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.
Kate Cooper (Professor of History, Royal Holloway, University of London)
One of the problems worrying wise heads as they think ahead to the autumn involves the instructional quantum formerly known as contact hours. Once we are no longer meeting in timetabled classrooms, how will we know when we have done enough? It’s a question that has a philosophical dimension, but it’s also tremendously practical. On the one hand, digital teaching requires thinking ahead to solve as many problems as possible ahead of time. On the other hand, students navigating in an unfamiliar digital environment might reasonably need more support than ever.
In a piece entitled The need for Presence not ‘Contact Hours’, David White, who is Head of Digital Learning for the University of the Arts London, addresses the problem head-on. Part of the problem, White suggests, is that our way of thinking about what we owe our students has been rooted in a not-particularly-well-thought-through emotion: the attachment we all feel to ‘the University as a set of buildings.’ Partly out of habit and partly because emotional attachment makes us irrational, he says, ‘The narrow definition of Contact Hours in the UK basically boils down to “time spent in the same room together”.’ This means we have failed to think as carefully as we might about what our students need from their interactions with teachers, and the resulting muddled thinking can have spectacularly bad results.
So in the move to online teaching our initial instinct is to preserve Contact Hours by mirroring what would have been face-to-face sessions with webinar style sessions. What this looks like [in some contexts] is exhausting 3-4 hour online sessions which must be almost impossible to stay engaged with. Not only is this unsustainable, it is also damaging to the learning process.
Another useful approach comes from Colorado, where Sean Michael Morris is Senior Instructor in Learning, Design, and Technology at the University of Colorado Denver and Director of the online learning community known as Digital Pedagogy Lab. In a recent post Morris suggests that the answer to the problem rests on an idea we can all agree on: the best pedagogy is rooted in human relationships. “My expertise is digital pedagogy—specifically critical digital pedagogy—which resides more in the relationships between teachers and students than it does the delivery of instruction.” In facing up to the digital challenge, he says, colleagues can become so worried about managing the technology that they need to be reminded of the human element.
So as I’m approached with questions about what technologies might help build community online, what platform I might recommend for ensuring students don’t cheat, or what digital solution I know of that will enable meaningful discussion, I’ve found myself answering: teach through the screen, not to the screen. Find out where your students are, and make your classroom there, in a multiplicity of places.
How we make this happen, of course, is the question. What does it mean to be ‘present’ in a space that doesn’t actually exist?
Another important aspect of the problem involves not only space, but time. To what extent is a ‘scheduled hour’ a meaningful measure? Far less than we are used to, perhaps: to students (and staff) who are living in a state of perpetual disruption, freedom from set schedules can offer a much-valued silver lining, and is sometimes an absolute necessity.
My colleague Martin King at Royal Holloway makes an important distinction here. Even though being ‘present’ to our students is something that we are used to doing in real-time, sometimes the acts of ‘presence’ we can offer asynchronously are just as valuable. To illustrate the point, Martin kindly gave me permission to share a graphic analysis he made of the possibilities for ‘presence’ that can be offered to students through the Moodle/Replay learning tools we use in our own institution.
Martin places strong emphasis on something that is sometimes forgotten in discussions of ‘contact’, which is interactivity. Sometimes, when we are sailing along in our habitual way of teaching and learning together, we forget that what makes contact ‘contact’ is the fact of being able to interact. Often, interaction is the element that lights up the learning experience for students.
Once we’ve turned our focus to interactivity, we can see that though we’re used to thinking of synchronous activity as conveying a strong sense of presence, when interactivity is present asynchronous activity can do so as well. And colleagues are already reporting that new forms of engagement such as discussion lists can elicit higher involvement from students who would hesitate to contribute in face-to-face discussion.
Another point to remember is that sometimes the ‘presence’ our students find most valuable and rewarding is that of their peers. Taking Martin’s analysis as a starting point, I made my own visual analysis, this time looking at how the social and interactive aspect of learning can work both synchronously and asynchronously, sometimes through engagement between students and staff, and at other times through engagement among students themselves. (The ‘asynchronous-social’ column in the centre offers particularly useful food for thought.)
How can we translate these insights into strategies for supporting students? David White suggests that if we move our thinking away from counting contact hours to planning for meaningful acts of presence, we may discover that the new landscape offers surprising possibilities.
Here is the list White offers at the close of his post:
A fairly quick, reliable, turnaround to emailed questions
Being active ‘live’ in forums or text chats (an ‘office hours’ approach to asynchronous presence)
Lively synchronous sessions – such as, webinars with plenty of Q&A
Artfully ‘flipped’ use of pre-recorded teaching videos
Audio, video or text summative feedback (if it’s been created just for you then it’s always a moment of presence)
…and of course face-to-face sessions in various forms.
It’s not hard to imagine a student being happy with this approach to presence. It’s perhaps an idealized list – notice all those adjectives and adverbs. (‘Reliable’, ‘lively’, ‘artfully’.) So, the proof will be in the design (how do they all fit together? do they add up to more than the sum of the parts?) and in the delivery. But that is true for every type of teaching, so at least here we are on familiar territory.
“It’s important to note the relatively high numbers who do not feel supported in independent study … we know that the skills developed through independent study are important to employers and to lifelong learning. Providing guidance and structure outside timetabled sessions is key here.”
So there is potentially much to be gained from shifting our focus from measuring staff input to considering how best to offer our students what they need.
For department chairs and administrators, there remains a thorny administrative problem: it’s far more difficult to assess whether a multi-strand ‘presence’ strategy has been executed successfully than it is to count timetabled contact hours. But from the student perspective, if the present disruption forces us to focus on the fundamentals, this can only be a good thing.
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:
The Association of British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH) is the leading organisation for scholars of nineteenth-century U.S. history in the UK. In recent years, the association has sought to involve itself in initiatives to address issues surrounding inequality, underrepresentation, and discrimination in the field of U.S. History and is particularly keen to encourage greater racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity among students studying U.S. History at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
History UK is providing £500 to help strengthen BrANCH’s relationships with institutions and individuals working in secondary education. Four teachers from local secondary schools will be invited to participate in a panel on 12th October at the 2019 Annual BrANCH Conference at the University of Edinburgh.
This panel, which will consist of both secondary school and university teachers of U.S. history, has three main aims.
To share teaching practices, specifically regarding new digital archives and online resources that can be utilised in the classroom. Participants will focus on resources that allow access to non-traditional sources that can be used to develop new curriculum which moves beyond uncritically white- and male-centred histories of the United States.
To discuss issues of diversity and equality among staff and students in the field of U.S. History in the UK. Panellists will share views from their vantage points in different areas of the education system and reflect on why certain racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups are underrepresented in the field of U.S. History beyond GCSE/A-Level.
To explore future steps BrANCH and its individual members can take to address these issues, focussing on long-term collaborative initiatives between secondary school and higher education teachers.
The principal aim is to raise awareness regarding issues of discrimination, underrepresentation, and inequality in our field. This will further facilitate the building of networks between these teachers and BrANCH members, most of whom teach in higher education.
Alys Beverton (Cardiff University and Marketing and Fundraising Officer for BrANCH) said:
“BrANCH has been wanting to strength ties between its members and colleagues working in secondary schools for a while now. With this support from History UK we’re going to be able to actually get some of us together in the same room to have face-to-face conversations about issues relating to equality and diversity in our field, as well as share ideas about new learning materials we can all use to bring the latest resources into our classrooms. We’re really hopeful that this will be the starting point for what will grow into longer-term relationships between BrANCH and secondary school teachers in Edinburgh and perhaps beyond.”
Lucinda Matthews-Jones (co-convenor of History UK) said:
“We’re really pleased, at History UK, to be able to support BrANCH in furthering subject conversations with local school teachers by providing financial support to bring 4 teachers to their conference both as delegates and speakers. As a sector we have a lot to learn from our secondary school counterparts on how history is taught to our students before they come to university. We welcome the opportunity to assist with this collaboration.”
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.”