Advice for teaching online


Yesterday (18/3/2020), Bo Kelestyn and I (leaders of Warwick’s Design Thinking courses), participated in a Design Research Society Pedagogy SIG webinar on moving design teaching online. It was a great session, led by Derek Jones of the OU, with lots of expert advice being shared. Bo wrote up some notes, which I am sharing below. We will add to this links and further information as we work on it. Bo is also the Director of Student Experience for our Chemistry department, but says that this all applies well to the sciences. At Warwick we already use Teams (for webinars, video tutorials and team working), Vevox and OneNote in teaching design, and were already planning to move 1/3 of our contact time online for 2021. Warwick also has Moodle and the Echo360 video capture and streaming platform (which we will use for pre-recorded mini-lectures and student presentations). From a tech perspective, the key is to recognise where each of those tools fits together as a joined-up educational ecosystem. More notes on that will be added here as well.


Sessions need to be shorter. Replicating your existing teaching and face to face formats will not work. Aim for 10-15 minutes chunks with break for interactive activities. There is empirical evidence to back this up. This is why TED Talks are no longer than 17-18 minutes. There are plenty of apps and plug ins that work with Teams that can help you with interaction. The Vevox online polling and Q&A tool is one of them – here’s an intro including a demo of using it in a webinar.

In our face-to-face teaching, we break our 3 hour workshops up into a series of shorter activities. We lead into each activity carefully. Most importantly, we explain to the students the focus and aims of the activity, and the mindset they should try to switch into for it. Understanding the different mindsets is something we actively work on throughout the courses. We will replicate that online.

Reflect on whether your approach allows to build a learning community. Synchronisity is important. Working together helps to feel present, gives our community continuity and some structure to students’ schedule.

Peer to peer conversations and feedback. Consider giving students tasks around peer to peer feedback. Coach them on what good feedback looks like and how to give and receive feedback. This will help them gain some really important research and employability skills. Consider how to position yourself in that interaction.

Shorten group session and use some of the time for bookable short tutorial calls instead. You can easily scheduled these directly in Teams and they will also pop up in your calendar.

Consider learning journey in each session. Be empathetic and return to your session objectives and learning outcomes each week when preparing for the session. You might need to revise your teaching material and your approach. Digital learning requires more planning. You can be flexible and make it up as you go during lectures, especially if you are a seasoned teacher. This might be different when teaching digitally.

Use reflective activities. Give students tasks to reflect on digital activity itself. Do this together, individually, generate a discussion in Team after the session are all great ideas. Admit you might be making mistakes too and you are learning as well as they do. This helps to create a better community and students will also be more understanding and forgiving if things do go terribly wrong.

Tell students to feel comfortable with shorter attention spans. Some students may feel like they are not learning or doing ‘proper work’ when taken outside their usual teaching and learning environment. Reassure them it is OK to feel like that and transition takes time. You are all learning and getting used to this together. Ask for their feedback and keep the dialogue open. You can also help them transition by allowing to talk about this in the first session of Term 3 or by creating group rules and/or induction materials. This is important even for existing groups fo students.


During the webinar we discussed great articles by some of the SIG members, including:

Seven Ways to Move Your Design-based Class Online by Lesley-Ann Noel

Staying connected by Derek Jones

Both published on the Distance Design Education blog.

Dr Robert O'Toole NTF

Senior Teaching Fellow, Arts Faculty, University of Warwick. Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, National Teaching Fellow, Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence.

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