Social interactivity and remote learning environments

The Pre-Sessional Program (PSP) for Masters’ students in the Crawford School initiated a trial of online learning with incoming international students before Covid-19, the bushfires, smoke hazard, and the hailstorm changed the landscape in Canberra.

The program is a course enabling transition to university, which is available to both domestic and international students, but is mandated for international students. The nature of the course encompasses a pastoral, community building role, an enculturation role, and directly supports students to ensure they have the necessary academic skills to succeed in ANU.

The value of the Pre-Sessional Program

Staff from Academic Skills, the library and the Crawford School of Public Policy taught the program intensively during the summer and mid-year periods, with an online pilot delivered in summer 2020. This focussed on the academic skills and library/research skills components incoming students would need, with the resulting feedback from students confirming that the aspect they most appreciated in the course was the interactivity with a diverse group of people.

They commented that they really valued being part of a group which helped them to recognise their own and others’ strengths and weaknesses. Many others commented that the networking and collaboration with their classmates was one of the best aspects of the Pre-Sessional Program.

Building on these needs for high levels of social connectedness, the team looked at how to include these aspects in an online iteration of the course. As the course was designed as part of an Interactive Learning Project (iLEAP), the emphasis of the design was centred on interactivity, on students interacting with one another, with the course content, and with their teachers.

The first step was to ensure there was a comprehensive orientation and induction to the course and the various technologies to be used. This process ensured students were introduced to each other in a variety of ways, with some more confronting than others, which was demonstrated by a comment from one student saying that ‘posting a voice recording was outside my comfort zone’.

Padlet image
Padlet board

Information about the students’ backgrounds and their aims for participation in the course was shared across the group using the Feedback/Survey tool in Wattle. Other tools used to promote interactivity included Discussion forums, both formal and informal, a voice Discussion board; the Feedback tool, Padlet and Zee maps. Students were also encouraged to use Wattle based tools for personal reflection, including writing a learning journal.

A series of videos produced by the iLEAP media team were also made which emphasised the students’ critical thinking skills and enlivened their knowledge and skills acquisition. These and other video materials and quizzes enabled some degree of interactivity – modes of interaction that may be expanded to include the use of Zoom, Sharepoint and Teams in remotely delivery of the course.

An example of the “critical thinking” series of videos produced

As a transition course, it is important that students have an opportunity to experience a wide variety of technologies, pedagogies and assessment formats, and that this as an opportunity to explore these in preparing for their learning and teaching at ANU. These courses usually attract a very enthusiastic and committed group of students, and we want to ensure they will have a comparable or even more effective experience that sets them up for future on campus, blended, hybrid or online learning.

July 2020

For more information contact the authors:
Anna Maldoni Graduate Research & Academic Skills Advisor, Crawford School of Public Policy
Claire Brooks is in the Education Design team (ECE) team – one of three teams within the ANU Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT)