A young women listening to a lecture online sitting with laptop open and headphones on.

While there may be challenges associated with online learning, it can encourage students who may not have spoken up during face-to-face discussions to do so.

Dr Maddi Davies, associate professor of women’s writing at the University of Reading, recently shared her positive teaching experiences in a piece for Times Higher Education, revealing that the shift to online learning has prompted less-confident students to express their views.

Dr Davies said:

“When I call a student’s name, everyone else is ‘muted’ and the space is reserved for the student who wishes to add an idea. There is no need to try to find a gap in someone else’s monologue or to struggle to make a softer voice heard amid booming baritones: there is time to frame an idea and there is space in which to present it.

“For those relatively few students who feel uncomfortable speaking on mic, the ‘chat’ provides an alternative route for expression. It is the ideal function for the socially anxious and it is a space designed to help the quieter voices be heard.

“We are used to saying that online teaching is no ‘real substitute’ for classroom teaching, but, as in this case, it is equally true to say that the online environment offers functions which the ‘real’ classroom cannot replicate.

“Online delivery also seems to defeat self-consciousness, the enemy of seminar debate. My camera is switched on during online sessions, but I make no such demands on my students. Some like to use the camera but most do not; with my image contained in a tiny box at the bottom of the screen, few students visible, and with no eyes turning towards them, students seem to feel free to speak without the fear of negative judgement. As with the ‘chat’ function, there is little possibility of replicating this in the ‘real’ classroom.”

Dr Davies’ students reflections show that, for them, her teaching has worked well online, and have praised her for managing to keep lessons personal.

Third year student Martha Walliss said:

“My experience within Maddi’s class, Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, has been both memorable and enjoyable. Maddi’s engaging and inclusive ways of teaching encouraged participation from all students, whilst her passion towards the author was clearly transmitted on screen.

“Due to my position as a joint honours student, I experienced some clashes with my timetable at the beginning of term. Maddi went the extra mile and scheduled a one-to-one class with me, meaning that I could continue with the module.

“I am entirely grateful for her efforts and was sad to leave the class behind this term. I could not have asked for a better lecturer and am extremely pleased with the grade I received for my final portfolio.”

Fellow third year student Kitty Hawkins said:

“Before term, Maddi uploaded a weekly roadmap outlining questions and topics focused on in seminars, including secondary resources that prove useful for wider context. Maddi sends prompt email replies and runs a weekly ‘surgery’ session answering any worries or queries students may have about the assessed portfolio.

“Alongside the invaluable lecture screencasts which can be watched and paused at student convenience, I feel fully supported in my studies.”

Dr Davies hopes that the lessons learned through online teaching, both metaphorically and literally, will not be forgotten once face-to-face teaching resumes.

She said:

“With much conversation within the sector currently geared towards inclusion, it might be a good idea to take forward what we have learned about the inclusive potential of online teaching, particularly for those students who have traditionally struggled to have their voices heard in the ‘chilly classroom’.

“Returning to ‘normal’ should involve responding actively to these lessons in engagement and inclusion and trying to find equivalents for online functionality within the physical domain.”

Do you have any positive reflections on online learning? Let us know at studentcomms@reading.ac.uk.

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