detailed content but in a personalised way (e.g. Andy Field)
  3. Video – this is the simplest way to do it but I find it a little awkward when done as a lecture. If it’s more informal it’s more engaging, but slightly more complicated to plan. Using a light board is probably the best way to do this.
  4. Interactive powerpoint – for my EMIB course we had an interactive green screen. This puts the presenter inside the screen and permits interaction (e.g. drawing directly on the screen). It’s basically reading the weather. It’s harder to plan but the final result can be quite effective.

 

I see four basic models for online learning:

Model 1: Your own pace

These type of courses remove students from the dreaded (and stupid) syllabus and allows us to package a course into a simple process:

  • Read this
  • Watch this
  • Listen to this
  • Do this

The platforms that I use and recommend are Coursera and Udemy. I’ve built a course on Teachable, but it’s expensive. I’ve also trialled Canvas, which looks good. Another option is Versal. (In the stampede prompted by the coronavirus I simply used the existing learning management system (our school uses Blackboard) because it integrates with grading and students already have password protected access. But if I were reaching out to non enrolled students I’d use something else.)

For economics instruction, I like the Foundation for Economic Education, but by far the best options are run by Marginal Revolution University. In particular these courses:

For some non economics courses, consider:

Finally, my own course on Analytics (including Numeracy Skills Bootcamp; An Introduction to Game Theory; and Collecting and Presenting Data) follows a student led model. As does my Blended GMP courses on Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. A key thing to ensure is a structure, such that students pass through the modules on an appropriate timescale and remain motivated.

Model 2: Virtual classroom

When built well, student led classes can be very effective. But they can be a challenge to ensure consistent student engagement. It’s no surprise therefore that for many traditional courses that are having to transfer online, the prevailing course structure is important. The need to retain a timetable, and get students to interact, more closely replicates their previous experience. Don’t forget, one reason people pay for gym membership is the discipline of going to the gym. If students wanted a DIY alternative they’d already have chosen that, and would have saved a large amount of money in doing so. So how do you keep the class together?

Model 3: Remote classroom

Remote classrooms use the technology of the internet to distribute content but don’t fundamentally differ from a distance degree. The key value being provided by the university is therefore the grading of assignments and student feedback. They are paying not for the content per se, but to have a professional instructor grade it for them. Automated quizzes don’t cut it in this context. Examples:

Model 4: The voyeur

This is when a physical course is delivered as normal but participants receive remote access. This has a bigger emphasis on hardware needs (e.g. high quality cameras and mics throughout the audience) and editing. But it’s an easy way to grant access to those unable to attend physically. Some examples:

I think for all serious online courses (i.e. ones where students pay big money to a reputable institution), the key factors for success:

  • Strict schedule
  • Tough assessments

Finally, I have taken, and recommend, the following online courses:

and I’ve enrolled on/intend to audit:

It’s never been easier to learn online, and thanks to coronavirus it’s never been easier to teach online. Experiment and have fun!

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