Pandemic Pedagogy: From Cohorts to Communities

Aimee Merrydew (PhD Candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant in English Literature, Keele University)

Creating a sense of community for students is an integral part of the learning experience; it helps students to gain a sense of belonging and is linked to student success and retention. But building communities requires building relationships. How can this happen when the opportunity for students to socialise in person is limited due to COVID-19 precautions?

Community-building is especially important for new starters, since the transition to university life can be a challenging process and many students do not know anyone on their course. And it continues to be important across the degree, to tutor groups and departmental cohorts, as well as in a classroom setting. How can students meet fellow historians and gain a sense of belonging when studying online?

This post will focus on strategies that help students to gain a sense of belonging, build their identities as historians, and manage feelings of isolation when working remotely.

Buddying:

For new students, one of the best strategies is a buddying scheme. Keele University’s Student Support Buddies scheme provides a useful example. Keele Student Support Buddies are trained to provide friendly and informal support and guidance to incoming students via email and other forms of communication (e.g. Microsoft Teams and/or social media).

Peer mentoring relationships usually begin pre-arrival and continue throughout the academic year, providing ample opportunity for new and returning students to forge connections with fellow historians. What is particularly useful about ‘buddying’ from a community-building perspective is that it encourages links across year groups, in the process enhancing the community of students studying History.

Additionally, you can share this Historical Association resource with incoming students to support their transition to study history at university.

Virtual coffee mornings:

Virtual coffee mornings provide opportunities for community-building by enabling students to socialise with one another in a relaxed and low-pressure online environment.

Community-building is at the heart of Coffee@Home, a one-hour virtual coffee meeting organised for academic and student historians at the University of Lincoln (though you could also have a student-only coffee morning). The purpose of Coffee@Home was, as Dr Michele Vescovi (History, University of Lincoln) explains, ‘to have a conversation about our studies, our lives, and what we were doing while in lockdown. Through this, we wanted to maintain the strong sense of community that our students built in the classroom and beyond’.

Virtual coffee mornings are relatively easy to set up and can take place on various platforms such as Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams. These platforms provide students with the option of choosing their preferred method of interaction (e.g. by video-calling or instant messaging).

You could host a virtual coffee morning as part of the induction week and continue running it throughout the academic year. You could even open the coffee mornings to all History students, as this would enable students to make connections across cohorts. In either case, virtual coffee mornings would provide students with a space to meet fellow historians and feel part of a community.

image of coffee and computer

Image from Freepic

‘Ice-breaker’ activities for tutor groups:

Learning is often a social experience, so it’s important that students feel comfortable learning together. But creating shared experiences and supporting memorable connections between students can be challenging in an online environment.

Ice-breaker activities can aid students in getting to know one another when working remotely. Some activities you could try include:

  • Show and tell – Ask students to share their favourite historical photo or quotation and explain why they think it’s interesting.
  • Who am I? – Students must try to figure out which historical person they are by asking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions to gain clues about the name assigned to them (you could circulate names in advance of the game).
  • Pictionary – Ask students to draw and then circulate pictures about what they like to do, a recent event in which they partook, and/or their reasons for enrolling on the course. Other students can then guess what each student drew, in the process getting to know a little more about each other.
  • Medieval personality test – Students can take the test and then share their results with the rest of the group. Provide students with the opportunity to compare and agree or disagree with their results in discussion with one another, as this will get them speaking to each other and identifying any common interests (or differences).

Each of these activities can be conducted over email, on a Google Doc, on a digital bulletin board (such as Padlet), and other types of communications software (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Zoom).

See here and here for more inspiration on virtual ice-breaker activities.

Historical role-playing exercises:

Historical role-playing is a fun way to create an interactive community of learners. The ‘Our Mutual Friends Tweets’ project is one example of a role-playing community that took place digitally. Each month, participants would read the latest instalment of Dickens’ novel and then take to Twitter to record the latest plot developments from the perspective of one of the characters. To add to the fun and community spirit of the project, participants were also encouraged to ‘air their responses to the unfolding plot, as well as responding to the other characters’ tweets’ (Curry & Winyard 2016, 568).

facebook post about historical role playing

Image: Screenshot of @OMG_Rogue’s tweet

This activity would work well for History students across all levels of study. Students could assume the roles of historical figures and stage debates on issues from a given period. Or they could rewrite history by considering historical events from multiple points of view.

Participants can role-play on Twitter, as was the case in the ‘Our Mutual Friend Tweets’ project, or they can use online bulletin boards such as Padlet (which can be integrated into the Virtual Learning Environment). See this blog post by Dr Lucinda Matthews-Jones (History, Liverpool John Moores University) for another excellent example of community-building through online historical role-playing.

Note that while historical role-playing offers an exciting opportunity to bring students together, it is important to establish ‘ground rules’ for respectful participation, especially when topics are of a sensitive nature.

 Virtual escape rooms:

Virtual escape rooms have become something of a phenomenon in recent years. They are fun and educational team-building exercises that encourage players to work together online to complete tasks across a series of locked rooms. Students need passwords to ‘unlock’ these rooms, which they can gain by working collaboratively to solve puzzles, retrieve clues, and gather other information found throughout the game.

Virtual escape rooms can be designed around historical themes. For example, in a Cold War themed escape room, you might have one room titled ‘Secret Bunker’, another titled ‘Space Station’, and so on. To add to the fun and create friendly competition, you could develop two opposing escape rooms: one for the Soviet Union team and one for the United States. Whichever team ‘escapes’ their virtual room first wins the war, so to speak. Escape rooms are usually against the clock, so you can always add a link to this YouTube clock for added pressure.

Virtual escape rooms can take place on various platforms, including Microsoft OneNote, Google Forms, and Classtime. Click here for some ideas about the kinds of history-themed activities you can include in your virtual escape room. Click here for a step-by-step guide on how to make your virtual escape room (using Google Forms).

For more info on supporting online learning communities see this History UK blog post by Aimee Merrydew and this infographic by Dr Sophie Nicholls.

Get involved and share your experiences

We are delighted to invite you to join us on Twitter (@history_uk) at 2pm on Thursday 16th July, where we will invite you to share your thoughts and experiences of supporting online learning communities in History and the wider Humanities. Use #PandemicPedagogy and/or #SocialLearningHUK.


Aimee tweets at @a_merrydew and blogs (about her research and teaching) at www.aimeemerrydew.com. You can find out more about Aimee’s work here.

Pandemic Pedagogy: Building Online Learning Communities

Aimee Merrydew (PhD Candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant in English Literature, Keele University) 

Working collaboratively online is different to face-to-face group work in a physical classroom. Students may not know others on the course or how to work as part of an online team. So how do we get students working together and gaining each other’s trust outside of the familiar seminar setting?

This post will focus on strategies to embed community-building activities throughout modules and programmes. Each of the following community-building activities can aid students in building academic relationships, gaining a sense of belonging as historians, and dispelling feelings of isolation when working remotely. Virtual community-building activities have been linked to student success and retention.

1. Weekly virtual coffee mornings 

Virtual coffee mornings are a great way to bring students together on a regular basis so they can socialise and relax outside of work. Historians at the University of Lincoln have used virtual coffee mornings as a means of building an online community for Art History and History students in the wake of COVID-19. Dr Michele Vescovi (History, University of Lincoln) explains their rationale for organising weekly coffee mornings:

When teaching was moved online, we decided to create a virtual platform (Coffee@Home), a one-hour weekly virtual meeting for staff and students over a cup of coffee or tea. The purpose was just to have a conversation about our studies, our lives, and what we were doing while in lockdown. Through this, we wanted to maintain the strong sense of community that our students built in the classroom and beyond.

Coffee mornings can take place on various platforms (e.g. Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts) and students can choose to interact with one another via video-calling or instant messaging.

A virtual coffee morning can be effective for building community within a small unit such as a tutor group, or you might also consider opening the virtual coffee morning to all students in a module, cohort, or programme. In either case, it will help students to build connections that can pave the way for future collaborative learning experiences, as well as helping to socialise the student group in a context in which they won’t have many opportunities to meet in person. Virtual coffee mornings can also help to create a sense of belonging which, in turn, can help to make students feel more comfortable when engaging in more formal group work on and offline.

2. Social annotation

Social annotation is a good way of getting students interacting with one another (and sources!) when working remotely. In this interview, Anna Rich-Abad (History, University of Nottingham) talks about how her students used a tool called Talis Elevate to engage in social annotation and ‘recreate’ the classroom environment.

As we can see from the below image, the tool enables students to annotate primary or secondary sources, respond to other students’ comments, and develop discussions. This activity promotes critical dialogue that may otherwise be ‘lost’ outside of the familiar classroom setting, as students form a community of scholars working together to annotate a source.

screenshot of Talis Elevate

Image: Natalie Naik from Talis

Here are some strategies for engaging students in social annotation:

  • Begin by getting students to practice using the tool by completing simple tasks, such as adding questions or comments to sections that they found particularly interesting or challenging (or just don’t understand), then ask them to respond to one another’s posts. Dr Jamie Wood (History, University of Lincoln) discusses this strategy here.
  • Once students are more familiar with the annotation tool, encourage them to work together to take a short passage from a source and find as many possible meanings depending on what context they are supplied.
  • You could also instruct students to identify the social and historical contexts at work in a specific passage. By working from the same document, students can build on each other’s interpretations and engage in knowledge creation.
  • Another option is to assign different interpretive strategies, e.g. one group of students reads for ‘Whig History’ interpretations, while another poses as ‘Namierite’ readers. Students can then comment on how closely their peers have mimicked the reading strategies of a different historiographical school.

3. Digital scrapbooking

Digital scrapbooking is great for collaborative working and community-building. Students and educators can co-create a ‘virtual learning wall’ by posting content and comments on online bulletin boards such as Padlet (which can be integrated into the VLE).

This blog post by Professor Lucy Robinson (History, University of Sussex) provides a useful example of how digital scrapbooking might work in practice. Robinson divided her seminar group into sub-teams and instructed them to create their own open access educational resources on a topic of their choice. Each of the groups used Padlet to share and store links and resources; one group also set up Padlet as a public space where users could post comments and feedback on the wall. Padlet was the chosen tool because, as Lucy explains here, it ‘was easy to use, pretty much anything could be added to it, it could be edited by multiple users at once, and had various privacy settings’.

See here and here for more inspiration on digital scrapbooking.

4. Online book club

Book clubs are a great way to promote group cohesion and learning outside of the formal classroom setting. The Historical Association (HA) provides an example.

HA Book Club members meet on Twitter and/or Facebook every other Wednesday for an hour to discuss a given text, though the meetings have been expanded during June and July from an hour to a full afternoon. This set-up enables conversations to emerge asynchronously, as people ‘can dip in across the afternoon and evening, leave messages, “like” other people’s thoughts and get caught up in conversations if they wish’. Students can engage in collaborative learning and debate about an assigned book by liking, retweeting, and commenting on each other’s posts, as seen in the screenshot below.

Twitter thread about book club

Image: screenshot of @histassoc Twitter thread

To ensure accessibility, you can distribute set readings on a file sharing platform, such as the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or Google Drive. It goes without saying but it’s important to be mindful of copyright regulations when uploading and distributing material (this is less likely to be an issue if you use services supported by your institution).

Once you’ve shared the material, you can then tweet discussion questions and/or statements for students to respond to and debate as a group. Click here and here for some practical tips and ‘watchouts’ for using Twitter in the virtual classroom.

Alternatively, you can use telecommunication applications (e.g. Microsoft Teams), digital bulletin boards (e.g. Padlet), or annotation software (e.g. Talis Elevate) to facilitate book club discussion. Some services, such as Talis Elevate (see above) and Hypothes.is will allow annotation and discussion directly on resources, which makes it easier for students to engage in conversation about specific moments in the book.

5. Online film club

The book club format can be adapted for a film club. Students can watch films individually and then engage in group discussion and debate. #Covideodrome is one example of an online film club that brings students together on Twitter and Zoom to discuss Netflix films during the lockdown period.

Note: Film clubs provide a fun way to foster collaborative learning through a shared and interactive learning experience, but they may not be accessible to all because they require higher bandwidth technologies in order for films to be watched online (they may also require entertainment subscriptions which can be costly). Note also that all videos should be captioned for accessibility purposes. History UK Fellow Louise Creechan provides useful tips on making videos accessible here.

6. Virtual writing retreats 

Virtual writing retreats provide opportunities for community-building and collaborative learning by enabling students to join a community of researchers, share goals for accountability, and progress their writing in a structured and supportive environment. Virtual writing retreats can create a sense of being in ‘this’ process together.

The David Bruce Centre for American Studies uses virtual writing retreats to foster a sense of community and promote collaborative learning amongst historians and humanities researchers. The Centre uses low bandwidth communications software (e.g. Google Hangouts or Slack), which enables more people to participate.

While the David Bruce Centre retreat runs across a full day, shorter time-frames might work better for student groups.

David Bruce Centre Virtual Writing Retreat

(6.5 hours)

Shorter Writing Retreat for Student Groups

(90 mins)

09:00 – 09:15: Introduction 09:00 – 09:05: Introduction
09:15 – 09:30: Planning and goal setting (share with group) 09:05 – 09:15: Planning and goal setting (share with sub-group)
09:30 – 09:35: Writing warm up 09:15 – 09:20: Writing warm-up (e.g. freewriting)
09:30 – 11:00: Writing (1 hr 30 mins) 09:20 – 09:40: Writing (20 mins)
11:00 – 11:20: Break and discussion 09:40 – 09:50: Reflection and sharing
11:20 – 12:35: Writing (1 hr 15 mins) 09:50 – 10:10: Writing (20 mins)
12:35 – 12:40: Stretching session for writers 10:10 – 10:30: Tips on setting goals for how to take work forward

 

12:40 – 13:30: Lunch break and discussion
13:30 – 15:00: Writing (1 hr 30 mins)
15:00 – 15:05: Stretching session for writers
15:05 – 15:30: Reflections and feedback on the day

These schedules encourage students to set writing goals and share them with one another to achieve a common goal: to progress writing projects in a supportive online environment. The regular planning and discussion slots provide opportunities for collaborative learning and community-building, as students can discuss their writing topics and share tips and resources with each other. See here for more tips on organising writing retreats for students.

Get involved and share your experiences

We are keen to hear from you and invite you to join us on Twitter (@history_uk) at 2pm on Thursday 16th July. Here we will invite you to share your experiences, reflections, and resources to help us develop an effective approach to supporting online learning communities in History and the wider Humanities. Use #PandemicPedagogy and/or #SocialLearningHUK.


Aimee tweets at @a_merrydew and blogs (about her research and teaching) at www.aimeemerrydew.com. You can find out more about Aimee’s work on her university profile and personal website.

History UK signs A New Deal for UK Higher Education letter to ministers for education

Along with 47 other subject associations, History UK has just signed a letter to ministers with responsibility for higher education at Westminster and the devolved governments. It calls for a ‘new deal’ for higher education across the nations of the UK. You can read the full text of the letter below. Please share more widely on social media. A pdf of the full letter can be downloaded here.
Dear Ministers,

We are writing to you as officers of 48 professional associations representing diverse research fields to express our profound concern about the future of higher education in the UK. COVID-19 has simultaneously highlighted the huge importance of university research to tackling the virus and its social and economic implications as well as the unsustainability of the current funding model for tertiary education.

Higher education makes a fundamentally significant contribution to society. It expands our knowledge and understanding of the world through an array of research discoveries, improves the life chances of individuals by enhancing social mobility and opportunities, advances the economy by carrying out innovative research, and provides each new generation with cultural knowledge as well as cutting edge skills and expertise. Yet, currently, UK public spending on tertiary education amounts to only a quarter of university budgets, which is not only the lowest among OECD countries, but comprises considerably less than half of the average spending among the OECD’s other 34 countries. It is therefore not surprising that nearly 25 percent of all UK universities were in deficit even before the pandemic and that now, due to a dramatic drop in projected income, almost all higher education institutions in the country will face huge obstacles to carry out their mission and remain internationally competitive without government support.

A vibrant and robust higher education system is absolutely vital for the UK’s future. We believe that the current government funding model for higher education is inadequate for this task and we therefore call upon you to use the current crisis as an opportunity to create a new deal for higher education. Rather than providing a one-time bailout, it is paramount that the UK and devolved governments substantially increases public spending on tertiary education in line with the OECD average in order to ensure that our tertiary institutions remain at the forefront of global research, education and innovation.

Yours sincerely,

African Studies Association of the United Kingdom – Professor Ambreena Manji

Architectural Humanities Research Association — Professor Jonathan Hale

Arts and Humanities Alliance — Professor Susan Bruce

Association for Art History — Professor Frances Fowle

Association for German Studies — Professor Margaret Littler

Association for Welsh Writing in English — Professors Kirsti Bohata and Matthew Jarvis

Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, UK and Ireland — Dr John Miller

Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland — Professor Claire Taylor

Association of Programmes in Translation and Interpreting Studies — Dr JC Penet and Dr Olga Castro

Association for Publishing Education — Professor Claire Squires

Association of University Professors and Heads of French — Professor Marion Schmid

British Association for American Studies — Dr Cara Rodway

British Association for Cognitive Neuroscience — Professor Jamie Ward

British Association for Slavonic & East European Studies — Dr Matthias Neumann

British Association for South Asian Studies — Professor Patricia Jeffery

British Association for Study of Religions – Professor Bettina Schmidt

British Association for Victorian Studies — Professor Dinah Birch CBE

British Association of Academic Phoneticians – Professor Jane Stuart-Smith

British Association of Critical Legal Scholars — Professor Adam Gearey

British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies — Dr James Leggott

British Comparative Literature Association – Professor Susan Bassnett

British International Studies Association — Professor Mark Webber

British Philosophical Association — Professor Fiona Macpherson, FRSE, MAE

British Society for Middle Eastern Studies — Professor Haleh Afshar

British Society for the History of Science — Drr Tim Boon

British Sociological Association — Professor Susan Halford

British Universities Industrial Relations Association —  Professor Tony Dobbins

Council of University Classical Departments — Professor Helen Lovatt

Economic History Society – Professor Catherine Schenk

English Association — Dr Rebecca Fisher

Feminist Studies Association — Dr Laura Clancy and Dr Sara De Benedictis,

History UK — Dr Lucinda Matthews-Jones, Dr Yolana Pringle and Dr Jamie Wood

Linguistics Association of Great Britain — Professor Caroline Heycock

Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association — Professor Anita Biressi

Modern Humanities Research Association – Dr Barbara Burns

Newcomen Society – Dr Jonathan Aylen

Oral History Society – Professor John Gabriel

Royal Musical Association – Professor Simon McVeigh

Royal Society of Literature — Professor Marina Warner, DBE, CBE, FBA

Socio-Legal Studies Association — Professor Rosie Harding

Society for French Studies — Professor Judith Still

Society for Latin American Studies — Professor Patience Schell

Society for Old Testament Study — Dr Walter Houston

Society for Renaissance Studies — Professor Richard Wistreich

Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry – Professor Frank James

Standing Conference of University Drama Departments – Professor Kate Newey

Theatre & Performance Research Association – Professor Roberta Mock

University Council of Modern Languages — Professor Claire Gorrara

Women in German Studies — Professor Ingrid Sharp

Forthcoming HUK events in 2019: Developing collaboration between archives services and Higher Education

The National Archives and History UK

Come Together: Developing collaboration between archives services and Higher Education

Where: Venues and dates across England and Wales (for details see below)

Cost: Free (funded)

Audience: Archive staff, academics, and higher education staff considering, or working on, cross-sector collaborations and/or partnerships.  The workshops are open to academics from all disciplines.

Book your place via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/come-together-collaboration-between-archive-services-and-higher-education-tickets-53860849250

In 2015 the National Archives published a ‘Guide to Collaboration between the archive and higher education sectors’.  Since its publication there have been a number of developments across both sectors, so following consultations and desk-based research in 2018 the guidance has been refreshed.  The revised guidance is aimed at those considering collaboration and those who wish to develop their collaborative practice further.  It covers:

  • Types of collaboration
  • Forming a collaboration
  • Developing collaborative working
  • Recording activities and capturing impact
  • Successful collaboration advice

In June 2018 a pilot workshop to introduce the guidance and support networking between archive staff and academics took place.  Following on from the pilot’s success TNA, History UK, and MALD have collaborated on taking the workshop around England and Wales.  It will be delivered in seven venues across the two nations. (details below)

This one-day workshop will introduce the revised guidance highlighting key areas of change. It will also explore practical ways to identify, develop, and sustain cross-sector collaborations.  It will include:

  • Understanding the archive and higher education sectors – drivers, initiatives, support, and language
  • Identifying organisational and project priorities
  • The collaborative lifecycle
  • Understanding outputs and outcomes – mutually beneficial and sector/organisational specific
  • Measuring impact in cross-sector collaborations
  • An outline of recent updates to REF, TEF and Research Councils
  • Priority setting for partnerships
  • Networking opportunities between the sectors

Pilot participants comments:

“It was great fun, and an excellent opportunity to network with people from both the HE sector and from the Archive sector.”

“Excellent interactive activities which really opened up opportunities for making contacts and discussion.”

“It was a total buzz – I loved the actives – and the new contacts and the insights were great.”

Registration 1030 | Start 1100 | Finish 1630

Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

 

Dates and venues:

Date (all 2019) Venue
Friday 31st January Institute of Historical Research, London
Wed 20th/Thurs 21st February Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool
End of March Glamorgan Archives, Cardiff, Wales
Thursday 4th April University of Bristol, Bristol
Thursday 13th June University of Leeds, Leeds
Tuesday 25th June University of Lincoln, Lincoln
Thursday 27th June University of Birmingham, Birmingham

 

Book your place via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/come-together-collaboration-between-archive-services-and-higher-education-tickets-53860849250

Update: Guide to Collaboration

Image of launch eventHere are some quick updates on the Guide to Collaboration between the Archive and Higher Education Sectors (2018 update). The TNA’s Higher Education Archives Programme (HEAP) has published a short introduction to the guidance (accessible here) for those who want to publicise the guidance at their own institutions.

There’s also been a nice post from Katie Flanagan (a.k.a. Katie the Librarian) on our workshop to launch the guidance back in June (here), of which Caroline Sampson has provided some excellent images. As you can see, it was a very active event!

Groupwork  at launch event

 

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