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Distance learning

When designing distance learning formats, you can combine synchronous and asynchronous formats with elements of self-study. Synchronous course units that are carried out with Microsoft Teams or Zoom, allow for simultaneous communication and interaction and are primarily intended for the deepening and further development of teaching content. In the asynchronous phases, teaching and learning take place independently of time and place.

Hence, you can provide content, for example, through lecture casts, screen recordings or journal articles. Even in a virtual environment, central didactic elements such as activation and feedback should not be omitted.

Synchronous distance learning

Online teaching using video conferencing tools enables a simultaneous exchange with students, regardless of location. These units are suited to promoting interaction and collaborative learning, even in larger courses. By means of interactive elements, a clear structure and varied methods, it is possible to activate your students.

While screen recording, lecture casts, papers, etc. can be good and useful way to cover subject-specific inputs, it is more difficult to implement more interactive formats in an asynchronous setting. Therefore, use synchronous units to deepen knowledge, to discuss open questions, to present the results of group work and to link content that has already been covered.

There are various options available to support you in activating your students. Especially with larger groups, we recommend using the chat function for questions and contributions. In spontaneous discussions, brainstorming sessions, etc., you can collect contributions in the chat first before asking individual students to explain their contribution in detail. This reduces the students' reluctance to speak up in the virtual forum. Other options include working in small groups, group discussions or "turn to your neighbour", which are possible using breakout rooms. You can also integrate polls, live voting or quizzes.

For the implementation of group work with breakout rooms, we recommend that you post the task, questions for discussion, schedule, etc. in the chat as well and that you clearly communicate the requirements beforehand. You should also use the opportunity to enter the virtual group rooms sporadically and be available for immediate questions.

In addition, you can ask the individual groups to capture their results on a virtual flipchart such as Padlet. This way you can directly follow the students' progress with the assignment. In the small groups, you can also have students change roles repeatedly, like timekeeper, moderator, presenter, etc. When putting the groups together, you can make use of the random group composition, especially at the beginning of the semester. Thus, students get to know different colleagues.

If you want to create a setting for casual conversation, you can offer to start your Microsoft Teams course a little earlier or let it run longer to talk to the students informally. By offering virtual office hours, you can create additional space for social interaction with students between classes. For casual coffee breaks, you can open up breakout rooms for your students where you are not present, so that they can talk to each other. Especially when students do not know each other, they feel reluctant to express themselves in plenary sessions during the course, which also makes group work less effective. You can use "speed dating" or relaxed warm-ups as methods to help students get to know each other.

Asynchrounous distance learning & self-study

For certain content and work assignments for students, an asynchronous format is preferable. One advantage is that asynchronous materials can be prepared ahead of time and provided as needed, and can be accessed by students on a more flexible basis. This is especially important for both teachers and students with caregiving responsibilities.

It makes sense to consider beforehand, which content can be acquired well by students through self-study and which content requires a lecture by the teacher. As a rule of thumb, anything that you yourself have compiled from a variety of different resources or where many different individual subject areas are interwoven is more difficult for students to work through without help than things like well-defined textbook chapters. Also keep in mind that access to the libraries is restricted.

In what form can and should materials be provided to students?

  • Screen recordings and annotated slides
    Materials that students can’t be expected to learn without input from the teacher can be presented as screen recordings which can be accessed by students on demand. PowerPoint is a useful tool for this, and you can record voice-overs for each slide. It might be sufficient just to add comprehensive comments to the slides or to include references to textbook chapters or lecture notes where students can find further information.
  • Book chapters or journal articles
    If students need work on a well-defined subject area, book chapters or journal articles can be used, which are available to students via VPN access (see the library homepage).
  • Weblinks
    In some cases you can provide students with links to websites/documents that are available online and give them research assignments.

Which assignments should I give my students to support them in their independent learning?

As you are not immediately available to answer questions like you would be in a classroom setting, it’s generally not a good idea to make assignments all too detailed. For responding to any questions that come up in a time-efficient manner, we recommend using the course forums on MyLEARN, because then students can see all the questions that have been answered previously (see MyLEARN-Guide).

  • Provide guiding questions for text analysis
    Instead of simply instructing students to read a specific text, you should prepare clear guiding questions on the individual sections of the text for students to answer, and have students submit the results of this exercise on MyLEARN.
  • Tables or graphics
    Tables or graphics that need to be completed based on literature research can also help provide orientation.
  • Homework Assignments
    The Teaching & Learning Academy has a number of ideas for additional assignments, especially under “Homework assignments” (German only).

How can I give constructive feedback in a distance-mode?

To provide optimal support to your students in their learning, it's a good idea to incorporate different forms of feedback.

  • Rubrics for textual feedback
    Written feedback is effective but time consuming. To save time, use rubrics to give individual, detailed feedback to your students. See the Teaching & Learning Academy for tips on creating rubrics (German only).
  • Feedback by telephone or in virtual office hours
    Feedback on group work or individual feedback can be given during office hours or by telephone.
  • Automated Feedback
    Think about creating assignments that can be assessed using multiple-choice questions. The questions can be posted on MyLEARN and student can get immediate feedback on their learning progress.
  • Recording feedback
    Alternatively, you can give feedback via screen recording or audio recording (podcast). Both can be created more quickly than a detailed text report.
  • Peer feedback
    In order to provide feedback and at the same time encourage student interaction, you can integrate peer feedback into your course. The forum on MyLEARN is well suited for this: Students upload the results of their (group) work to the forum, fellow students can comment on them directly. As a teacher, you should – in advance – give advice about what kind of feedback you expect and, if necessary, get involved in the discussion yourself.

How can I support online group work?

Work assignments for virtual group work should be more detailed and smaller than in the classroom, as there is no possibility for you to clarify ad hoc questions.

  • Define milestones
    Instead of a single deadline for the groups’ entire work product, it is recommended to set deadlines for individual milestones. In this way, it is possible for you as a lecturer to give brief feedback at defined dates and in addition, you get an overview of where the students are in their process.
  • Collect group works on MyLEARN
    The results of the group work can be collected with different tools of the learning platform:
    • Use the forum if you would like other students to read along and comment on the submissions. Students can upload all kinds of files there (e.g. PDFs, Word files, videos in MP4 format, pictures as PNG or JPG).
    • Use “student submissions” in learning activities if you do not want other students to have access to the submitted files. This also allows you to evaluate and grade the assignments easily.  
    • Use the Lecturecast application if you plan to ask students to upload their own video productions. If you activate the commentary function, you and fellow students can provide scene-specific feedback on the videos.
  • How to formulate tips for virtual teamwork
    It cannot be assumed for both physical and virtual group work that students generally know how to collaborate in a constructive way. Hence, it is helpful if you provide students with basic tips and assign time for group discussions in synchronous courses. Responsibilities within the group need to be agreed upon, communication tools need to be specified, time slots for virtual meetings need to be scheduled, joint project documentation needs to be determined, etc.
  • Create a working space for groups on MyLEARN
    You can support students via the learning platform by providing a group workspace on MyLEARN. There, students can communicate with their group colleagues, exchange files and work on group assignments (see MyLEARN-Guide).
  • Using the forum for discussion
    Use the forum on MyLEARN to have discussions in distance learning. For example, you can ask students to discuss texts which they prepared in advance in the forum. Formulate a starting question or a thesis in a discussion thread and ask the students to comment on it. It is helpful to define some simple rules in advance, e.g:
    • New postings must follow up on a previous discussion and contribute something new. This can mean that students contribute a new aspect or that they (critically) discuss a statement already brought up by someone else.
    • Every student must comment at least once. You should take into account that in courses with a large number of students some of them will not be able to come forward with a new aspect in the discussion. Hence, if you want all students to participate, you should provide several discussion threads which focus on single aspects of the general theme that is discussed.  
    • As lecturer, you should take on the role of a moderator and take part in each discussion thread. For more information, please visit the Teaching & Learning Academy (German only).

How can I organize virtual student presentations?

MyLEARN can support student presentations as part of distance mode:

  • Discuss annotated slides in the forum
    You can ask students to comment on the slides of their own presentations and then upload them to the course forum. You should point out to the students that the annotations must be detailed enough to allow other students to understand the slides and ask questions directly in the forum.
  • Comment videos in the forum or in the lecturecast app
    The same applies if you ask students to create videos (see point 5). If the video presentations are uploaded in the forum or the Lecturecast application, other students can comment and ask questions directly there. The „producers“ must answer questions and comments thereafter.  
  • Give feedback on students posts
    The most significant disadvantage of the distance mode is the lack of interaction between lecturers and students, in this case the missing direct personal feedback on the student performance. As lecturer, you should try to compensate that by providing at least a (short) written feedback on every presentation.