A team of teachers from the College's Horizons programme have been running a flexible, accessible new digital classroom in response to COVID-19.
Centred around the cross-Faculty suite of 'Change Maker' modules, part of Imperial Horizons, the team's innovative approach has revolutionised how the classroom operates for all.
"Our virtual classroom provides an inclusive space where they feel welcome. The students look out for each other, make great efforts to ensure that every team member is included in their activities."
'Change Makers' offers a range of module options that challenge students to learn and work in diverse and often new ways in their approach to global issues and the wider world. Being one of the College's most interactive learning experiences, Dr Elizabeth Hauke was challenged by the pandemic to develop a way for students to stay engaged with the modules from afar.
In this interview, we spoke to Dr Hauke, Principal Teaching Fellow in the Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication, to find out how a '24-hour classroom' helped students feel part of the Imperial community, and learn more about the world and themselves along the way.
What is a ‘24-hour classroom’?
As part of our transformation to online learning, we changed our concept of a ‘class’ from meeting a set cohort of students at a specific time and place, to a more flexible structure. We began by designing a virtual classroom that students could access and interact with 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We then introduced the idea of a ‘learning week’, which would commence with a ‘Rolling 24-Hour Class’. This begins with a live online afternoon session that the students can choose to join on Zoom and in the classroom, followed by an 8am video catch up hour the next morning for further live interaction and support. There is a briefing video for the week made available from the start of the 24 hours, and we have a welcome and discussion of the learning activities and our progress from the previous week. Any discussion is documented in the classroom and/or recorded. The benefit of documenting the discussion as opposed to recording it is that students who miss the live part of the class can go and add to the discussion document, including themselves in the discussion which can then be recapped and closed at the end of the 24 hours.
Each learning week comprises three activities – a Check In, a Class Activity and a Reflective Activity. The Check In is a question that requires the student to reflect on their engagement with the module and is answered publicly – so all students can see each other's responses. This is non-assessed but compulsory. Students can interact with each other’s responses, and build on something that another student said. Completing the Check In signals to the teacher that the student is attending (even if they choose not to attend the live session). Failing to complete the Check In within 24 hours triggers a friendly wellbeing check – we email the student to see if they need any help or support – either with the module or in any other aspect of their experience.
Why was this solution needed?
The Rolling 24 hour structure relieves the tension of the fixed timeslot for students who are all around the world, in different time zones. It also relieves the difficulty experienced by some students of not being able to engage online at specific times due to their home environment or connectivity. The flexibility means that students can access prepared content throughout the 24 hours of the class, and indeed the learning week, and can access live content at two different points in the day – which offers students in all time zones an opportunity to engage during their day time and outside of other timetabled activity.
How many international students have experienced the 24-hour classroom and what feedback have you received?
In the autumn term, differing between year groups, we had between a third and a half of students joining us from different time zones. We have also had a lot of students travelling and changing time zones as the situation has shifted both in the UK and around the world. Students have faced a lot of uncertainty and difficulty in both their College and home lives, and the flexibility in our learning design has allowed them to continue their participation in the module, to build on their relationships with their colleagues and to access support and encouragement when needed throughout our time together.
What have been the benefits for students’ mental health, cohort-building and learning?
Our learning structure and design, whilst flexible, also provides challenges for the students. It is very tempting for them to engage with every opportunity that we offer and then to continue working independently or with their teams in addition to this. We have discussed this frequently, helping students to pull back and develop efficiency in their engagement and work – building their own package of opportunities and interactions that enables them to excel in their work, but also to protect their wellbeing and find time for rest and enjoyment.
We’ve also had feedback from students that they feel very able to share their difficulties with each other or with their teachers and that our virtual classroom provides an inclusive space where they feel welcome. The students look out for each other, make great efforts to ensure that every team member is included in their activities – even though they might not get the chance to meet during the 24 hour class.
Do you think this approach may be useful for other disciplines across the College?
I think there are lots of elements to what we are doing that could be incorporated in lots of different ways in a range of settings across the College. We have brought together a number of building blocks to create a coherent style and design of learning across a number of different modules, but many ideas such as the Check In activity could be used in isolation to great effect.
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