Online Evening Tutorials for Year 1 Medical Students Using Blackboard Collaborate
Two online tutorials for Year 1 undergraduate MBChB students were timetabled in 2013 (on 12th Feb 2013 and 7th May 2013). Recorded tutorial preparation materials were made available to students a week in advance via the VLE. The online tutorial sessions were held at 7.00pm and attendance for students was optional. Approx. 140 students from a cohort of 250 participated both times.
What was done
For both tutorials, recorded lectures and slides were made available to students one week before the tutorial. A discussion board was set up for students to post questions prior to the tutorial. For the second tutorial, students were invited to use the ConnectTxt service to send questions via SMS (text message from a mobile phone).
Instructions were provided for students to prepare their machines for the session by using the Blackboard Collaborate configuration room.
For the first tutorial, students accessed the room via URL, their identity was not linked to their university username making them anonymous. In the second tutorial they were required to authenticate via the VLE (EEMEC).
During the tutorial session, presentation slides were uploaded and key topics covered in the recorded materials were reviewed.
In the first tutorial, the tutor took questions via the chat window and responded via audio. For the second tutorial, students posed questions in advance of the online session via SMS (ConnectTxt) and discussion threads (EEMEC) as well as during the session itself (via the chat window).
A set of powerpoint slides with Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) were uploaded for both sessions. In the first tutorial students selected their choice using the chat window. In the second they voted via the collaborate voting buttons.
The tutorials were both scheduled to finish at 8pm but at least a third of participants stayed on for an extra 20 mins each time, posting questions via the chat window with the tutor responding via audio.
The tutor involved in this trial is a highly regarded expert in their field and existing clinical commitments made timetabling the face-to-face lectures difficult.
By scheduling the tutorials online and out of hours, this offered us a useful opportunity to a) trial an online and semi ‘flipped’ approach to teaching in UG medicine and b) test how effective Collaborate would be in running tutorials for large cohorts of students.
Both tutorials went well, they started on time and students were very engaged with the event, a lot of intelligent questions asked. The voting buttons worked better for the MCQs responses than via the chat window.
For the second tutorial, students had to authenticate via the VLE. This was in response to negative feedback from students (see below) about mis-use of the chat window in the first tutorial. Feedback from students was very positive about this change.
We also had better overall network performance in the second tutorial by notifying Blackboard in advance that this tutorial was taking place (see problems below).
A network outage 15 mins before the first tutorial session was due to begin meant that over one hundred participants were all ejected from the room, most were able to log back in and the session began on time.
The sound kept cutting out in the first tutorial, which made it difficult for students to follow at times.
For both sessions, there were a lot of difficulties in getting Collaborate working on a MAC — both tutor and moderator on MACs and feedback indicated that some students who had wanted to attend, were unable to, due to issues login in via a MAC.
It was not possible to have webcams or students microphones enabled due to the impact on performance so was not as interactive a session as it could have been.
Students valued having the pre-recorded material available to review in their own time. Comments suggested that they felt able to formulate a better understanding of the topic in advance of the tutorial and therefore ask more useful questions when in it.
Asking questions via chat window was less intimidating, gave students the opportunity to learn from others’ questions
Enjoyed the non-traditional approach as a new experience
The immediacy of access the tutor, their responses and enthusiasm and generosity with time was greatly appreciated.
It was more relaxing being at home and also in the way the session was run.
Some students misusing the chat window for unrelated comments/chat was a big distraction in the first tutorial (feedback from second was that it was much improved by using authenticated access)
Being able to see what other students were answering to questions asked (i.e. inputting response through the chat window) clouded their judgement, feedback was that they would like responses anonymised so in the second tutorial the voting buttons were used (feedback very positive about this change)
The complexity of setting up your machine prior to the session Technical issues with the session itself, including sound quality, lack of video
Too many people in the room.
Pace too fast (especially if they hadn’t watched the pre-tutorial lecture)
We found diminishing returns in terms of number of participants and quality of audio. It might be useful to set participant number limits so that everyone’s audio/video can be enabled. Authenticated access was found to be better so that postings in chat window are not anonymous. Also it is important to clearly outline room etiquette prior to the session,
When using the survey tools and voting (yes/no) buttons for MCQ/question responses adjust the settings so participants can’t see what others are answering before inputing their own — you will get a more honest response that way.
Resolve the ongoing issue with Mac access:
NB: this issues has been addressed, see: http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/information-services/learning-technology/communication/collaborate/how-to-get-started