A deep dive into digital pedagogy

Scott shares the outputs from the ‘Myth-busting digital pedagogy’ workshops delivered in collaboration with the FE sector. Details of how to get involved with Jisc’s digital pedagogy deep dive working group are also included.


Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been running a number of ‘myth-busting digital pedagogy’ workshops across FE. We’re often asked, ‘what are examples of good digital pedagogy’ and ‘what are other people doing’? The workshops are a good way to crowdsource top tips of effective practice already taking place across the sector. For many staff, the pandemic has brought digital learning to the fore and (despite many of the challenges) our colleagues across FE shared a number of excellent examples.

Diver underwater
(Image by Lucatelles, available on Pixabay under a CC0 licence).

I want to share some of those tips with you in this post from the practitioners involved.

Keep it simple

Avoid overloading students with content by using too many digital tools at once – simple is best. Familiarity with a particular tool or platform can be reassuring for learners. The allure of shiny new technology is seductive. It’s tempting to think that if we adopt cutting-edge technologies then these things will transform our practice. However, the issue is that using innovative technology doesn’t make us more innovative.

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(Amy Hollier, recommending we ‘keep it simple’, Heart of Worcestshire College).

It’s possible to transform practice using the simplest of digital tools. This is one of the myths we explore in Jisc’s digital pedagogy toolkit.

We had some rich discussions in the workshops about how we need to rethink the structure of lessons. Trying to replicate two-hour face-to-face lessons online creates unnecessary stress on teachers and learners.

What can we do outside of the live session? We are all juggling personal commitments along with competing family priorities as we try to work from home – it’s the same for many of our learners too. If you can build-in asynchronous activities that they can complete outside of scheduled class times it gives learners more flexibility.

Encourage learner interaction

Making learners feel welcome and part of any live session from the start is key. That might include something as simple as greeting the learners by name as they join or designing a fun ice breaker to acclimatise them to the platform, using more informal approaches like sharing an emoji or GIF of how they feel, etc. One great example shared in the Transform Education community was to have your learners get an object from the house to share via webcam on a particular topic, as it got learners up and moving.

Think about how you can build-in learner interactions into sessions. This allows you to provide real time feedback to learners and check understanding.  After all, no one wants to listen to a monologue for the entire session.

Here are a few suggestions to flip the learning that came out of the workshops:-

  • Polls are a popular way of checking learning, whether you’re using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or another platform. On most platforms these can by made anonymous too, which encourages participation by not making learners feel exposed.
  • Use collaborative documents where learners can access content both during and after the live session (more on this later).

  • Include photos and images with a practical purpose to help personalise the learning. For example, one Animal Care lecturer asked students to share photos of their pets as an ice breaker, which helped to engage the students.

  • The Chat function in many platforms is a useful backchannel. This provides learners with a means of asking questions and sharing with peers. For a starter, ask learners questions at key points and ask them to respond in Chat. Acknowledge their contributions by name too, as this will help make them feel more involved.

Make use of breakout rooms

With so many platforms offering breakout rooms there’s a good opportunity to design smaller group work activities during live sessions too. This particularly works well if you have large class sizes where many students often feel too self conscious to speak up in front of large numbers.

Depending on the task, you can either randomise the participants in the breakout rooms (such as in Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc) or you can assign specific participants to each group. There are benefits to each approach. In the workshops we ran with our members we randomised the breakout rooms each time.  This gave a freshness to the activity as participants enjoyed discussing and sharing ideas with different people.

Breakout rooms do work well for small group conversations, but remember to check in on them to make sure everyone is on track.  Setting clear expectations of what you are asking students to do is key. For example, you may get each breakout room to feedback to the larger class, so may need a spokesperson. Alternatively, you may get them to add their thoughts on a collaborative document to share with everyone afterwards, so may need a scribe.

It’s also helpful to allot a set amount of time in the breakout rooms for each activity. This helps to focus students and ensures they don’t go off-topic – especially if they know they will have to feedback to the rest of the class after the breakout in some way.

Another common myth to live online sessions is that you have to cram every second with activity. You don’t. This can be stressful for the teacher and overwhelming for the students too.  Breakout rooms can give you a breather as well as provide students with the time they need to process the content covered and reflect.

Get involved

A big thank you to the FE Collaboration community, AP Connect South and the Land based colleges community for inviting us to share Jisc’s work around digital pedagogy. We want to continue working with you to develop effective digital practice. That’s why we’ve formed a digital pedagogy deep dive working group specifically for FE.

This is a group where you can share your challenges around digital pedagogy and work with us to develop a range of resources to address the challenges that matter to you.

To join the group complete our short registration form (applications close on the 31st March).

By Scott Hibberson

Subject Specialist (Online learning) at Jisc.

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