ASSESSMENT IN HE pt 5 – Modifying tutorials for remote learners

In the last post I discussed the importance of the tutorial. It is a wonderful chance for students to either develop understanding, consolidate it, or extend it. However, it must be carefully designed with the tutor being acutely aware of the position each student holds on the learning continuum.

The virtual tutorial should not be treated any differently in terms of outcomes, but some modifications will need to be made to accommodate the technology that must accompany it and the increased challenge of being able to assess progress.

Like in a regular face to face tutorial, your students will present with different levels of competence, and managing this is indeed a great skill. To put it simply, you must be prepared! You must, whilst consolidating understanding for some in the tute (paired and completion examples) have something that those who are seeking to extend their thinking can do too (independent examples). To counter some of the difficulty in this, it is a good idea to get students to work on the paired problems BEFORE the tute. This gives the students time to go through the narrated problem first and practice it in order to consolidate their knowledge and memory of how to solve such a problem. It also can provide you with more information of who will need more help in the tute, and whether assigning these students into working groups might help.

WITHOUT QUESTION, providing videoed examples with the tutor narrating their thinking processes in solving a problem is the best form of example.

Using groups in a virtual tute

Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of students in the tute can help set up appropriate groups. Students could self-nominate too depending on their understanding of their needs on a particular topic. These homogeneous groups, which you can set up in Zoom before the tute begins, can serve to take some of the pressure off you as you try to negotiate managing the demands of 10 – 15 online students. The more independent groups can almost propel themselves, with you only checking in occasionally to clarify or encourage/congratulate. The majority of your time then can be dedicated to the strugglers at the paired example level. Those at the completion problem stage still need attention, but some in this group may be able to offer advice that sets them right.

Whilst working in the groups, lecturers like Eshan Sharifi at Adelaide University encourage students to ‘chat’ using their regular social media tool to informally engage with the questions. This type of peer learning is very powerful, as long as it is set up so that ‘near transfer‘ of knowledge is achieved: learning that is close to the original context in which the original knowledge was learnt.

Tools such as Zoom have a learning curve. Ensure that you provide students adequate time to become accustomed to the technology before requiring them to engage with it. Ensure that they have set-up their audio correctly and know how to do so. Ensure they know how to mute and the role of muting as a sign of respect for the group and to mitigate embarrassing moments.

Tim Klapdor

Mitigating plagiarism

Of great concern is the ease with which a student could copy their group partners’ answers, and thus not learn very much at all. Besides triangulating assessment to give you a better indication if this is actually happening, and ensuring your design of problems promotes ‘near’ learning, the tutor can call on specific students to see their workings on problems that have just been given to them.

I’m a huge believer that success motivates success, and when students are confident and succeeding in solving problems, they will do it as often as possible without anyone else’s help. They won’t cheat because the feeling of getting things right and understanding concepts is a far better feeling than simply getting the grade by itself. All it takes is to honour the learning continuum, identify the extent of students’ schemata, and support their development using examples.

The tutorial then can be sectioned in time, with groups working together on tasks and then each coming together to demonstrate knowledge to the tutor at intervals.

Making it virtual

Below I will discuss the required adaptations needed to facilitate the 3 key components of a successful tutorial. Please read here about what worked examples are before you continue.

  1. Worked examples
  2. Discussions and questions
  3. Wandering the room

1 Worked examples

Type of exampleModificationHow it’s checked/submitted
Paired examples – verbally narrating the workings out as you take students through a problem, then giving them a completed problem with annotations and an unsolved problem of the exact level of difficulty to use as a guide.  The tutor will need to use a camera of some description to show students their workings. The camera/visualiser would then be a shared screen in Zoom. (See below for how to achieve this)The student then uses their phone as a camera to demonstrate their written completed paired problem. If the tutor sees misconceptions, they can ask for the student to photograph the work and upload it by sharing their screen. (See below for how to achieve this). The shared images could be added to a discussion page set up specifically for the tute.
Completion examples – getting students to complete partially solved/written problemsAs above, and then hand over to students. It is better if the students write out the full problem, or you could provide this for them in a resource section connected to tutorials in the LMSAs above
Independent solvingNAAs above

Technical considerations

There are 2 technical considerations to master to make the virtual tutorial as effective as a face to face experience.

The tutor – there are several ways to connect a camera to your computer that can then be seen via Zoom by your remote students.

  • The easiest option is to use a visualiser, purchased for @$120. This gives you lots of flexibility and you can move the camera around quite a bit. The best bit is that you can host the tute from your office if necessary. *note: the camera’s software driver will need to be installed on your computer
  • The next possibility is to use the document cameras supplied in lecture theatres and rooms around the university. *note: the camera’s software driver will need to be installed on your computer
  • An innovative approach is to use your phone as a camera held above your workings. If you can find a flexible holder that allows you to position the phone appropriately then this is a cheap and easy solution. The issue though is the size of the phone’s screen in trying to complete the rest of the tute and seeing other’s workings.

The student – some students may be a step ahead of you in terms of finding tech solutions, but lots won’t, so providing explicit clear instructions how to go about participating and submitting work in virtual settings is imperative. The students have several options to submit their work:

  • Using a laptop – students have watched your worked example and are now doing their own, probably on a piece of paper. This completed task now needs to be uploaded and shared to the tutor:
    • take a photo of it on a phone
    • share it to the laptop
    • share it to Zoom
  • Using a phone – as above, except they share to Zoom straight from their phone. In fact, there is an option to take a photo to share, reducing the number of processes which some students will prefer.

The uploaded responses will provide you with lots of formative assessment. With a student’s consent, particular misconceptions could be used as examples and worked through to adjust thinking. The potential embarrassment of the initial mistake will be evaporated when the student finally understand the process – truth be told, a clever teacher is able to use the example without it causing any embarrassment whatsoever – it’s all about the tone and level of expectations you set, that learning is hard at times, and that students should be proud for putting themselves on the journey.

2 Discussions and questions

Because students are able to hear via Zoom, you can conduct your questioning strategy in much the similar way to face to face questioning. The process remains consistent:

  • Asking questions
  • Waiting before seeking responses so students can think about an answer
  • Checking for understanding by asking several students for a response BEFORE saying if they are right or wrong.
  • Extending thinking by delving deeper into some answers: ask for contrasts, opposites, connections to other learning, how it could apply to other contexts, etc.

However, virtual etiquette will need to be explicitly taught and trained over several sessions before it is mastered. Explain to students expectations for responding. Explain to them, and demonstrate it, that they WILL be called on at some point in the session – that they won’t be able to hide. If you develop their metacognition and explain why you are asking lots of questions: that you are developing their schema via retrieval practice, and that a participation grade will only be rewarded when they attempt questions asked of them, students will have significantly more buy-in to what you are trying to achieve.

The virtual space can make it easier for students to hide from conversations, with a typical response to a question being silence. But this won’t happen if you conscientiously spread the questioning around. Continuous questions combined with students demonstrating their problem solving by uploading their paired, completed and eventual independent examples turn the virtual tutorial into an excellent source of formative assessment.

As Tim Klapdor, an online expert at Adelaide University suggests, ‘Encourage discussion by promoting the students’ voice. Use provocation as a tool for discussion. Ask the students to explain and expand on concepts, existing understanding and their opinions on topics. Get students to add to one another’s contributions by threading responses from different students. Promote a sense of community by establishing open lines of communication through positive individual contributions.’

Sharing work – very reliant on student consent, getting students to work in small homogeneous groups can be an effective strategy in the virtual tutorial. Students can easily share their screens with invited others, and this can be a good way for peer tutoring to be utilised. However, the selection of groups is key as is the timing of this strategy being used – it should be reserved for the completion example stage and beyond only.

3 Wandering the room

Obviously this isn’t possible in the virtual tutorial. However, it is important to keep a track on the virtual participants by asking lots of questions and using students’ names as often as possible. Direct address has a powerful effect on participation. If you have someone who is not comfortable responding with others listening, post questions to them and monitor their response.

The grading of work

This is then up to the tutor: perhaps after every second tute a summative type task is given to assess students’ understanding of the immediate domain of knowledge being taught. The frequency of the assessment is crucial. The more time between assessments the more chance of learning gaps developing, but more poignantly, the less chances students get to experience success after deliberate scaffolding. If you provide consistent smaller assessment that facilitates success, the more engaged they will be.

You may say that from experience the opposite is true – that students will realise that the assessments aren’t worth much and so won’t bother. BUT, before you equate this approach with previous experience, have you set the learning up in such a deliberate way that no learning gaps are possible, where students are continually made aware of their successes in answering questions and are continuously succeeding in assessment and so seeing the value in attendance and learning in general?

The next post will discuss using online quizzes.

*installing the software is simple, and can be done remotely by ITDS if required. You can download it here.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer. Follow me on @twitter

Author: paulgmoss

I live and breathe education. I try to teach what I know about learning. This blog represents ideas I have about education at the time of writing. I expect my ideas to change.

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