Online-Teaching and Learning, and Virtual Conferences in the light of a Global Pandemic

Gulay Icoz |

Since the lockdown was introduced in the UK in March 2020, some of the best scholars at the UK Universities and learned organisations like the Political Studies Association (PSA) and the academic association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) had organised several conferences and talks, mainly on different aspects of online teaching in the light of COVID-19 pandemic.

I gladly participated to the large part of these talks over the Summer and found them extremely useful on from ‘How are you going to get through this?’ and ‘What campus universities can learn from online/distance ones‘ to ‘Replacement or supplement: asynchronous teaching, accessibility, and methods‘ and ‘What makes a good online lecture?’

ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/SORBETTOYes, I learned substantially from these talks about:

  • How academics could help each other about online teaching during a Global Pandemic,
  • What forms of teaching-asynchronous or synchronous- is better suited for different learning processes- lecture or seminar/tutorial,
  • How the new technology used to transfer the knowledge from an instructor to a learner,
  • What software is best for online teaching; Zoom, Canvas or Panopto,
  • What should be a priority in organising online-teaching; the software in hand or teaching objectives,
  • What new ways could be adapted to increase students’ participation and contribution to online learning via discussion boards or forums like Vanilla, GoogleDoc and WordPress,
  • How often students’ feedback should be collected.

While this is all well and good, I had a problem: during these talks is that I never turned on the camera and except on few occasions I did not use the chat boxes too, not mentioning the lack of microphone use. Therefore, when I heard from Andy O’Cain and Dave Lewis, of Open University, ‘Running an Online Seminar/Tutorial in Politics and IR’, that generally students turn their backs on microphones and cameras during virtual classes, I was able to empathise with them.

There may be plenty of reasons for why people do not turn the cameras on or use the microphones: camera-shy, lazy or multi-tasking. I believe the main issue is that the virtual environment is not a natural part of the human habitat for communication, as well as not being a conventionally accepted learning and teaching environment. Therefore, for some people, it takes longer to accommodate. It is best to be understanding each other. Nevertheless, it is one area we can all challenge ourselves to fit in and adapt our ways of learning, teaching and conferencing to the requirements of these extraordinary times.

While learning about being patient with each other, turning on the cameras from very the beginning and keep it on until the end of that session could be significantly advantageous. Think of it as going first to a meeting or a lecture and leaving last. Ultimately it develops to be about being present and making others feel your presence. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for you to feel part of the community which organised that event or the talk.

Some may argue that they could multitask if the camera is off. Reading a newspaper article or writing an email is not the right thing to do when you are listening to a complicated academic argument. If your attention is divided, it is highly likely that you are missing the opportunity to learn something new and meet new people with similar interests. Ultimately, seeing others on the laptop screen and having your face on the screens for others creates opportunities for eye contact between you and them. In this way, online learning and teaching could be as effective as face-to-face teaching and learning.

I decided to write this blog as I was getting ready for my two Virtual Conference presentations. Over the years, I have presented my research on countless times at the face-to-face Academic Conferences, but presenting at a virtual one was new territory.

For ‘Brexit and European integration: political, policy and legitimacy challenges’, organised by NEXTEUK, I was expected to pre-record my presentation of 10 minutes and share it with them before the Conference and speak for 3 three minutes on the Conference day. For the UACES’s 1st Virtual Conference, European Studies Conference, I was expected to have my presentation on PowerPoint and speak to it for a maximum of 15 minutes on the Conference day.

Recording my presentation was not easy. So that the end product is of an acceptable level, it is advisable to have most the relevant and advanced tech gadgets and software, and I was aware of that.

PixabayFirst of all, it is necessary to choose the best software that could do voice record and screencast; I found Camtasia very useful to do a pre-recorded presentation. However, when the Conference’s setup did not support it, I had to do it all over again on PowerPoint and recorded a slide show. The sound quality was much better with Camtasia than Powerpoint, and ultimately it was a learning process, and it is useful to know this now.

Secondly, before recording my presentation, there were a number of actions I had to take in the order of below:

  1. Write up your speech
  2. Read it out loud
  3. Read it out loud until you are fully satisfied with it
  4. Make the necessary additions or removals
  5. Highlight and extract the essential bits you want to have on your PowerPoint slides
  6. Copy and paste the highlighted parts to your PowerPoint slides
  7. Go through them
  8. Record your written up presentation or lecture or speech
  9. Finally, depending on the recording software you use, edit and record again

Thirdly, the NEXTEUK Conference was held on Hopin, while the UACES took place on ZOOM. Hopin is an online events platform where engaging virtual events take place; the Conference was streamed live and recorded, will be available on the Conference’s Website soon. Whereas the UACES’s Conference was not recorded, but it allowed everyone, including presenters and the participants to be on the same screen if and when the cameras were on. However, with Hopin, there was a limited number of people which you could have on-screen at a given time. Chatbox was popular with Hopin, while Conference participants with the UACES chose to engage through using their microphones and cameras. Softwares for events like these have varying degrees of advantages, and you can never say one is better than the other, except that you should be sufficiently versed enough about them to make an informed choice between them as to which may serve your purpose best.

Through these Conference presentations, I accepted the challenge to adapt to this new virtual academic and research world that is triggered by the COVID-19;  and did and will do my part to contribute to its evolution. Of course, face-to-face teaching and learning should be the future.