Senior Lecturer Pauline Bomball teaches the elective Labour Law at the ANU College of Law. The course is usually taught on campus but due to COVID-19 it was run online in Semester 2, 2020, with a cohort of 264 students.
Pauline’s approach to course design and the use of resources and technologies, including Wattle and Zoom, demonstrates how large online classes incorporating synchronous sessions can be facilitated to maximise engagement.
Key features of the course included:
- a focus on scaffolding and situating students in the course each week by developing roadmap resources which were used consistently throughout the course
- a clearly structured and uncluttered Wattle site
- actively engaging students online in synchronous classes through an interactive teaching style, the use of the chat function, and the occasional use of Zoom breakout room
- utilising retrieval practice via Zoom polls to reinforce learning (Brown, Roediger, McDaniel, 2014, 41)
- active learning activities including student-led analysis of problem scenarios and the use of a policy reform lab format to enable students to apply their knowledge to current issues in labour law
CEIST asked Pauline to share her thoughts about teaching online and how this may influence the design of the course when it returns to on campus mode.
CEIST: Feedback from your students indicates that they were very engaged throughout the course. Could you describe your teaching style and elaborate on the activities and approaches that you used to support student engagement, including the use of educational technology in the course?
Pauline: I have an interactive teaching style. In my view, students learn best when they are engaging actively with the course materials. I aim to create a respectful learning environment in which students are encouraged to engage in discussion and debate with each other and with me.
In Semester 2 of 2020, I taught Labour Law in an online format for the first time. I have been asked to reflect upon some of the activities and approaches that I used in that course. I should note that these are all works in progress. There is much room for improvement.
Each week, I delivered two 90-minute live Zoom lectures, where I worked through the course materials with the students. Where possible, I adopted my preferred dialogic model of teaching, which involved engaging in a conversation with the students about the materials. In most weeks, students were also given problems to work through and these were discussed in the live Zoom classes. In the second half of the semester, I introduced the Labour Law Policy Reform Labs, each of which was designed to generate discussion about a particular topical issue (Labour Law Policy Reform Lab I – The Casualisation of the Australian Workforce; Labour Law Policy Reform Lab II – The Awards System and COVID-19; Labour Law Policy Reform Lab III – Enterprise Bargaining: Challenges and Possibilities). In the first of these labs, students debated the issues in small ‘buzz groups’ (Batey, 2013) before coming together as a class.
At the start of some of the live Zoom classes, I ran a quiz (created using the polling function on Zoom) to reinforce concepts that we had covered previously. In each week of the semester, I put together a weekly roadmap that provided students with a brief snapshot of the course at that particular point in time. These weekly roadmaps constituted one plank of the ‘conceptual overviews’ (Teaiwa, 2005, 8) that I sought to provide throughout my course. This involved giving students, in classes and through communications online, an overview of the previous week’s materials, an outline of the following week’s materials, and an explanation of the ‘conceptual relationships … between’ the two (Teaiwa, 2005, 8). I also used the class discussions and online posts to draw links between the course materials and current events. In addition to communications in class and on the Wattle forum, I offered one-to-one Zoom consultations outside of class time to students who had questions about the course materials.
I would like to acknowledge the excellent assistance that I received from Sharon Elliott in CEIST. I approached Sharon for guidance on course design prior to the commencement of the semester. Sharon provided me with comprehensive advice on how to engage my students effectively in an online environment. She also did multiple practice runs with me on Zoom to make sure that I was comfortable using all of the settings. Sharon’s guidance enabled me to use many of the Zoom functions effectively in my online classes. I also found a lot of useful information on the College’s Engaged Online Learning Wattle site.
CEIST: Was there anything that particularly surprised you about the online teaching experience? What did you find most challenging about teaching online?
Pauline: I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to replicate some elements of the dialogic model of teaching effectively in the online environment. The live chat function on Zoom also opened up an additional avenue for student participation in class discussions. Students could post their questions to me via the chat function and I would answer those questions during the class. At times, I found it challenging to keep on top of both the oral discussions and the questions that were coming in via the chat function (especially when there were multiple questions posted simultaneously), but overall it was very manageable and enjoyable.
Due to travel restrictions, a number of my students were based overseas for the entirety of the course. Some could not access hard copy sources. This posed a particular challenge, especially in relation to the research essay (one of the assessment items), as some sources were available in hard copy only. In order to ensure that students were treated equitably, I changed the expectations for the research essay, so that students were required to engage only with materials that were available electronically.
CEIST: Has your experience teaching online prompted you to think about making any changes to the on-campus course? Would you use or adapt any of the approaches or technology tools?
Pauline: The Zoom breakout room function made it easy to divide students into small groups for discussion. I would like to incorporate small group discussions into my classes more often in future. Some of the tools that I used to scaffold learning and reinforce key concepts (including the in-class polls and weekly roadmaps) would be suitable for use in an on-campus course. I would also incorporate the Labour Law Policy Reform Labs into an on-campus course. There is much work to be done here – many more topics that could be covered, and many other techniques that could be invoked to foster discussion and reflection. I plan to develop these Policy Reform Labs further for next year’s Labour Law course.
I just wanted to email you to say thank you for teaching Labour Law. This was my last course in my undergrad law degree, and I can safely say it was my favourite. I thought everything you did was just so so good – the policy labs, the weekly roadmaps, your patience with responding to questions … seriously awesome and inspiring. My friends and I rave about your teaching style. Student Email
This course made me want to become an employment lawyer. I really liked the format of two 1.5 hour lectures. Despite the fact that they were over Zoom, they were interactive. SELT
Pauline is an encouraging lecturer, often promoting discussion and making people feel comfortable contributing. SELT
Pauline is a fantastic, engaging lecturer, she communicates extremely clearly. SELT
Pauline was an excellent teacher, really knowledgeable and always made a massive effort to connect with students. I also really enjoyed the addition of the Policy Reform Labs and appreciated the effort to draw our attention to recent developments in labour law and what they mean for us. SELT
Peter C Brown, Henry L Roediger, Mark A McDaniel, Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, (Harvard University Press, 2014) 23-43
Robert Batey, ‘Teaching Criminal Law: Buzzgroups, Short Writings, and Hypotheticals’ (2013, Stetson University College of Law Research Paper No 2013-10)
Teresia K Teaiwa, ‘The Classroom as a Metaphorical Canoe: Co-operative Learning in Pacific Studies’ (2005) 1 WINHEC: International Journal of Indigenous Education Scholarship 38
The Batey and Teaiwa sources are available on the ANU College of Law Engaged Online Learning Wattle site.
If you’d like chat about course design for online or on-campus classes, please don’t hesitate to contact CEIST: firstname.lastname@example.org.