Push the tempo

You’ll be shocked to read that people only have short attention spans, especially online.

This not only gives me the occasion to write a short post, but also allows me to remind you of this fact when thinking about your ventures into online L&T.

As part of the work I’ve been doing with colleagues recently on preparing for the autumn, a consistent message from the literature and the practical advice is to keep it concise, and keep it frequent.

That means making your online lectures into 15 minute blocks and group activities that can be broken up into smaller chunks.

It also means talking a lot more to your students, regularly producing interactions and demonstrating the continuing nature of the work. It’ll not be enough to set out a workplan at the top of the semester, then sitting back and waiting for the assessment to roll in.

You know this, both from your previous experience with students and from your current situation.

In both cases, the presence/absence of being co-located means you lose much of the soft interactions that help sustain interest and engagement: the chat in the corridor, the messages relayed through mutual contacts.

Think about how you’re working now, in lockdown: a lot more structured interactions and meetings, alongside a lot more undifferentiated time where you could be doing lots of things (writing that grant bid/article/etc.), but you’re possibly not.

[and yes, blog writing is a good example of this]

Students are in the same boat, and even if lockdowns aren’t as strict, then the nature of distance learning is that it’s really hard to get and keep someone’s attention if they’re down the line.

So if you want to make your teaching work better online, then you’ll have to lean into it: not just reproducing what you’d do in class, but creating a novel structure that guides, supports and interacts with students in a rather different manner to before.

That’s not an exact science, but the most useful rule of thumb is still that you’re not as interesting as you think you are, so you will need to work for students’ attention.

And with that, let’s back to whatever it was we were doing beforehand.