Conversations on online learning

Episode 9. Aurelie Soulier

March 12, 2021 Digital Support Partnership Episode 9
Episode 9. Aurelie Soulier
Conversations on online learning
Show Notes Transcript

Stuart Taylor (ST): hello i'm stuart taylor and welcome to conversations on online learning a podcast in which we discuss online learning and how to support it in each episode we'll ask our featured guests to relate their old particular area of expertise and experiences and we'll discuss how this has informed their understanding of online learning we'll also ask our guests to share their advice for teaching and learning support staff who want to enhance and develop their own online learning support. 


Our guest today is Aurelie Soulier who joins us from swindon welcome 


Aurelie Soulier (AS): thank you


ST: and so early firstly well can you maybe just tell our listeners what you do and how you came to do that



AS: okay i'm a learning technologist i work for uh university college london ucl and i've only been in this position for a few weeks i started in january but i have been a learning technology since 2006 so a long time a long story as well on how i got to there but to shorten the story basically i was a teacher i did a pgce here in the uk in uh 2004 i arrived in the uk as a teaching assistant from france as you can hear from my accent and so i did my pgce learn taught mfl for very short period of time then i decided it wasn't for me so i went to do an msc in computing at oxford brooks university as a conversion course then i decided to teach it still wasn't for me but i found that position at the time which was called flexible learning support officer at cronkite university in shrivenum so near swindon and and that's the start of the story i became a learning technologist and um i then did learning design and i was an e-learning consultant for catalyst i.t uk as well europe um and i'm back now as a learning technologist for university i was actually missing academia 


ST: that's a really interesting and journey there and especially i guess the with what we're going through just now with a lot of and high school education and now going online as as well in a way in which higher education is as well there's a lot of that kind of crossover there and so i'm really interested in your areas of expertise there and you mentioned like learning design kind of and what what other kind of areas are do you call your own in in the field of online learning 


AS: well learning design is is my main area um assessment which fits within learning design so aligning learning outcomes of assessment actually using assessment first as a principle for learning design but also and that fits with both e-portfolio practices as well and that's inspired by my forever working buddy Sam Taylor as we worked four years before and then not together and then again together catalyst and we will always collaborate and work together so she is the queen of e-portfolio and she's taught me everything i know about it but develop a really keen interest in assessment and learning design and and working around those areas so these are my key areas but within learning design one of the key things that has especially been more important recently is learning design for digital well-being and aligning that so and trying to find a balance between student engagement and well-being for student and staff so that's been a key area 


ST: yeah and that's that's that's fantastic as well and i think that it's one of those terms that perhaps a lot of people thought they knew what it was involved and then this current context is bringing a whole new kind of um perspective on that as well and as you say important to both student and staff and and negotiating those and it's a massive topic as well i'm really interested what do you think the the kind of key issues within uh well-being and online learning are today 


AS: so the shift uh last march april especially to a lot more of delivery of online of learning online as opposed to online learning as we would normally have done for the last few years when i did develop uh content it was for the purpose of learning online or blended but designed for that whereas when we shift and what people call a pivot which can be a dirty word nowadays um when we shift to online from face to face so those people who had no choice to deliver what they would normally have done face to face online it wasn't designed for it so what happened is that created a burden on the using live online communication like zoom and blackboard collaborate and be good button all those tools were then the new classroom and um that was ana sterli's um so i have five children at home uh four out of five of them have live lessons and as they would have in class almost okay they're not always the same length as they would have in class but there's a lot of screen fatigue or something called zoom fatigue or teens fatigue and there's a lot of uh lack of balance of time to process the information and for the learning to happen and uh there's one of my children struggle with the subject if they wouldn't normally because it's approached differently and they don't have the feedback or the possibility of feedback interaction because there's no space for their teacher to do that because it wasn't designed to be taught on the screen basically um but they also haven't been given resources to do that and and that's the problem that's what creates that digital fatigue um and and those tensions between having to actually carry on with the education do the best we can and it's been what happened march april may up to the summer was the best we can and then turns out this new lockdown people were more prepared but it meant that for students on secondary school on primary in certain circumstances a children pupils it meant that it was a lot more intensive as well so how do you keep them engaged without asking them to just turn their camera on because that doesn't make them engaged and how do you um also give them the space to to take time for themselves and process that and that's a that's a big question um so again um we've uh presented with sam taylor probably a couple of months ago and a webinar that people can probably access if you search for a catalyst i.t webinar on learning design tips for digital well-being um these are we were just discussing options of things you can maybe do and look at to try and make space for that digital well-being because if you think of um muscle principles you know people have to feel well before they can do the blooms you know before they can learn otherwise if they not they don't have their basic needs filled and well-being filled they won't be in a good position to learn and that's kind of getting that balance um 


ST: yeah and those are those are like massive issues i'm so happy to hear that you've had those conversations uh with with catalyst idt and in that webinar which we'll definitely link to as well um so i guess what what have you seen kind of from this perspective of of your own kids learning and then kind of observing that on the side and then working with staff to enable that what were some of the things that you've seen that people should perhaps be aware of there are maybe some kind of like you know myths or assumptions about well-being and to start off and and maybe what kind of things should people be doing to to consider exactly Laslow before they go into Bloom 


AS: so and we the things we can see is the obviously the overload of life teaching and uh little space so simple things is breaking down that load um obviously as we heard flipping also giving some material before then use the video to actually have those discussions like inform discussions rather than just teacher to many delivery and that's all of these principles are basically think about human interaction and think about not just i'm using the technology to do what i would normally do face to face but what can i do with a technology that i couldn't do face to face where will it help me and if you think as a teacher that's one question for every lesson is there something in this lesson i can actually use the technology to help me rather than think of it as a constraint a buyer to to get to my my students so that in terms of learning design that will really help and sometimes it's not much because it's not a subject or topic that you've thought about it that you can actually design that way but often you will find something um so try those things but very very importantly tell the students you're trying something new so they can give you feedback take that feedback it doesn't always work the first time often it doesn't so take that feedback and try again and and that's the best advice i can give people is just try something new don't try too many things new because the students can get overwhelmed and that's another mistake so we've seen from some of our clients when i was a catalyst the universities who said one of the key issues was when we moved online and didn't flip classroom they gave them activities online and then meet face to face they gave them too much more than they would normally do face to face on that time same amount of time so think about how much time the students will spend doing those activities um and that's because we were unconsciously compensating for not being present with the students so it's finding the key activities actually line up with assessment line up with learning outcomes and will have they will have the time to do within within that hour so that you can give them a group project for an hour that would normally take a few weeks uh in the classroom yeah so these were the the key things that you encounter so lack of feedback lack of human touch or human touch but sometimes too much emphasis on the tools that you're using and all of these can can be fixed basically but they didn't require thinking and time which in the emergency situation we haven't had a chance to or resources to do um so it's not time to think about that and and and try and and improve that but we have seen a lot of really good practices so little things where icebreakers you know making students feel comfortable talk about their daily life being more human still and if you have a brother or sister or if you have parents behind you a cat or you know people showing their pets has been a brilliant thing during the pandey mix and it's um and actually there is research that um shows that it creates uh some kind of feeling good almonds serotonin to release serotonin when you see on animals so one key things that you can do is wear slides with some animals which is fun and it's nice and it helps people relax um well talking and walking meetings have been a really big things especially in the university environment so walking meetings where people don't wear a sharing screen is not required for example uh so they can be a wrench in advance but also talking class or a podcast that's been recorded and advice on the LMS or VLE that's being used to say this is a recording you can go for a walk while you listen to it so pointers narrative around the content that's being given as well has been really important 


ST: that's fab and yeah i couldn't agree tomorrow i'm so happy to see um the deluge of of cats on twitter it's just it it fills me with joy every time and to know that there's um good research behind that that is actually just reminding us that we're you know as you said and i really want to talk about that wonderful term that you've used a few times now about the human and about the human being human and human touch of course like even as a metaphor the fact that we're right now can't touch many people and and we're dealing with technology which kind of limits our um human to human touch but we're clearly there's a tactile thing going on and we are all bodies as well so there's loads of things that are just like sparking off for me there i wonder is that a term that you kind of come back to again and again 

AS: yeah so um i have kind of uh created the uh hashtag on twitter when i do a lot of posting around this piece and i haven't really started blogging around this but i will at some point which is #edtechhumans um which i've used a lot because education technology is often tools versus people you know it feels like it's the tech versus the people but really with other people their innovation their thinking the pedagogy that comes out of teachers the tools are meaningless and they need to be used for a purpose and a human purpose because education is human to human principle um and that actually was really a really nice touch in your first recording of this series and uh if if listeners haven't listened yet to that first podcast to go back to it and it's really an application in the teaching contest context uh it was really good the humanizing movement and there are if you for those people who are on twitter there's a lot about humanizing education and some key people in the united states especially but um for me it's always been a principle for learning design so um one of the key things the tip i give all academics when i help them with learning design is when you're writing your content to be delivered online think about it slightly different from the classroom in a classroom you will be there's you and a group of students in front of you but when you're teaching online is you and there's one person behind their screen so talk to them as if they're one person sometimes there's group work and then you can address them as a group or in a live situation where there's one too many but when you write for online content the description the labels talk to that one person address them as an individual because when they receive that information when they read they are on their own behind the screen and they want that communication um but also be there to support them and and that means as an academic it doesn't mean being there 24 7 because that's not good for your well-being but sign posting times and tools or situations where they can get in touch if they're struggling where they can get in touch to get feedback uh or it could be signposting to their peers as well if there's a forum for example where they can uh discuss things so it's supporting but always like you said just now connecting with other humans 


ST: yeah lovely and i think that that's that's so important and to the way you phrase it there to speak as if because you are speaking to an individual and i think that we've heard or have heard a lot of kind of anxiety about that problem quote-unquote about um lectures or teaching stuff facing um you know a sea of blank screens of people who won't turn their cameras on and it can feel quite confrontational and then experiences from the students on the other end they also see that but they've also got um maybe quite an intimidating authority figure demanding a lot of things from them as well that can be very intimidating too and having a that idea of breaking it down to a one-to-one um communication first of all as if you would speak area i think that's so useful a place to start both from uh effective pedagogy standpoint but also in terms of well-being to not overwhelm yourself as a member of staff that you have to you know deliver by transmission that you have you can build in those constructivist principles as well and just enable people to to -  not fend for themselves but -  to work together as opposed to work together 


AS: and there's a there's one of the other principles which we forget which is um the appetite ability to take risk and to um have the opportunity to fail because that's part of learning and and for um lecturers not all of them but some lecturers who feel safe in the lecture space so lecturing one too many actually being on live on the live lecture is very isolating for them because like you just said people turn their cameras off and you don't have that feedback so to understand what um if people are receiving um you know and you don't have that that human touch basically so doing these um sessions that where they would have like a transmission uh pre-recorded is less isolating because they are anywhere in front of their camera and then having a discussion afterwards where people if it is discussion they're more likely to turn their camera on if they don't turn that camera on it's probably because they can't because they've got their parents arguing the background or they got three other siblings studying or you know there are there are reasons why people but actually create all the opportunities to engage so that could be um we're talking zoom today that could be a poll for example that could be or it could be an lms of choice in moodle for example it could be um antimatters and that kind of tools so using that create work class and so that's still engaging the students and you know their reaction in echo 360 another recording tool there is a little flag where people um say the confused the confused flag so if you haven't got your cameras on you can see i'm going through an explanation and the students are really a few of them are marking it as confused now so i can either address it right now or make a note go back to the recording and then do another class or explanation or pre-recording later so it's about picking up those feedback elements that make us human so um just about having the opportunity to to communicate and say where we got lost or in a forum any tool as long as there's an opportunity for feedback i think that's quite important 


ST: yeah definitely and i think that you've brought us really nicely onto the the lms says or the learning management system as a kind of environment in which you're structuring that and not as uh an appendage to uh face to face um which i think maybe um in recent years it kind of was for for many a depository for 


AS: a repository for lectures right for a bunch of notes for powerpoints yes 


ST: oh yes so so many um yeah info dumps that i can i can remember myself to deal with as a student as well and i think that what you're saying there is starting to think about structuring the the lms for those um moments and opportunities for feedback as well is that is that something that you kind of and help staff with in your work?


AS: yes that's correct so in learning design um and sometimes it won't be used because everything is fine and the students are okay with it but have it it doesn't take much to actually create a forum or a choice or a poll um just to check as you would do in the classroom to at one point you people lecture they will check they will at least look at the students check if they're understanding ask if there's any question so that point is a natural point where you can add an interaction and also it's a point to break down the lecture if it's quite a long you know 50 minutes an hour kind of delivery and now if it's a recording it's a good point to then you know have a checkpoint and then use it to carry on but yes that's correct so the tools are used for a purpose only don't try all the tools in the box the students won't thank you for it and also if they have to learn a lot of new tools it's quite challenging so it's finding that balance between trying to engage them getting something new sometimes but also not too many new things because it's too much of a challenge and also it's harder for some students who have bad difficulties to approach learning sometimes when there are new tools all the time so whether it's accessibility or i've got an interest i haven't mentioned at the start of the conversation is i've got an interest in looking at how students with attention disorders specifically may find some of the learning online because it's very different and and they often used to have coping mechanisms with classroom situations but they don't necessarily have been told how to cope with online situations uh with attention i i'm not diagnosed with attention disorders but i know i have some traits of attention difficulties and i know how to cope with it face to face in meetings etc but actually transferring online it has been quite a learning process and i'm learning and i'm studying and i'm reading around that at the moment because i find this fascinating having to transfer coping with attention difficulties online but i still haven't got answers on this so it's just another thing but it's something to consider when you're teaching because when we're teaching face-to-face we know we have students in the classroom that may have any range of learning difficulties or um or disabilities and so when we're online we have to to steal us and even more than face-to-face i'd say because face-to-face you can deal with these because you see them happening but online you'll not necessarily see the students struggling for whichever reason but there are some great tools for accessibility specifically uh like in lms's now you've got plugins that allow you to actually check minimum specifications for accessibility like ally um and there are amazing people in universities and in colleges that can help with checking accessibility as well so it's use people in your institutions use your learning technologies use your accessibility officer to actually ask those questions if you're not sure 


ST: that's fantastic advice as well um and we were that remind me of a conversation we're having and with with gavin henrik who is a Moodle specialist as well and talking about how this is a wonderful opportunity it's obviously a terrible you know um time in in in the world but in in terms of what positiveness is bringing i think in that focus on accessibility and inclusion as a foundation rather than something that happens later it is something that i'm i'm really really happy about um and as well just for people who perhaps never realized that they were struggling and in in face-to-face settings are and and are like and why am i struggling why am i finding this difficult now what is different here and both as educators and students giving us pause to kind of consider um what it is that's going on so again there's so much that we don't have answers to which i guess is really exciting 


AS: yes but as educators if we're asking the questions that's a good start you know it's the beginning um and um it's about also passing that to the next generation of educators so for those doing pgce and pg caps etc it's making sure we we have those pointers for them to start you know studying researching understanding those those issues um but yes going back to to gavin's podcast last month uh it's uh the the UDL [Universal Design for Learning] principle is really important so universal design for learning because if you think in terms of um physical space udl is now much better the universal design of spaces so that if you if you create your spaces and it could be for us online spaces we've uh in mind the if you create your spaces within mind the people who have more needs then it will be helpful for everyone so that's very important to remember there are so many things so many little ingredients to help people with their learning approaches and mental well-being um so it's about trying different ingredients that work for you and for your delivery 


ST: that's great advice as well and i i think that i'm i'm really interested to see the kind of resources that i'm still collecting lots of them myself because there's a wealth of them um right now um and i wonder if you exploring this this yourself um and i know the kind of work that you did with with catalyst think in the run-up to christmas it was the advent calendar i think oh recently i said that was really good and so maybe if you want to talk a little bit about that and then other resources you could point people towards 


AS: yeah so um at CatalstIT  uh on the ramp to christmas we started last year well previous christmas um and we had an advent calendar with tips for moodle users every day and some of them are more generic than just a moodle platform again it's about learning design some of them were definitely moodle plugins for example but so the idea was to use a um pop-up format so grid format in moodle to actually give a little piece of information every day and build this information for people to actually um come and go and choose to to use the information as they need so more technical some more learning design and we repeated that this year um with um also supported by the digital wellbeing webinar that we've done uh the previous months with sam taylor and uh but also leading to the moodle educator certificates which sam is managing for catalyst and delivering that and that all fits together is helping educators who use moodle in this case we use edtech to actually choose the right tools and the right approaches for teaching learning assessment professional development etc um and and that's been really successful and we've been able to engage people but it's also really nice because it's part of that open source and sharing principle where we are trying to share with different universities different institutions and people have engaged and discussed things online by twitter following that as well which has been useful but we've always had really good engaged universities in our client base anyway so people um uh and in the moodle community is very much true as well so people like um dublin city university uh when i was working at cranfield university ucl we've always exchanged tips on um plugins and uh approaches so for example uh when we worked at cranfield university we used concept from the ucl baseline so that's about templating your modules and supporting staff to help fill in those templates in a meaningful way to help the learning uh so we put that together based on ucl templates and we then presented at the alt conference uh based on that together um and and this sense of community in the edtech space is amazing so you've got wednesday nights for the um learning technology uh chat lth chats on twitter which also get people discussing those topics together last week was about the role of the lecture in uh education in the future of the role of the lecture now we've been through the pandemics will it still be something so there's a lot about sharing especially through platforms like twitter that are now possible a lot of learning technologists and educators are sharing their um yeah that's been really interesting yeah 


ST: that's wonderful and we'll to all those uh resources and and communities that that you and point us towards but i totally agree and just the the warmth and the openness of um i'm fairly new to this field myself and and um going along to the uh uh association for learning technology to the all uh summits was just it was wonderful and people were so open to to share and on twitter as well like joining those twitter chats and i think we're we're speaking and with with ulta deadpath that maybe in another episode there but like she was like i'm talking about the the kind of the the wonderful function that that's providing and for having that continual feedback amongst people who are experiencing the same thing been a slightly different context from all over the place and and it's just so rich and sorry i went off on one there but 


AS: this is it i also find that alt is a really good place for that so the the the annual conference but the winter conference as well which obviously was online this year um and but also the opportunity for people to actually reflect on their own practice doing cmos and that's not just for learning technology it's a lot of academics you see mold and that's really good to see and the actual portfolios are then published and shared so you can learn from all those practices and all those interests um and some people are more tool focused more technology focused more education focused some people do more in-depth research like qualitative and quantitative research for the students or they try new teaching practices and learning and teaching techniques um so it's a wonderful thing um to read and to see 


ST: if only we had the time to read all the portfolios of course we're so busy which is great because there's so many innovations but so basically i think what i like and what i've taken away from the conversation with with yourself today is that there isn't at least in these communities i i don't often get the sense that there's a fetishization of the technology and itself there is reminding us of the human and and a lot of what you've kind of said there is like having the space to say okay this is the time to step away from a screen and and do something as well and then there there's there's humans on either side there's some tech in between but they don't have to you know be plugged in and use that so often and i think that you've given us some wonderful um resources and and ways of thinking about that and too so um i is there anything i've like glossed over at all that you maybe want to say a bit more about 


AS: i don't know but when you've just said that i thought oh there are plenty of other examples of things and activities i've just released oh please like i think we've got time unless you have to run away so maybe you want to you know one other example that is again some uh taylor's uh uh kind of brought it to the fore when we designed the um uh well-being uh digital well-being webinar was uh giving students an activity to do where they actually get off their screen they write something on paper or they draw something or they design something and then they either take a photo and submit it in the in the vle or they show it on screen or they just keep it for themselves but they've gone through that thinking process and learning process and then they get back to um the whether it's a live lecture or recording etc so giving them tasks where they can be active feeling that they're not looking at a screen basically uh is is great for well-being and and so that could be this or it could be like i said walking uh whether it's pacing around the house if you're in lockdown or walking in your garden if you're lucky enough to have one whichever approach but um sometimes the activity is very important the other thing that i have forgotten to mention was the use of music now so that can go both ways some people can be unsettled with music but with the right choice of music um starting your life session uh while people are waiting and joining in with some music can be really nice and welcoming and also um uh using uh the students so getting them to put a playlist together for starting elections so that's a form of engagement but a nice light touch human way and you get to know each other through this music is a great way of doing that some people have been using when they had especially breakout rooms using a background somebody plays music in the background and then everybody in the group while they work together on something um especially if they have offline tasks but they they are listening to each other so they can be music in the background to work some people concentrate better with music but again some people don't so it's about asking as well whether it's something they would like but it's been it's um it can be really relaxing and really really good for well-being 


ST: that's great and thank you so much and it's just given uh some really concrete examples of ways in which you think you can think about a a live space um and it's so and can be so intricately layered in a way that doesn't necessarily take a whole lot of time but each of those decisions can have such a positive impact on people's well-being whether that's the feeling of community if it's students building a playlist together the feeling that um there it's a bit more relaxed it's kind of like background coffee um shop music oh i miss coffee shops so much um but just like to relax into that and then of course the choice for any one individual to um mute um that the sound if it's too distracting as well and just flagging that up say feel free to meet this if you don't if it's too distracting so all of that can it just could be something that i think would be easily overlooked and but it's important to to kind of focus on that so thank you so much for that example i think that's that's really great yeah so um thank you so much for for speaking with us today uh early and people i'm sure will want to find out more about what you do where's the best place for them to go 


AS: currently, @edtechyogi on twitter which is my handle and otherwise probably email so um but yes if you go on twitter you will find me and i will reply and i will engage and i'll be more than happy to share anything and any tips but also learn from you especially if you have feedback from today's conversation uh anything i get wrong that you've tried but didn't work for you that's great i want to learn from from everyone as well that's super so you heard that everyone you know take that an invitation and and get in touch with orally 


ST: it just remains for me to say thank you so much for joining us today uh for our conversations on online learning um and have a lovely day 


AS: thank you, and you