Empathy is Key: Ensuring students remain engaged in a hybrid teaching environment

Next semester’s teaching looks set to be in a mode known widely as ‘hybrid’ teaching, with courses designed with varying degrees of face-to-face and remote online modes. Challenges and opportunities will arise in this environment for both students and teaching staff, and although we can use technology to make sure off-campus students can participate online, there are risks that some groups of students may feel left out or forgotten.

How can we maximise positive learning experiences for all students within these new constraints?  

The key ingredients for engagement of both remote and on-campus students include empathy, teacher presence, and an active community of inquiry.

Let’s start with empathy and look at how it can influence course design to create a positive student experience.  

‘Empathy in design’ is a concept related to an IT and web design idea called ‘user experience.’  Educators and education designers have adopted the concept and linked it to ‘student experience’ and ‘student-centred learning.’ 

Fundamentally, it is about walking in the shoes of students and constantly asking “how would I feel?” when making course structure and design decisions.  This is particularly critical to student experience in online environments, where participants do not have the same interpersonal social cues and experiences of the face-to-face experience. 

Using empathy in designing your course means putting the student experience at front and centre in considering aspects such as: 

  • Navigation 
  • Communication 
  • Teacher presence 
  • Belonging, community 

Here are some resources about ‘design thinking’, ‘human-centred design’ and ‘empathy in design’:

How do ANU educators keep online students engaged?

Some quick tips to liven up your course and keep students engaged 

  • Create ‘Watch Parties’ for your recorded videos – encourage students to watch in groups over Zoom and discuss. (This would be in their own peer groups rather than teacher-led.)
  • Use activities such as Wattle Quiz or Echo360 polls and quizzes alongside your recorded lectures. See our Coffee Courses on Engaging Students Online and Deep and Interactive Learning in Lectures
  • Recycle, don’t just re-use! Cut out parts of long recorded lectures to make short videos of the most relevant and interesting stuff.
  • Have regular live Zoom sessions with students just to answer questions about the course content and assessments. Put it in a section of the course with other materials on mental health, support available, and other material relevant to student well-being.
  • Provide a Zoom room as a Student Lounge, for students to use with each other to meet as they wish and provide peer support.
  • Provide discussion forums that have a clear purpose and structure. Make sure you participate so the students can expect to see an occasional response from you. Use voice or video occasionally rather than text.

July 2020

Help with course design and video editing can be obtained from your College Education Design teams, or by contacting CLT: clt@anu.edu.au 

Jill Lyall is an Education Designer in the Education Design (ED) team – one of three teams within the ANU Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT).