In the past few weeks, I had to transform my course from offline to online. Here’s what I’ve learned:

All RSM lectures are online now. Students have expressed that they’re impressed through positive reviews. In this Q&A, Diana den Held explains what works well for her in her master elective Circular Economy, and she gives advice and tips so other lecturers can learn from these ideas, tips and tricks to also create great lectures.

Course title: Circular Economy
Date of lectures: March and April 2020 (so far for block 4, block 5 starts in May)

1. How did you transform your course from offline to online?

“My rule of thumb is: everything that is not real-time interactive does not need to be in a Zoom session. There are plenty of other formats such as a video when you need to tell something, a Google Spreadsheet for sharing results of a quiz, and so on.”

2. What interactive techniques did you use?

“Most of the interactions I normally initiate in class, still work in a small-group Zoom session, like speech battles and in-class discussions. In addition, I’ve added more ‘practise your understanding of the mandatory materials’-quizzes and other online exercises. I’ve also made stronger use of the modules in Canvas, for example, by locking each module using the ‘requirements’ and ‘prerequisites’.”

3. How did the students react?

“Like students always do in a new course: curious, willing to work with you and critical at the same time. Let me give you an example: although students can send emails and WhatsApp messages and we have weekly small-group Zoom Sessions, at some point I felt that I might be able to add a Q&A for all to see somehow. So I asked them in what shape they would prefer that, a discussion in Canvas, a Google spreadsheet, something else, and for each module, or for all? We agreed to use one Google spreadsheet together and students immediately said ‘as we can all edit our questions in there, we can also help you with the shape that works best for us’.”

4. What role did the RSM Learning Innovation Team play in your preparations?

“I’ve been in a Zoom session with Bas Giesbers and in several email groups that spontaneously came to life within a few days after 12 March 2020, the day Covid-19 changed our lives in the Netherlands. I like their hands-on approach. They feel very approachable and willing to help me.”

5. What was the biggest challenge in this elective, and how did you tackle this?

“It’s a personal style, but I like seeing my students when I work with them, so I need all students visible on my screen during a Zoom Session. This means I can have meetings with no more than 16 people at a time, otherwise people drop out of my sight. That’s why I’ve split up my class of 60 in small groups.”

6. What didn’t work, and how did you deal with this?

“Canvas has a ‘questionnaire’ or ‘quiz’ function, but currently the way Canvas creates reports is very chaotic, you’ll have to manually clean up the results before being able to use them. I’ve switched to other online questionnaires to save time cleaning up code.”

7. What do you think made the biggest impact in your students’ learning experience from this lecture?

“Giving students room to watch videos in their own time and pace makes it possible to keep planned Zoom sessions short and interactive.”

8. Do you have any other tips for your colleagues?

  • Canvas has a ‘mail’ function, but you cannot search through older messages because the ‘search’ box only helps you find people, not content. I’ve switched one-on-one communication with students to either email or WhatsApp to save time searching for something.
  • This is an extraordinary situation and you are sitting at your house, trying to invent it all. Ask the students what works best for them. It’s not just your course; it’s also their course, and they are trying to find the best way to do this from their side as well. Sure, the content is your responsibility, but you can optimise the transfer of that content together.
  • If you are recording your Zoom meeting, and it is one-hour meeting, keep in mind that it takes about half an hour to convert and store the video.
  • Accept that technical problems will happen. Canvas has crashed once during my course (so far). The practice questionnaire tool I use outside Canvas also crashed once. You’ll find a mistake in your teaching video after 45 minutes of rendering, so you’ll have to sit it out again. Students have problems with internet connections. And even the power here in Amsterdam went down for a few hours!
  • And a more general remark; unless they tell us, we have no idea what circumstances students are in, and what might be behind their performance, so an attitude of tolerance is fitting here, I think. I’ve had one student in block 4 with a family member on IC with COVID-19 that I know of. My heart goes out to these young people with such big worries about family members, about how to get their thesis issues solved, about what happens after graduation.