As my history teacher used to say, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. We have had to innovate to allow us to continue to provide courses. The development of Live Online teaching at RRC had already started. I am lucky enough to have been involved in the development and delivery of live online revision workshops several years ago (before it was called Live Online). These early forays into the world of live online teaching were not without their limitations and hitches simply because the technology was not up to the job.
Over recent years that has changed and there are now various platforms that allow for good video and audio streaming. Our chosen platform is Zoom.
Interactivity is key
Many of you will be familiar with Zoom or one of the other web conferencing platforms. Zoom quizzes were all the rage back in April and May (though I suspect the novelty has worn off). For those of you who have not used Zoom it’s simply an online space where a host can gather together people for a meeting. Graphics such as PowerPoint slides can be shared and you can run multiple choice quizzes and create breakout rooms for syndicate group work. So unlike our e-learning it is a virtual classroom with a tutor and students interacting in real time.
The main downside of Zoom, or any other web conferencing platform, is that attendees are stuck looking at a screen and keyboard (usually on their own in an office or at home). Which, as we all know, is not great if you have to do it for hours at a stretch. It’s not the same as sitting in a classroom listening to a lesson and chatting with your fellow students. It’s a different and arguably more demanding experience.
So trying to run a Zoom course in exactly the same way as I might run a classroom course is never going to work. Seven or eight hours of Zoom and all of us, me included, would be brain dead (no rude comments to the effect that this has already happened please).
As a result our Live Online courses run in a very different way. Each day of the course is broken up into multiple live sessions and directed study sessions. This breaks up the day, gives people the opportunity to study in different ways and gives time for proper breaks.
In the live sessions the focus is on covering the course content in as interactive a way as possible. So we use quizzes, exercises and breakout rooms for syndicate group work a lot. And we use a lot of supporting resources such as handouts that can be printed out to give a break from staring at the screen.
Each live session is recorded so that after the Live Online part of the course has finished students have access to videos of the live sessions that they can use for revision and exam preparation purposes.
The directed study sessions involve tasks such as reading on a topic that has just been covered in the last live session or answering test questions. This directed study is usually followed by some form of review quiz or exercise to make sure that key learning points sink in.
And the entire course is supported with full access to the e-learning equivalent course; so in effect you get access to two courses for the price of one.
The more you give, the more you get
As with all things in life the more effort you put in the more benefit you get out. It has been my experience over the past few months that students who fully commit to all of the interactive exercises and who fully engage in the directed study tend to get the most out of their Live Online course. This takes motivation, discipline and time. You need to be well motivated; to want to do the course and do well out of it. You need to be disciplined because you are studying on your own and it does take a lot of self-control to attend every session and fully engage when you are working remotely. And you need to have uninterrupted time to be able to apply yourself to the course free from distractions. I have felt for a few of my students who, for reasons outside of their control, have had work pressures pulling them away from the course. There really isn’t room for anything else in the schedule.
It’s not without its drawbacks
Inevitably there are limitations associated with Live Online. You aren’t getting the full classroom experience and whilst it does go some way to filling the gap between remote e-learning and face-to-face teaching it’s not perfect. Poor broadband speeds, laggy internet and company firewalls all cause delays and glitches. Students on perfectly fine internet connections get booted out of breakout rooms for no apparent reason. And sharing some resources, such as videos, can’t be done in the same way as might be done in the classroom. To date none of these issues have seriously undermined anyone’s course experience. But they are annoyances that you could do without.
The one drawback that I had not anticipated is how mentally taxing Live Online can be. I am not sure how my students feel at the end of a straight 5 days of a General Certificate course. But I feel pretty drained. It’s a different experience to teaching or learning in the classroom. I think there might be a few educational psychologists out there in academia who make a career out of studying this kind of interaction to explain how and why it’s different to other types of activity.
And I miss the classroom. Which is a surprise to me as whilst I enjoy being in the classroom with students I’ve never thought of myself as needing it.
And the future…
Because Covid is going to be with us for some time to come and many students and employers will be wary of the classroom environment it’s my guess that Live Online will become a standard part of our training offering. After all, it nicely fills the gap between the full face-to-face classroom experience and e-learning.
Is it for me?
If you are thinking about enrolling on a Live Online course then the above might help you decide whether or not it’s for you. Remember what I said about motivation, discipline and time. It you’ve got these three things then you’ll be fine.
I’ll leave you with some final thoughts:
Live Online is health and safety boot camp – four or five days of uninterrupted health and safety and there really isn’t room for anything else;
Expect to feel overloaded at times;
Expect your brain to hurt;
Enjoy it anyway.
Take care and stay safe
Dr Jim Phelpstead BSc, PhD, CMIOSH
RRC Consultant Tutor