10 Lessons Learned from Teaching in Lockdown

Earlier this year the UK went into lockdown. At the beginning, as my colleagues grappled with switching to online teaching, I was in a lucky position. My classes had pretty much finished and anything outstanding was completed without needing any further teaching effort from me. I thought that was the end of it, but the lockdown was not a short-term thing and over the summer period I picked up a few teaching tasks.

  • Graduate Apprenticeships: I taught HCI for 6 weeks to a small class of level 2 students. The students were an established cohort and I stepped in to develop online learning materials.
  • Summer School for Applicants: I taught a 2-week period of online materials for applicants who were required to complete the summer school as a condition of entry. The students had never met each other in person and were an emerging online community.

I’ve spent some time reflecting on the different way that I taught these classes and can share 10 lessons learned. I have given this as a seminar in a few different places and recorded it for YouTube if you’d rather listen than read. You’ll probably get more chat in the video than I’m going to write.

Without further ado, here are my 10 lessons:

  1. Don’t overcommit: Things can usually be two from good, fast and cheap. We can’t change everything at once so pick the big ticket items or changes and go from there.
  2. Make your expectations explicit: Tell the student both what you expect of them and what they can expect of you. Making it clear what will happen each week is a time investment that will save you a load of hassle later.
  3. Use technology intentionally: Start with considering what you want to achieve and then decide what technology would best fit your needs. In some situations you might just want to point your phone at a piece of paper. That’s ok.
  4. External resources are powerful: For introductory materials, then someone has probably created materials already. I use a lot of these and then I record a video bringing all the bits together. Students want to see me bring detail together and get my views on the content.
  5. Personal feedback works: You can both give feedback and ask for feedback. Make sure you highlight that you are giving feedback to students – sometimes they don’t realise that is what’s happening. When asking for feedback from students, be focussed and ask them to feedback on specific aspects of your class, not everything at once.
  6. Some (many) students will not do the pre-work: If a few people don’t do it then that’s ok. You can’t save everyone. If many people don’t do it then look inside and see where you could improve you communications.
  7. Mistakes are learning opportunities: If I make a mistake in front of students, I can model how to fix those mistakes. That can be in a programming task or it can be in an explanation of something. I am not perfect and the world is not a perfect place.
  8. Building a community is key: This is so important to make sure that students can rely on each other, that they can work together and that they have a support network of peers. I’ve run all sorts of activities to help student gel together, including ice breaker / leadership activities with Mr Men book (maybe that will be another blog someday) and more recently sharing short introduction videos. Make sure you lead by example and make one too!
  9. Just be human: Professionals can have a life outside of work. Help your students view you as a person and it will improve your working relationship with them immensely.
  10. Duck it: In computing we have a term “rubber duck debugging”. This is when you explain your problem or idea to another person to see if it makes sense or to work it through. If there is no other person nearby, talk to a rubber duck. It’s the act of articulation that helps you solve the problem. So make sure you share ideas with others to see if they will work.

Now, none of these lessons have specifically mentioned online teaching, blended learning or face-to-face learning. I would encourage you to see these as many options of the one thing that you know how to do – you know how to TEACH. It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that you are the expert (or should be) in what you are conveying to the students when you are in a Teams / Zoom / Blackboard / Moodle muddle. Take a step back, remind yourself that you can do this and take back control of the thing that you do best: TEACHING.