In 2020 History departments suddenly had to think seriously about how to move teaching online. For most, this ‘emergency phase’ was a daunting and challenging time, but for some historians, there was also a sense of cautious excitement. As a subject-area, we have tended to prefer physical settings and interactions over digital ones. The Canadian historian Dr Sean Kheraj has observed that COVID is making us use tools that are unfamiliar to many historians and forcing us to upskill to work within a digital landscape that we have often overlooked.
At History UK, we recognised a need to support the history community during this time of transition. From late May 2020, a group of Steering Committee members have been meeting to discuss how to do this. Our Pandemic Pedagogy subgroup have run a series of Twitter chats to see what colleagues have learned from the new role online learning has come to play. As part of this process, we have written a series of short posts (on learning design, lectures, contact hours, assessment, accessibility, and community building in the classroom and in wider cohorts) and gathered feedback from the wider community.
As a result of this work, we have produced a short guide to help colleagues in thinking about what it means to move our teaching online – The Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook. You can access it at the The Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook webpage, where you can also download the full Handbook and each of the individual sections in PDF format.
We framed the Handbook around a number of questions:
What happens to our students’ experience of learning, in and out of the ‘classroom’?
What happens to accessibility?
What happens to community?
What happens to seminars?
What happens to primary source work?
What happens to lectures?
What happens to assessment and feedback?
This is not the end of our commitment to creating a space for collaborative conversations around pedagogy in the time of a global pandemic. We invite colleagues to write short posts that we can share onour blog in order to keep the conversation going. Topics could include (but are not limited to): practical case studies of teaching online, think-pieces that address any aspect of the move online such as equity, diversity and inclusivity, community building, teaching and learning. technology, digital humanities. Please share your insights into any of these areas, especially if you have practical examples of approaches to teaching History online, and encourage colleagues to do the same.
We are also interested in receiving feedback on the Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook itself. Please do let us know if it has informed your practice using the comments section on the Handbook webpage and/or @history_uk.
We would like to thank everyone involved in putting together this guide. The project was led by Kate Cooper (Royal Holloway/ @kateantiquity); steering committee contributors were Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores/ @luciejones83), Yolana Pringle (Roehampton/ @y_pringle), Manuela Williams (Strathclyde/ @ManuelaAWill), and Jamie Wood (Lincoln/ @MakDigHist). We were joined by Louise Crechan (Glasgow/ @LouiseCreechan) and Aimee Merrydew (Keele/ @a_merrydew) as Pandemic Pedagogy Fellows.
Louise Creechan (GTA English Literature and Widening Participation, University of Glasgow)
This week the Pandemic Pedagogy team at History UK have been thinking about accessibility.We believe that accessibility needs to be our first consideration when we begin to plan for remote delivery. Thinking about accessibility issues from the outset ensures that we avoid making compromises or adjustments further down the line. It should go without saying that it is extremely demoralising for a student to feel like their needs were an afterthought.
Professor Chrsitine Hockings of Evidencenet offers the following definition of ‘inclusive learning’ that positions accessibility as a part of a wider pedagogical strategy, one which also includes learning design and community building as key elements for inclusivity:
‘Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education refers to the ways in which pedagogy, curricula and assessment are designed and delivered to engage students in learning that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to all. It embraces a view of the individual and individual difference as the source of diversity that can enrich the lives and learning of others.’
The Pandemic Pedagogy project is concerned about the impact of the pandemic on these essential areas of inclusive teaching practice: accessibility, learning design, and community building. Through our blog posts and Twitter interactions, we aim to collate resources and useful case studies that can help our community of historians to deliver courses remotely without compromising on inclusive learning practices.
To return to accessibility, it might seem elementary, but if teaching is inaccessible then it is ineffective. Prioritising accessibility means students do not necessarily have to go through the trauma of disclosing disabilities or life situations. Many arrangements will also in turn benefit all, including abled and neurotypical students and staff.
What arrangements are you making for accessible learning? Do you have any concerns?
What do we mean by ‘accessibility’?
Under the 2010 Equality Act, we are legally required to ‘make reasonable adjustments’ to enable our students to access their studies. This legislation applies to all protected characteristics, such as age, disability, race/ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or gender, but it also extends to adjustments that the institution must make to ensure no student is disadvantaged. Remote learning can exacerbate many additional barriers for students that may have been hidden in the classroom, such as caring responsibilities, the lack of a quiet place to work, access to suitable equipment, or an unreliable internet connection. Accessibility is about inclusion and making sure that all learners feel valued and supported.
We’ve identified three starting points for thinking about accessible remote course design: Bandwidth and Workplace Circumstances, Fatigue and Concentration Difficulties, and the Loss/Lack of Support Systems This is by no means an exhaustive list and there will be specific issues that will require additional support. In the meantime, we’ve included some points of reflection with each example. We’d like to invite you to join us on Twitter on Thursday 25th June from 2pm to share experiences, reflections, and resources, and help us develop an accessible approach to remote learning. Use #PandemicPedagogy and/or #InclusiveHUK.
Key Accessibility Issues
Bandwidth and Workplace Circumstances
Synchronous video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom or MS Teams, require significantly higher bandwidths to function effectively. These high-bandwidth technologies rely on newer computers and operating systems, fast broadband connections, or significant data allowances on mobile devices. Participation in real-time, face-to-face contact via video software can marginalise students from rural communities (or abroad) with poor signal or those who cannot afford the significant financial burden of high-end technologies.
We must also respect that finding a quiet place to work may not be possible for many students for a multitude of reasons, including caring responsibilities, financial circumstances, and changed familial dynamic as a result of COVID-19. In these cases, ensuring access to recorded material, collaborative writing tasks, or discussion forums can enable students to remain engaged with the course, but at a time that is convenient for them.
What has been your experience with asynchronous resources? What did you use? How have students responded?
See this article from DePaul University for a breakdown of low-bandwidth and asynchronous approaches.
Fatigue and Concentration Difficulties
No matter how driven we are, there will be times when our concentration is severely affected by external factors. The pandemic is a cause for concern for many of us and our students are no different.
In a survey conducted by Disabled Students UK, increased levels of fatigue were commonly mentioned by respondents. It is important to note that, while respondents self-identified as disabled, the fatigue reported was not solely related to their disabilities, but the result of the changing study arrangements and the emotional toll of ensuring that their support remained in place. Ensuring that course design is informed by accessible pedagogical practices is a way of mitigating some of the stresses felt by students with additional needs.
Of course, we can all feel fatigued when we have dramatically altered our routines and working conditions. It’s been fairly well documented that the online platforms that we’ve been using to support remote learning can cause ‘Zoom fatigue’. Psychologists have determined that video platforms impair our ability to process non-verbal cues which forces the brain to focus harder on verbal dialogue and, in turn, tires us out.
To counteract fatigue and concentration issues, we should really be asking ourselves: ‘does this interaction/pre-recording need to be any longer than twenty minutes?’ If so, it may be worth rethinking your strategy: Can you plan a comfort break? Can you set students an off-screen activity for 10/15 minutes? Could this be covered by setting reading and encouraging responses on a forum?
What tactics have you employed to manage fatigue? How can course design be implemented to avoid burnout?
Loss/Lack of Support Systems
Isolation from friends, families, or situations where the student is estranged from their families can make studying far more challenging. In order to create a truly inclusive environment, we need to treat isolation as an accessibility issue. We will return to community building and transitions to HE later in the Pandemic Pedagogy project, but it is worth noting that, through conscious efforts to encourage student interaction and by making the effort to design our courses with collaboration in mind, we can hope to replicate some of the support that may have been lost in the transition to remote learning.
We need to be aware that the non-medical assistants, such as BSL interpreters, that many disabled students require will not be able to work as they would have done before the pandemic. Remember that legally you must provide captioning or a transcript for any pre-recorded material and that synchronous video conferencing makes this far more difficult. A simple way of captioning pre-recorded resources is to upload content to YouTube and to review the automatic captioning. We will provide more specific strategies for developing disability-positive classrooms in the formal Pandemic Pedagogy report that will be produced in mid-July to mark the end of the project.
Are there any strategies that you have used to support isolated students? How do we make sure that students who have lost their support systems are able to continue their studies?
Please do get in touch to share your experiences of accessible remote learning. We are keen to create a sense of coming together with other historians to ensure that we use this pandemic as a means of evolving our pedagogy and maintaining our commitment to accessibility.
Kate Cooper (Professor of History, Royal Holloway, University of London)
The summer of 2020 is not what any of us expected: with libraries closed and summer holidays a matter of finding a new routine within the same four walls, the task that looms largest for many of us is the attempt to reinvent our teaching for next autumn.
Over the past few weeks, a small team has been working as part of History UK’s Pandemic Pedagogy project to find out how colleagues are approaching the challenges we face as teachers and mentors of university-level History students. Over the next 2-3 weeks, we’ll be posting resources and blog posts here on the History UK website to offer some insight into what colleagues around the Four Nations have learned – or are learning – about digitally-delivered teaching.
The first thing we’re learning will come as no surprise: just-moving-everything-onto-Zoom (or equivalent) isn’t an option. Zoom fatigue is real. Screen-to-screen interactions simply don’t work the same way as in-person conversations do. (Julia Sklar explains why in an excellent article: ‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Here’s why that happens.)
Luckily, the lecture-plus-seminar system we all know and love isn’t the only way to do things – it’s a historical artefact. University Lectures came into being in medieval cities in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. Then as now, time-tabling was a matter of getting people who lived in sometimes distant lodgings into the same room at a time when the teacher could be there and the room was available.
And hour-long slots aren’t pedagogically ideal; in fact, research suggests that shorter periods fit the human ability to concentrate far better. In other words, what we’re used to isn’t the only way to deliver the experiences and challenges that make for great teaching – or even the best way. It is just the way we’re most familiar with. (For a research-based and often quite funny take-down of lectures and why we tend to over-rate them, see Graham Gibbs’s Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing.)
So it’s useful to think about what happens in the ‘classroom’ in new ways, and to try to get to the bottom of what’s really important. We’ve identified four central areas that we’ll be addressing:
Presence: In an environment where ‘contact hours’ and ‘office hours’ don’t work the way they used to (and, let’s face it, they were never perfect to begin with!), how can we create a sense of involvement and intellectual connection for our students – with their peers and with us, their teachers?
Community-building: How can we best offer our students a sense of belonging and engagement with one another? This is a challenge that reaches from the summer before first year to the summer after graduation, and happens at multiple levels, from the tutor group or seminar group all the way up to the year cohort and the wider departmental community.
Scaffolding: How can we create frameworks both to guide students in exploring material independently, and to make sure they have the right opportunities to gain feedback from peers and from the teacher/facilitator?
Reading together (and writing and thinking together): What opportunities does the digital landscape offer for creating ‘spaces’ where students can read together, share their insights, and challenge each other to create new understanding?
And, the all-important Accessibility: How do we make sure that each of our students, regardless of disability, background, living situation or internet speed, has full access to the learning opportunities they have signed up for?
One of the best things about the Pandemic Pedagogy project so far has been a new experience of the UK History community as a lively, wry collection of people who are largely up for making lemonade out of whatever lemons come their way. So many people I’ve spoken to are looking for silver linings – a chance to discover new ways of teaching, learning, and collaborating that will benefit our students long after this particular crisis is over. I’ve also encountered a really lovely sense that we are all in this together – a ‘we’ that with luck will grow even stronger as we work together over the coming weeks and into the future.
At the beginning of June, History UK launched a ‘Pandemic Pedagogy’ initiative to help support
historians move out of the ‘emergency’ phase of online teaching and start planning for a remote
and socially-distanced campus in the Autumn. The aim is to produce short, user-friendly, and
practical guides than can inform planning, including:
An overview of tools for online teaching – an annotated list introducing various digital tools
people may have heard of but not used
An introduction to various ways of staging digital small-group interactions
A page on tools and strategies for collaborative close ‘reading’ and annotation of ‘texts’
History UK is seeking a postgraduate student for a fixed-term fellowship to support the initiative.
The History UK fellow will conduct desk-based searches of websites, blog posts, and social media
for relevant case studies, reports, and other practical guides. They will write clear and concise
summaries of their findings to help inform the resources that History UK will produce and curate,
and attend virtual team meetings. They will be encouraged to write a blog post for the History UK
website on a topic of their choosing (relevant to the initiative), and may also be required to assist
in the organisation of an online ‘Pandemic Pedagogy’ roundtable.
The fellow will be expected to work flexibly for 50 hours in total over four weeks, starting on
Wednesday 17 June, or soon after. All work needs to be completed by Wednesday 15 July. The
renumeration for the fellowship is fixed at £750.
A postgraduate student (MA or PhD) in History, or a related subject, based at a higher
education institution in the UK
Strong research skills
Excellent written and oral communication skills
Ability to work independently and with minimal supervision
Excellent organisation, project management skills, and attention to detail
Expertise and interest in pedagogy (preferable)
Experience of writing for the web (preferable)
Send a CV of up to two pages and a one-page cover letter to email@example.com.
In the cover letter you should explain why you are interested in the role, how you meet the person
specification, and what you will bring to the initiative.
The deadline for applications is Thursday 11 June at 2pm.
Over the past few weeks members of the HUK Steering Committee, coordinated by Prof. Kate Cooper (Royal Holloway) have been putting together a project to support historians as we move out of the ‘emergency’ phase of online teaching and start planning for the next semester/ term. Following our Steering Committee meeting in early June, we ran a survey of members’ views. This has helped us form a working group to generate some useful resources and to run (online) events. We are keen to reflect on the ‘emergency’ phase of teaching and learning and to share best practice through collaborative problem-solving.
To that end, we’ve divided our ‘Pandemic Pedagogy’ activities into two broad strands:
Lucinda Matthews-Jones (LJMU), Yolana Pringle (Roehampton) and Manuela Williams (Sitrling) are developing the strand on inclusivity and community-building.
Kristen Brill (Keele), Kate Cooper (Royal Holloway) and Jamie Wood (Lincoln)are working on our second strand on pedagogy and online tools.
The inclusivity strand will kick off with the first of a series of Twitter chats today (Weds 3rd June) at 11am. Here’s the poster:
We hope that you’ll be able to join us.
Alongside this, the pedagogy and technology group aims to produce some pages for the History UK website over the next few weeks, each of which will involve a short summary of the results of our information-gathering on three topics:
An overview of tools for online teaching – an annotated list introducing various digital tools people may have heard of but not used.
An introduction to various ways of staging digital small-group interactions that move replication of face-to-face teaching (e.g. lectures or seminars).
A page focussing specifically on tools and strategies for collaborative close ‘reading’ (including images and other media) and annotation of ‘texts’.
Our key aim here is to produce short, user-friendly and practical resources (i.e. case studies rather than research papers or theoretical works).
To draw on the knowledge that’s already out there to inform this initiative, we are conducting a survey of historians in HE. Please follow this link to complete it: