By responding to this global disruption, we are placed in a situation where we are having to rethink our approaches to physiotherapy education. All over the world physiotherapy educators are engaged in what is possibly the most extensive programme of pedagogical change in our professional history. We see colleagues responding with creativity, empathy and flexibility, creating a unique opportunity for us to capture and share what may be a series of transformative changes in physiotherapy education at a global scale.
I’m excited to announce that OpenPhysio has put out a call for papers aimed at learning how colleagues from around the world are responding to the changes they’re currently experiencing within their professional programmes. We’re interested in the changes currently underway that have the potential to transform physiotherapy education, both in the short- and long-terms.
Submissions should be short (1500-2000 words) research reports or notes with a clear problem, a maximum of 3-5 citations, early findings (even if only in the form of observations), and provide a single focused recommendation.
Snapplify is a South African elearning company that has recently partnered with publishers to education publishers to launch their Free Access programme for all South African learners. Schools in South Africa have always struggled and no more so than what they are going through right now. As much as we might think that universities are having a hard time, primary and secondary school principals, teachers and learning around the country are in a dark place.
Free Access provides over 5000 IEB, EB and CAPS-aligned ebooks for free to anyone who needs them for remote learning while schools are closed. These Free Access books will be available to learners until the 31st of December 2020.
In order to download the free textbooks:
Go to www.snapplify.com/freeaccess
Search for the ebook you need and add to your library
Install the Snapplify Reader to read your ebooks
If you know anything about the publishing industry you’ll recognise that this is a huge achievement and must represent a massive effort from the company. I think that this is an amazing contribution to South African education. Please share widely.
First of all, we should stop calling things like Moodle and Canvas “learning management systems”. At best they’re content, or student management systems. Pet peeve out the way? Tick.
I’ve been advocating for low-tech solutions to the problem of remote teaching and learning ever since I noticed how many people seemed to be pushing for things like synchronous, video-based lectures during the current crisis. Usually, I’m a fan of technology-based learning and teaching but that’s with the assumption that everyone has good access to the internet and appropriate devices. Now, with students and educators working from home, and acknowledging that we’re all reacting to a crisis – rather than implementing a carefully planned, coordinated, coherent strategy – I think that the only ethical option is to use as little technology as possible.
I’ve posted what I think a set of universal principles would look like in this situation, which disadvantages the fewest students as little as possible. And the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching has shared their list of low tech principles for remote teaching, which is a great resource. And during the process of reviewing these principles I started wondering what the simplest solution might look like, assuming that at least some form of internet access is a minimum requirement (our students are at home and can’t travel). And I honestly think that email could substitute as a learning/content management system.
Some of the features of an LMS that most educators would consider to be core to its purpose include being able to do the following:
Upload and store content in a variety of formats e.g. text, slideshows, video, audio, etc. You can attach anything to an email.
Access materials anytime, from everywhere. There are email clients for virtually every device and operating system, all of which enable offline access. Email never “goes down” and is one of the most reliable systems on the internet.
Provide asynchronous access to all of the relevant content and communication for a module. Email doesn’t require that you interact in real time.
Teachers can modify the content, and students can see the updated material. Email is sorted by date, so new content is presented first, which means that updated attachments appear at the top of the filtered list.
Students and teachers can re-use the material any time they need. Offline access means that attachments are available all the time (or students can download them onto their local storage).
Students can learn collaboratively. The ability to have threaded conversations in a mailing list means that collaborative discussion is possible (it may be awkward, but it’s possible).
Assessments can be completed by students within the LMS. You can include any questions or tasks you want students to complete within email.
Should be simple to use. No-one needs training on how to use email.
There is also a well-documented disadvantage of the LMS; it requires a technology infrastructure that is non-trivial to manage. In fact, we have higher education institutions here in South Africa that simply don’t have the technical infrastructure and ability to maintain an LMS. But they all have email.
So it seems that email as a technology satisfies all of the requirements of a learning management system. But how would you use it? I think that with a few basic naming and organising conventions, you could ensure that all students across a programme could be up and running with this system in a few minutes.
Basically, educators within a programme would need to agree on a Subject line naming convention e.g. Module name – Type of email – Title/content. For the module that I teach, it might look something like this: PHT402 – Announcement – Submission dates, PHT402 – Assessment – Quiz no. 2, or PHT402 – Notes – Health and human rights. Students could filter their emails by the module code (“PHT402”) which would only display emails for that module, as well as by Type (“Announcement” or “Notes”). Everything relevant for those search terms would be presented in reverse chronological order (most recent first) making it very easy for students to find whatever they’re looking for.
You can see how it’s possible for students and lecturers to do the following:
Search and filter their system for the content they need, when they need it.
Communicate privately with the lecturer, or with a learning group (3-5 peers), or with everyone in the class.
Threaded email discussions look a lot like discussion forums, which are often touted as an important feature of the LMS, and which would work perfectly well by email.
Write an essay that includes links to sources, embedded images, complex formatting, etc. for an assignment, directly within the email client.
Embed Google Form-type quizzes directly into the email so that students can complete them without leaving the email client.
Since email provides offline access students could connect to the internet, download everything they need, and disconnect. Then they’d review the work and communication while offline, compose responses and any questions they might have, reconnect, upload it all, and then disconnect again. This would all happen without having to “go” anywhere (no browsers, links, logins, or apps other than the email client) or do anything. I honestly that that we can get 90% of where we need to be simply by using email. Everything else might just be more of a distraction.
Be kind to yourself and empathic to your students.
This collection of Low-tech remote teaching principles is a 3 page Google Doc produced by the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching. It’s a fantastic resource that starts with the 10 principles listed above before moving on to a list of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to remote teaching, and finishes with a helpful checklist for teachers moving online. I think that every educator would be well-served by downloading this document and keeping it pinned up somewhere prominent. I know I will.
It seems that everyone has decided to move teaching, learning and assessment online with a massive focus on synchronous, video-based lectures as the primary means of “delivering” the curriculum remotely. It’s as if we don’t have about 100 years of experience with distance learning to draw from and that there are no lessons to be learned from all of that experience. In this post I’m going to share what I think are important design principles for teaching and learning remotely, drawing mainly from my own experience with online and blended learning over the past few years.
While there are good pedagogical reasons for the principles I’m going to describe, there’s really only one reason that matters and it’s an ethical one. You should assume that at least one of your students is learning in this context:
It’s an extreme example but it highlights the fact that our students have enormous challenges trying to learn at home, and if this image doesn’t exactly describe all of our students’ home environment, it helps to focus our attention on what some version of those challenges might be. So here are my suggestions for anyone trying to work out how to “go online” over the next few months.
Universal principles for learning task design in a crisis
Prioritise asynchronous interaction. Because our students are at home with their families, elderly and sick relatives, young children and siblings, stressed parents, and barking dogs. Because their parents are now having to try and work at home as well, and they may all share one laptop (if they’re lucky enough to have a laptop at home). Because it’s not reasonable to expect 60 students to be able to get online at 09:00 on Monday morning. Because asynchronous interactions free everyone from the pressure of having to be availabe on your schedule. Asynchronous means that everyone has more flexibility to determine their own schedule.
Work offline as much as possible. Of course students will need to connect to the internet at some point (because we have to assume that they don’t have their notes, textbooks, slides, assignments and tests at home). But it’s not reasonable to expect your students to stay online for any length of time. Some of them (maybe most of them) will have always on, uncapped, fibre coming into their homes, distributed to 10 devices across multiple routers. We should not be focusing any attention on these students when it comes to learning task design. Our entire focus should be on the student who needs to stand in a corner of their back yard with their cellphone raised to the sky in order to connect to the internet. When we plan for the student who has an intermittent, unstable and expensive internet connection, we make it easier for everyone.
Privilege text over audio and video. There are lots of reasons that text is better than anything else and I’ll expand on these a bit since everyone is so focused on video right now and I think that this is an important point.
Text is searchable. Video and audio are not. Try finding a 30 second segment in a 20 minute video. Now try finding a description of something in a series of 5 one hour lectures. Try to avoid wasting students’ time by providing resources in a format that is searchable.
Text compresses better than anything else (making the file size compared to video, orders of magnitude smaller). This makes content quicker and therefore, cheaper to download. Also, lots of the video being planned for online learning is of the “talking head” variety, which means that the bulk of your students’ bandwidth is taken up by useless data (yes, the “video” part of your talking head is useless).
Text is usually more information-dense than audio or video, which again means that you can transmit more of it in less time. It also means that students can keep more of it in their limited phone storage capacity than they can with videos.
Text can be marked up with comments and questions, edited, copied/pasted, which is better for active learning than passively watching a video. None of your students can edit your video in order to extract meaningful information from it. They would have to transcribe the useful bits. This isn’t a good use of their time.
Low-tech over the Shiny New Thing. Now is not the time to ask students to download and install that new application that the IT department or edtech experts are suggesting everyone needs. If you need your students to go online, they should be able to do everything they need to via a browser, email client, or whatever software and apps you’ve been using extensively with them for at least a few months. These should already be installed on their devices. We not only need to assume that new apps will be an added expense to download and install, but it’s an additional cognitive load that will add to students’ stress and anxiety. In my opinion, email is the most fantastic killer-app in the current situation. In case anyone needs reminding, here are some features that are supported by email protocols:
One-to-one, private communication.
One-to-many, public communication.
Supports attachments of any format.
The email is an open standard that’s been around for longer than the web. It is solid, robust, stable, and very fast.
Email doesn’t require that anyone install anything since every device on the planet is capable of sending and receiving email.
Email supports asynchronous communication.
Email can be used offline with any email client.
Email is text-based.
Email is searchable.
No-one has to learn how to use email.
Simplicity over complexity. Now is not the time to have students struggling to understand what exactly you want them to do. Clear and simple instructions that leave no room for ambiguous interpretation are what students need to complete learning tasks in the current circumstances. I don’t any of my students to have to leave their homes (because they can only get online at the public library) in order to to send me an email to ask what exactly I expect them to do.
Everything is flexible. Deadlines. Learning tasks. Content to be covered. Assignment formatting. Everything. Let’s start from a blank slate and assume that this is an opportunity to think differently about everything. Let’s be open to suggestions, from colleagues, from friends, from students, from our own children. We can finally let go of the self-imposed expectation that we’re supposed to know what we’re doing and admit that, given the current global catastrophe, it may be OK to change…well, everything. Consider being flexible around the following:
Hard deadlines: “You can submit any time within a 3 day window.”
Format of student work: “You want to submit a narrated slideshow instead of an MCQ? Sure, let’s see how it goes.”
Expectations around device ownership: “No laptop? No problem. Write the essay by hand, take a photo of it and email it to me.” Pro-tip: It is unethical to expect any student to type an assignment on a phone.
Once we start looking for spaces within the curriculum for us and our students to be flexible, we’ll starting finding lots of creative, exciting opportunities emerging.
These principles aren’t perfect and they certainly aren’t new. But it feels like most educators and universities are throwing in their lot with a mass migration of content into learning management systems and other online platforms. I think that this is a mistake. Our students don’t need more resources that are high-bandwidth, expensive, and inherently worse than simple solutions. I believe that a combination of email, intermittent internet access, and plain text can get us 90% towards where we need to be with respect to teaching, learning and assessment in these trying times. Let’s not stuff things up even more by choosing “solutions” that will potentially disadvantage millions of learners across primary, secondary and higher education around the world.
Jitsi is a set of open-source projects that allows you to easily build and deploy secure videoconferencing solutions. At the heart of Jitsi are Jitsi Videobridge and Jitsi Meet, which let you have conferences on the internet, while other projects in the community enable other features such as audio, dial-in, recording, and simulcasting.
As everyone on the planet is trying to figure out how to move work, learning and socialising online, there are a few platforms that have come to dominate the videoconferencing space, with Zoom being the biggest winner so far. But there are important problems that have emerged as more and more people have started using Zoom, including privacy, security and encryption concerns. And it looks ugly IMO. In addition, Google has made it clear that their enterprise video conferencing platform, Google Meet, is only free until June. While this might be extended for a bit longer it’s eventually going to go away. Taking this into account, now is the perfect time to start using an alternative i.e. before you absolutely have to.
Jitsi Meet is a free and open-source videoconferencing tool that’s easy to use, is encrypted by default, and doesn’t sell your data. You don’t need an account and you don’t need to download anything to start or join a meeting. You can do pretty much anything that both Zoom and Google Meet can do, including recording, live-streaming to YouTube, password-protection, background blur, it supports up to 75 participants and has no time limit. And obviously there are iOS and Android apps as well.
Email is the original robust, decentralised technology. It’s built on open standards. It’s free. You can do almost anything with it,. This is why, despite Silicon Valley trying to come up with alternatives, email refuses to ‘die’. It’s just too useful.People used to complain about email and the flood of messages in their inbox. But that’s nothing compared to the hundreds (or even thousands!) of messages you can be bombarded with if your organisation uses a workplace chat app.
Not much more to say here. You don’t need to sign up for the Shiny New Thing if you want to move to remote teaching and learning. Yes, there are lots of platforms and services that you can use and certainly some that are very good, but you’re not an instructional designer for remote, online or blended learning, and you shouldn’t be expected to become one overnight. And while it may not get you all the way there there’s an awful lot that you can do with plain email.
Last week we had a discussion about teaching practical physiotherapy techniques remotely and one of our participants asked (in the text chat) if anyone had any plans to teach fewer techniques. Unfortunately we didn’t get to the question because the conversation moved on quickly to explore other lines of inquiry, which is a pity because I think it was touching on an important point; are we recalibrating our expectations of the work we’re expecting students to do?
Our students are trying to work from home, in unusual sitations and enviroments, probably surrounded by family members who also have claims on their time (or who may be separated from family), who may be sick, cut off from friends, cut off from employment, don’t have internet access, don’t have laptops (have you tried typing an essay on a phone?) and a host of other problems that are normally an inconvenience but that are now fundamental to their learning.
You probably don’t have time to change your learning outcomes (since these usually need to be approved at higher faculty levels at least, and can’t be applied to the cohorts that they affect) but you almost certainly have some wiggle room when it comes to the content you expect students to learn. Review your regulatory body’s minimum standards to see what content has crept into the curriculum that doesn’t need to be there. You can probably even take a second look at the content that should be included and ask how much of that is essential?
How many assessment tasks do you usually include? You could probably half those. Tests of recall could be replaced by projects that can unfold over time and that demonstrate more authentic understanding. A few high stakes assessments (i.e. exams) could be replaced by more low-stakes assessments. How many readings do you usually ask students to complete? How many of those are essential? In short, there are almost certainly quite a few changes you could make to your programme that would decrease the pressure that students are currently experiencing, give them more time to think, and make this all slightly less stressful.
To be clear, I’m not talking about lowering standards (although I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t consider lowering standards). I’m just wondering if anyone is rethinking what work would adequately demonstrate the achievement of those standards? What does your programme look like when it’s pared down to it’s essentials? Now may be a good time to tidy the curriculum and get rid of the bloat that’s been creeping in over the past few years.
And then, when this is all over, you may need to think about why you’d choose to go back to what you were doing before.
There’s a lot of anxiety among health professions educators right now as they try to move classes and entire courses online. They weren’t trained to do this, have little experience doing this, and many may not even want to do this. Hardly an inspiring thought. And I found myself agreeing with them. They didn’t sign up for this and most of them really do believe that a lot will be lost with the move online.
Thinking about this predicament (i.e. people who don’t think that “online” is the best way to teach health professionals, but who nonetheless must do it) made me wonder if reframing the question would change how they approach the problem. Instead of asking, “How do I move my course online?” what if we asked, “How can I help my less-experienced colleagues in their professional development?” Instead of focusing on building online classrooms, how about providing additional opportunities for CPD? Rather than focusing on moving content online, ask your less-experienced colleagues what the gaps are in their own learning. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to control the assessment process but rather try to help our less-experienced colleagues to evaluate their own performance.
You may already have noticed that each of the above shifts the emphasis from you as a teacher having to control the process of students’ learning (environment, content, assessment, etc.), towards something that probably looks more like a dialogue. A conversation. You know, probably more like how you learn. No-one tells you what you need to focus on, or how far “behind” you are, or what you have to read. Maybe over the next few weeks and months we could reflect on how each of us learns best and provide our less-experienced colleagues (previously known as “our students”) with more authentic opportunities to develop as healthcare professionals.
Note: Thank you to Joost van Wijchen who first introduced me to the concept of “working with our less-experienced colleagues”, rather than “teaching to our students”, and who recently reminded me of this wonderful mental model.