‘Live from the Hive’ in July

Live from the Hive continues next week, with two exciting sessions:

Monday 6 July at 14:00 BST

Jennifer Hamrick from Digital Communications talks about making web content accessible.

> Join event

Wednesday 8 July at 14:00 BST

Jennifer Taylorson, Director of Teaching in the International Education Institute, will share the St Andrews Good Practice in Online Teaching Guide – a current collaborative development.

> Join event

Recordings from previous Live in the Hive sessions (login required):

Prof Paul Hibbert: Delivering Teaching in Different Modes
Prof Kirstie Ball: Creating an engaging dual mode learning journey

Access and join the Hive.

Remote Teaching Case Studies: Raja Shah, School of Biology

Raja Shah is a fourth year student in Biochemistry on his placement year at the University of Edinburgh and we’re interviewing him about what it has been like studying remotely with St. Andrews. Raja has had a very positive experience with online learning and tells us that the supervision he has received from his supervisors in the School of Biology has been excellent. He didn’t doubt for a second that St Andrews had (and still has) the capacity to carry out online teaching successfully and to our usual high standards. Indeed, he thinks that all the resources that the University has put online since the pandemic broke out should be made available permanently. While he does occasionally miss face-to-face interaction, he thinks that our new way of doing things makes life a lot easier for our less physically able students who may not be able to attend university in person and he thinks that knowledge of how to use online resources makes students more employable.  The only major change has been to his study space. When the labs were all closed, and the libraries all shut, Raja had to adjust to working on his bed in his bedroom. But he did tell us that given the extraordinary context we were in, things could have been worse, and the only main challenge he faced was not falling asleep while working!

Could you tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews?

I am currently in my fourth year at the University of St. Andrews studying the integrated Masters in Biochemistry. I am on a placement at Professor Michael Walkinshaw’s lab at the University of Edinburgh. I’m working on a dissertation on glycolysis in the cell.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your study habits before the Covid-19 outbreak? What did you use until now?

I think I used technology a fair bit before COVID-19. Most of my coursework throughout my university life was done on the computer using Microsoft Office. When completing my coursework I used online journal articles a lot. I could find and read most of them online quite easily. Some work also needed access to certain specialty websites such as the BRENDA database or ExPASy. We were also taught how to use specific software like PyMOL, R, and SigmaPlot, and we used these programmes quite regularly throughout our work. In fact, we had a whole module dedicated mostly to teaching us R. Another module had a heavy bioinformatics workload where we had to run sequence alignments using the BLAST alignment tool.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching, learning, and study was moving online?

I was not surprised. The pandemic made it a necessary step and I had heard that most universities were already moving their teaching to an online platform. I didn’t have any concerns. I thought that St Andrews clearly had (and still has) the capability to carry out online teaching successfully. I actually think that this should have been done years ago to make things easier for our less able students who may not be able to attend university in person. I think all of the online resources we now have should still be made available after the pandemic.

How do you manage the process of learning and studying online?

I managed quite well to be honest; it was not a very difficult change. My St.Andrews coursework during my year away in Edinburgh is conducted online anyway. There was no change on the lecture-front this year, since we had no lectures; the only true online learning we have done was online tutorials and all of these went smoothly. Lab work was all done on site here in Edinburgh, and coursework for St Andrews was uploaded on MMS as usual.

From time to time, I have missed face-to-face at St Andrews: I think there is a sort of personal element lost when speaking to someone online. However, at the end of the day, it isn’t so detrimental, and you just learn to get used to it.

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about the way you approach your study? Did you make any changes to your study habits?

Not really, to both those questions. The way I study hasn’t changed a lot as even previously most of my work was done online – it was a minimal, if any, change for me. This year for me was very much lab based and again, we had no lectures and tutorials were all done online.

I would like to mention that my study space has been quite different. When I was working at St Andrews and the Library was open, I would usually spend hours there doing my coursework on the computer or studying my written lecture notes. However, since I am away in Edinburgh, before the pandemic I would usually work in the lab office because I had access to a desk which my house does not have. Since the labs closed, and the University of Edinburgh libraries are still all shut, I had to get used to working on my bed in my bedroom, which has been quite a change to working in the library. The main challenge is trying not to fall asleep!

In general, how has your student experience of learning and studying online been?

It has been really good, including before the pandemic broke out. We had good teachers showing us how to use the specific software or databases I mentioned above, and any issues were easily resolved. We had online quizzes for the Chemistry modules I took in first year and these only enhanced our learning. Online tutorials this year ran well too, and I think the School of Biology has done an excellent job of making sure that placement students get all the resources we need despite not being on site. In fact, the School has done a great job of teaching and supporting us in using online resources over all of the years that I have attended St Andrews. As time goes by, I’m realising just how beneficial this is proving to be since more and more workplaces are increasingly using special online programmes to carry out certain experiments and analyses.  Knowledge of how to use online resources therefore makes you more employable.

How has your experience of lectures, seminars, and tutorials (if you have them) been?

They have been great. I haven’t encountered any issues personally with my online tutorials. Supervision has been excellent and we use Teams and email to stay in touch regularly.

You are an undergraduate at the School of Biology. Which technologies or online resources have you found especially practically useful for studying Biology and Biochemistry in particular?

Statistics software R and SigmaPlot have made it easy for me to carry out statistics and enzyme kinetics work throughout my years studying Biochemistry. The BRENDA database is very helpful in learning about your protein or enzyme of interest and I use it a lot. Also, I took advantage of YouTube quite a bit in university: there are a lot of videos of people explaining concepts to you that you may not have understood before and some of them are great.

What has been your experience of having undergraduate supervision online been?

It has been a good experience. My supervisors have been great at being available via email or Microsoft Teams, and I can easily contact them whenever I want if I have a query or issue.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own student experience of learning and studying online?

Make sure to take frequent breaks in between studying as all those hours spent looking at the screen can give you eye strain and headaches as it has done me!

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

No, that’s all. Thank you.

Remote Teaching Case Studies: Amy McTurk, School of Modern Languages

This week we’re interviewing Amy McTurk from French Studies in the School of Modern Languages as part of our series on remote teaching and learning. Amy is a first year PhD student and has experienced online learning from the perspective of a student and of a teacher.  She thinks that teaching online poses a unique challenge for language teaching, since spoken language skills in particular are best taught and practiced face-to-face within small group settings. Amy also found herself reflecting more on how to create a welcoming and engaging atmosphere for the class when body language cues are removed. Along the way, she tells us that teaching online opens up opportunities for making teaching and learning more inclusive, and points us towards some excellent online resources for learning languages too. Finally, Amy recommends creating a separate work space when working at home to maintain a good work-life balance. Vas-y, Amy! 

Could you tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews?

I am a first-year French Studies PhD student. Last semester, I taught as part of the Academic Skills Project in the School of Modern Languages. I also ran the School’s Language Café Initiative, which allows students to practice their spoken language skills outside of the classroom.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your work before the Covid-19 outbreak?

As a student I also use online resources such as Gallica run by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Online dictionaries such as Le Petit Robert and Larousse are very handy. I used Powerpoint when teaching my Academic Skills workshop.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching was moving online?

I thought it would be an interesting challenge, given that so much of the pedagogical approach in St Andrews is based on student interaction, often through tutorials. This also poses a unique challenge for language teaching, as speaking the language is an essential skill, and spoken language skills are usually taught and practiced face-to-face within small group settings. This involves a high level of interaction between the student and the teacher, and also between the students themselves. Moving oral classes online would, therefore, necessitate a high level of creativity to facilitate a similar experience for the learner.

How did you manage the process of moving your teaching online?

For the Academic Skills Project, one of the main aims is to ensure that the workshops are engaging and interactive – the students should be involved in practical activities rather than listening to a lecture. So, we tried to adapt our teaching plans to an online format while including this essential element of student participation. The workshops were delivered via Panopto with tutors’ emails available so that students could ask any questions. This meant that students could access the workshops anytime and anywhere. My workshop on translation techniques was formatted so that students could follow along with a text of their choice and apply the techniques that I explained as they were listening. One benefit of having these workshops online is that students can pause and rewind the theoretical explanations and do the practical tasks at their own pace.

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about your teaching and the best way to deliver it under these circumstances? Did you make any changes?

I think it made me more aware of the benefits of integrating more technology into traditional teaching methods – for example, having students submit their responses to a set of questions before the class and then considering these together could heighten participation for those students who might be less likely to answer out in a traditional classroom setting. As I am at the beginning of my teaching career, this is something I will be able to take onboard and take forward. Furthermore, moving teaching online prompted me to reflect on how to create a welcoming and engaging atmosphere for the class when body language cues are removed. I think it is even more important now to work to keep students engaged in the classroom conversation, part of which might be done through online chatrooms and polls. Finally, I think teaching online opens up opportunities for making teaching and learning more inclusive.

You are a PhD Student at the School of Modern Languages. Have you discovered any aspects of the new technology to be especially practically useful for your subject in particular?

Although I have not yet taught a literature class, I think that asking students to submit their initial responses to a text or setting some written questions ahead of the class could be useful as it allows students to reflect more deeply on the literary work than they might have otherwise done. This would also provide a basis for a meaningful and thorough discussion in an online tutorial via Teams. Online teaching potentially provides a chance for students to engage with the literature at their own pace. For my own research, having many e-books online at the Library has been great. I also use a lot of materials from libraries located in France, such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and many of those materials are now online too. These kinds of online resources have been very useful to me.

You also see things from the point of view of a postgraduate PhD student. How has your postgraduate student experience been?

I think the postgraduate student experience varies depending on each individual and their project, as some will have more difficulties accessing the necessary materials than others. Personally, I have been well supported by my supervisor, Professor Mary Orr, and have been able to continue with my research from home. A few issues have cropped up, for example I had planned a research trip to Paris this summer, which I have now postponed. However, being in my first year, there is a lot of other work I need to do, and I have been able to be flexible with my research focus.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own experience both as a postgraduate student and as a tutor involved in teaching?

For me, the most important thing is to try and separate your workspace from the rest of your home, because it is very easy for the work-life balance to fall apart when working from home. I think having an area of the house that is specifically for working and studying is beneficial. However, if you don’t have the space to be able to do this, simple actions like lighting a scented candle when you are working can help, because then you begin to associate a specific smell with being focused on work, so it is easier to switch on and off.

Given what you know now, what would you say to someone apprehensive about moving their teaching and learning online?

It is natural to feel apprehensive in these kinds of situations, so I think being open and communicative is essential. Speaking to others in a similar position to you – a colleague, another student – can be a great way to share ideas, overcome problems, and reconnect with another person. A practical tip that I use is that if I feel nervous about an online meeting or class, I take some time to practice using the technology first. For example, before attending your first Teams meeting, you could call a friendly colleague. This way you understand where to find all the features you might need – including the mute button!

What are your favourite online resources to teach French?

For students learning languages at home, I think variety is key. Listening to songs (especially if you have the lyrics handy, for example with YouTube videos that display the lyrics in a karaoke style) is a fun way to improve your pronunciation and fluency. Podcasts are also a good way to incorporate language learning into your day – France Culture produce a range of shows on politics, history, literature, and so on.

Downloading a French news app on your phone and reading an article or two a day can be a useful way to widen your vocabulary and keep up to date with the Francophone world. There are lots to choose from – Le Monde, France 24, FrancoInfo.

I’ve also recently come across a site called Mubi, which allows anyone with an academic email address to set up a free account. It is full of great films in lots of different languages, including a good selection in French. They add new films almost every day and there are lots of subtitling options.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?


No, that’s all!

Certified for success

In amongst the rubble of the missed or lost opportunities that have accumulated in the course of lockdown, is one of those little flowering moments, an unexpected but wholly welcome event.

We have been running the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification programme (or MOS for short) for seven years. Open to everyone in the University, it offers the opportunity to gain a recognised certification to validate skills in using the Microsoft Office suite of applications. Participants use a variety of materials to suit their learning styles including targeted, self-led learning resources or attending training courses as preparation to sit practical certification exams. The certifications have proven benefits in increasing student employability, but there is a broader impact for both staff and students. By engaging with the exam preparation resources, there is the potential for transferable skills to work flows using these applications and hence improve productivity. So, clear benefits to sitting these exams, but also, an activity entirely dependent on my computer classroom to deliver and thus was one of the first casualties of the move off-site.

However, in true “MOS is dead. Long live MOS” style, we have a veritable success on our hands. Thanks to the efforts by the exam authority tech boffins to develop a remote delivery system, MOS exams have been able to resume to the scattered locations across the globe with the added benefit of allowing a wider range of exams to be delivered. The circumstances of lockdown have given added impetus to ‘do something useful’ and MOS certifications have certainly been seen as fulfilling that criteria. We’ve had a 5-fold increase in exam bookings and the passes indicate more than just a totting up of scores. We’ve had those attaining Expert level qualifications feedback that their qualification had immediate benefits: “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently started freelancing as a designer on Upwork (from graphic illustrations to designing powerpoints / formatting word documents / etc.). Having the qualifications give clients the assurance that I have the necessary proficiency to fulfil their needs” while others have said participating in MOS helped them to “produce more consistent work on a day-to-day basis”. Employability. Productivity. This is the calibre of feedback that we are accustomed to receiving from those that have engaged with the MOS programme, so it is not in itself a revelation. But it is hugely reassuring that the move to remote delivery is still providing where it counts.

And today it counts more than ever as our programme has produced two Champions. The exam results of 2nd year student Andrea Wang and postgraduate Shonaugh Wright earned them a place, from the thousands of exams sat nationwide this year, to compete in the UK National MOS Championships held today, 25 June. Usually a live event, this too has its virtual doppelganger, the winner of which will have a place to compete in the World MOS Championships in Florida in 2021.

More information about the MOS Certification programme can be found on our MOS website or contact Sonny Evans at it-training@st-andrews.ac.uk.

‘Live from the Hive’ – Professor Kirstie Ball

Live from the Hive is back next week! We’re excited to welcome the next presenter in the  series – Professor Kirstie Ball from the School of Management. We’re really looking forward to hearing Kirstie talk on ‘Creating an engaging dual mode learning journey‘, followed by Q&A in the Hive on Wednesday 1 July at 2pm. We look forward to seeing you there too! To join the event, please come along to the Live from the Hive channel in the Hive, and click Join.

Remote Teaching Case Studies: Margaret Leighton, School of Economics and Finance


This week our series on remote teaching continues listening to voices from across the University by interviewing Dr. Margaret Leighton from the School of Economics and Finance. Margaret discusses what it was like moving her teaching online while the nurseries closed at the same time, and how she juggled childcare with a full-time job in the middle of a public health crisis, a job which, significantly, not only includes teaching but also research. She also tells us about the new online tools and resources she used, the changes she made to her teaching, and how she missed the kind of interaction with students that makes so much of the job of a teacher meaningful, especially here at St Andrews, where we cherish our strong relationships with our students, and see close engagement with them as part of our institutional identity and purpose.

Could you tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews?

I’m a Lecturer at the School of Economics and Finance. This is my fifth year at the University and I’m on a teaching and research contract, although lately I have been doing far more teaching than research. I lead the Masters programme on International Development Practice that is run through the graduate school. I started putting together this Masters four years ago and it has been running successfully for two years ago. Last semester, I ran this Masters and coordinated a module on it too. I was running the Masters (this year a cohort of 18) in the second semester and was coordinating two undergraduate modules in Economics at the same time: one first year module with 288 students on introductory microeconomics, and an Honours-level module of 24 students on impact evaluation econometrics.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your teaching before the Covid-19 outbreak?

For my first-year module, I had started Panopto recordings from the start of the semester because even at that early stage, we had students who were potentially not coming back from China. I had also used Moodle quite extensively, especially with the first years, and we use Moodle quizzes, and so on, to keep the students engaged each week. The other modules I was teaching didn’t have a lot of online components. In the Honours module, I use Stata software, but until the pandemic broke out, the students could only access it from the computer room. That has since been made available everywhere on an app, but before the outbreak the students could only access it from University computers.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching was moving online?

St Andrews moved online a bit later than other universities but switching to online teaching certainly wasn’t a surprise at the time that the pandemic took hold here in the U.K. In addition, the switch online happened at the same time that nurseries closed and this meant that my infant took up a lot more time than before and I had to figure out how to work childcare at home while holding down a full-time job. On the second day that my daughter was home from nursery, I bought the best pair of noise-cancelling headphones I could find because if I can hear her crying, I can’t work, and if I can hear her laughing, it’s also hard to work; and my daughter is a one-year-old, so, naturally, she’s going to laugh and she’s going to cry, and we’re all in the same house. The students were also quite stressed at the time too and this was especially difficult because I was dealing with students from three modules and the Masters programme. I had around 320 students in total, for whom I was, in many cases, their first port of call for anxieties, stress, and worries, and concerns. So that was quite stressful and the task of responding to so many emails alone took a lot of time. None of those emails were the kind you could file to read later either: they were often quite pressing and coming from students who were understandably stressed. And, of course, at the same time, trying to sort out childcare, and dealing with similar kinds of worries about the pandemic as the students, was not easy.

In the end, we managed to do a good job of sharing childcare across two of us, but effectively, my workday starts when my daughter goes to bed. I can do emails and I can do a lot of things during the day but if I have to concentrate, if I have to record a lecture, that has to be after she has gone to bed. That means most work days, we are up working until 10 or 11pm and working really hard during that time too to get everything done. So life is effectively childcare and work. And, of course, relatively speaking, we’re in a lucky situation! Both of us are at the University, so both of us are on the same sort of schedule, and we only have one child and she sleeps a lot, which is great. Others are not so lucky.

How did you manage the process of moving your lectures and tutorials online?

The main decision was about the format. For my large first-year class of 288 students, I delivered the entire content of the usual 50-minute lecture in 20 minutes by delivering it in a more concise manner, cutting some of the anecdotes, for example, that usually serve to break up the 50-minute content, to help the students maintain their concentration. I chose to maintain the usual Monday, Tuesday and Thursday structure because it seemed to me that providing the students with this familiar structure would help them focus. For tutorials, more planning was needed. At the time, it was less clear to me whether live tutorials would work after Spring break when we all were trying to go online together at the same time. After all, there was a chance that everything would crash, so I decided to move to having tutorial questions solved on video, and then posted these at the start of the week, and arranged for the students to have a live questions-and-answers session at the end of week with their tutors. I also decided not to make tutorial attendance mandatory too. In the end, the system did not crash and things went relatively smoothly. The smaller Honours module was more straightforward: there was the same content to deliver, and I simply broke it up in a way that made sense. There were one or two delays but I adjusted the assignment deadlines to make up for that. I also adjusted the assignments so that the students could do them without having to use Stata software, in case they had difficulties accessing it.

All in all, my philosophy throughout was: we’re going to deliver the content that was promised in as manageable a way as we can. For next year, I have lots of plans to foster online student-to-student engagement outside of class too. It’s important to see that tutorials are also a bonding opportunity for students rather than merely an opportunity to learn about and discuss the content. I think attendance at online tutorials will need to be mandatory next year, with all the usual processes in place for students with a reasonable excuse for not attending.

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about your teaching and the best way to deliver it under these circumstances? Did you make any changes?

Yes. As I mentioned, before the pandemic changed things, I delivered the same content of the big first year module in 50 rather than 20 minutes. Previously, I would teach a concept and then have the students work on their own, or with their neighbour, and then we’d go over whatever they had done, and then move on to another concept. In the shorter, more concise lectures, all of those interactions and breaks were gone. I simply moved steadily through all of the material, but without the fun anecdotes, and so on. In a way, this was quite dry; but it was also quite succinct and efficient. This time I also finished each lecture with a question, which was one of their tutorial questions, and that followed right on from the material that we had reviewed. I had some good feedback on this overall structure too. Students liked the short lecture format. They liked being able to pause during the lecture recording when I was going through the concepts. When they had watched the 20-minute lecture, they could go ahead themselves and work on that problem. I think that those lectures were probably more useful for them in revision than my 50-minute recordings too: they were more to the point.

You are a Lecturer in the School of Economics and Finance. Have you discovered any aspects of the new technology to be especially practically useful for the teaching of your subject in particular?

Using an an iPad or a tablet in lectures has made a big difference to me because they make things so much easier and so much clearer than trying to draw on a whiteboard. That was a big innovation for me and that has carried over into my online teaching. I also used an open education textbook for the first time. It’s called ‘The Economy’ and it’s by CORE, the name of the group which put it together. It was created as an open source, free online textbook and it’s a new way of teaching economics which I think has gone well. Given that it is free and online, it meant that when the students went home, they all had access to their textbook which worked out especially well this year. I’ve also appreciated the quiz feature on Moodle. It keeps students working every week and that is quite helpful.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own experience?

I was managing quite a few staff teaching online this semester and I did give people some advice. Here it is. (1) Never listen to your lecture over again. We all hate the sound of our own voices, just post it! (2) Don’t feel you have to take the same amount of time that you took in lectures previously. Many people feel that they are cheating students if they move to the 20-minute lecture format, for example, but that’s not true and the students need to know that it’s not true as well. Less is more when it comes to videos and, as I said previously, in the case of lectures, what matters is that the content is delivered. More generally, I think we need to rethink how we measure contact hours when we plan for any online teaching in the future. Certainly, in this case, there were a lot of hidden costs. And those hidden costs need to be made more explicit so that we get a measure of the true cost of teaching online. The flip side of that is: it might be fine to count the costs, but who is going to pay for them? Will we be hiring new people to cover these new costs?

Given what you know now, what would you say to someone apprehensive about moving their teaching online?

If you have the option, don’t teach online, teach in person because that’s what we’re trained to do, that’s what we were hired to do, that’s what we’re good at, and, at St Andrews, that is what our strength is. Also, in the context of the current crisis, we need to be careful not to confuse online teaching with what we’ve been doing to get through a public health crisis. Between now and September, I think that the need to think about how to improve the experience will be a big challenge. For example, I can improve the experience by spending my whole summer redesigning my module for online teaching but I’m actually supposed to be doing research this summer. I’ve not had time for research since December and that’s not great, since my contract specifies that I must do teaching and research and I am assessed on my research too. And, as I said at the beginning, so much is on hold until nurseries come back. I’m concerned that while in March and April it was recognised as being heroic to pulling out all the stops in the way we have been doing, somehow, now, it has become expected.

What are your favourite online resources for teaching Economics?

In addition to the online text book I mentioned before, another economics-specific website that is very useful and helps students to understand different kinds of economic models is https://economics-games.com

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I find that teaching online is less rewarding, and it’s not a teaching experience that I enjoy, to be honest. I never realised how just seeing student faces in lecture helps make teaching feel meaningful for me. You can see that more people are nodding than are looking at their phones, and that’s great. Whereas talking into my computer at 9pm on a dark night, with no immediate student responses that I could gauge in the moment, was difficult. And while many students did email a few weeks later to say that they appreciated and enjoyed the lectures, you don’t hear that until afterwards. All in all, I much prefer teaching in person.


Remote Teaching Case Studies: Naomi Abayasekara, School of Classics

This week in our series on remote teaching and learning we are interviewing third year undergraduate Naomi Abayasekara from the School of Classics. Naomi was already familiar with standard online resources for reading articles and helping with translation before teaching moved online at St Andrews, but having lectures and tutorials online was a new experience for her (as it was for most students and many staff too). From this perspective of an undergraduate, she offers us some interesting insights about how things went during the transition to online teaching. Naomi was impressed by how quickly lecturers adapted to the new circumstances and says that clear and frequent communication from members of staff at the School of Classics reassured her and meant that she always knew how things would work. She also tells us that she still prefers reading actual physical books and that she misses the chance encounters and exchanges that one has on campus in St Andrews itself. What’s more, she thinks that working at home is not as easy as some people might imagine it to be. While she was lucky to have access to study space and a desk, she thinks that there are still more distractions at home than at the Library; and having more than one family member working at home means that it is harder to concentrate, especially when you can hear your dad in online meetings next door!

Could you tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews?

I’m a third year Classics student.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your study habits before the Covid-19 outbreak? What did you use until now?

To a very limited extent! I mainly used technology to read articles online (although where it was available, I always preferred to read the physical copy from the library), and I used online tools for translation help (such as Perseus) but again, I also combined this with physical copies of the text and grammar books.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching, learning, and study was moving online?

It wasn’t a surprise, given that many other universities were doing the same thing. I was apprehensive about how it would work, but was reassured by frequent communication both from the University and from my lecturers.

How do you manage the process of learning and studying online?

It was alright, given that everyone was in the same boat and that it was such a strange time for everyone. Luckily, I already had access to a desk and study space at home, though it was difficult at times because my dad was also trying to work from home so it was sometimes hard to concentrate when I could hear him in meetings all day!

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about the way you approach your study? Did you make any changes to your study habits?

Not really, I know that I still prefer to work without using my laptop too much and I don’t like working at home as there are frequent distractions. Given the choice, I would definitely prefer to study in the silence of a physical library using physical resources, but in the circumstances it worked ok.

In general, how has your student experience of learning and studying online been?

It has been largely very positive, I have felt well-supported by the department, and there has been frequent communication by different members of staff at each stage of the process, so we all know exactly how things are going to work. However, obviously I would much prefer face-to-face learning! I miss the chance encounters in the Library or in the department and going for coffee with people to talk about what we’re doing.

How has your experience of lectures, seminars, and tutorials (if you have them) been?

They have been pretty good, given how quickly everyone had to adapt to the situation. I had weekly live seminars in both my modules on Teams, which was nice to provide structure and also to check in with everyone weekly. However, I think that at times it felt more like a lecture than a whole class discussion, as it was difficult with the online format to include everyone in the dialogue. There were definitely a lot of people who got lost or were ignored in the online classes and that didn’t happen as much in face-to-face tutorials.

You are an undergraduate at the School of Classics. Which technologies or online resources have you found especially practically useful for studying Classics in particular?

I like Perseus for translation help, Loeb online for texts, and all the usual forums for access to scholarship online (eg. Oxford University Press Online, JSTOR etc.)

What has been your experience of having undergraduate supervision online been?

It was largely positive but it did feel a shame that a lot of the discussion element that I enjoy so much about face-to-face teaching got lost when online. I think everyone understood this because we were all still getting used to the new style of learning, and the lecturers were very quick to adapt considering the circumstances. However, if online teaching were to continue next year (presumably without the safety-net policies of S-coding (a process whereby allowances can be made for special circumstances), I think the students would expect a lot more in order to ensure that our learning experience isn’t compromised through being online.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own student experience of learning and studying online?

Do as much preparation as possible so that you can really get the most out of the online session. Don’t be afraid to speak up in the online classes, even if it might feel more difficult to do so online, to make sure that your voice is heard. Probably everyone else is thinking the same thing anyway, but are just too afraid to say! Try to join in with discussion. Also, don’t be afraid to approach lecturers for help and have one-to-one Skype calls and so on, just as you would normally attend an office hour. They are still there to help, and it is important to still have real contact with people in the department as much as possible!

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

No; that’s all.


‘Live from the Hive’ – Professor Paul Hibbert

We are delighted that Professor Paul Hibbert (School of Management) has accepted the invitation to launch  our staff development series ‘Live from the Hive’ on Monday 15 June.

Entitled Delivering Teaching in Different Modes, Paul’s
session is based on a set of reflective frameworks assembled to help early-career academic colleagues, and anyone who has found themselves having to rethink their approach to teaching in the midst of a crisis, to think about the pedagogical and practical issues involved. The primary focus is on the underlying principles that guide teaching practice in any mode. It is intended to help inform conversations and reflection about how to approach switching between in-class and virtual, online modes of delivery, and teaching in synchronous and asynchronous modes. A summary document will also be shared as part of the session.

Please join us on Monday 15 June at 2pm!

Remote Teaching Case Studies: Jon Hesk, School of Classics

Dr. Jon Hesk from the School of Classics has kindly agreed to do the next interview in our series of remote teaching case studies. Jon talks about his experiments with technology over the past year or so and also during those first few hectic months when the pandemic began to take hold here in the U.K. He talks about the importance of trusting your instincts when teaching (especially when you’ve been doing it for over 22 years as he has!) and how keeping things simple and using technology judiciously helps to achieve good outcomes for everyone. Jon is a big advocate of using Panopto for large Subhonours modules and describes the many uses it has both for his students and for teachers. As we were migrating online, he decided to use Moodle discussion forums for students to post blog-style discussions on set texts. This was a big hit with his students and he thinks that it gave him a more accurate picture of student engagement and levels of understanding too. Finally, he describes some of the opportunity costs of using technology when teaching, especially when teaching new modules.

Could you tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews?

I’m Reader in Ancient Greek and Classical Studies in the School of Classics.  I teach at all levels of undergraduate study, primarily on the single and joint honours Classical Studies, Greek and Classics degree programmes.  I also teach taught and research postgraduates on our MLitt, MPhil and PhD programmes.  I’m research active, do a fair bit of impact and outreach work and I’m currently director of our School’s research centre called The Centre for the Public Understanding of Greek and Roman Drama.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your teaching before the Covid-19 outbreak?

Well, I had experimented last year and again last semester – I think quite successfully – with Panopto in my lecturing for a big first year module (CL1004 – Myth and Community in Ancient Greek literature and Culture).  And I’ve more or less decided to keep using that. I know there are concerns about Panopto but I think it can be really useful for all sorts of reasons: I’ve found it’s great for those hectic times early in the first semester when students sometimes miss the first couple of lectures and need to catch up; it’s great for review and revision too; it gives students who are not native English speakers an extra source of support; and it helps students who are ill or have a disability and find it difficult to attend lectures in person.

I also make a lot of use of the Library’s ‘online reading lists’ facility, and, like most of us in Classics, I use MMS to post links and additional resources, to archive handouts, powerpoints, and so on.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching was moving online?

Well if I’m honest, my very first thought was that the University should stop any kind of teaching and suspend studies for all students.  I thought that the pandemic would overwhelm the NHS, public services and our ability to deliver food and other essentials.  At first, I thought that our brilliant young people would be needed to train up and backfill some key jobs. Then I realized that while it would be an international, national and tragic catastrophe of historic proportions, it wasn’t quite going to be the zombie apocalypse I’d imagined!   And of course, many of our students would remain in St Andrews – some of them effectively stranded, others staying put to protect their loved ones – or else would go home but still really want to study for their degrees, and, in some cases, graduate this summer.  So, once it sank in that for all sorts of reasons, we needed to carry on, I was fine with it.  The only things that worried me about online teaching were that it would be very tiring and time-consuming, and that it wouldn’t be as fulfilling for me or the students as ‘normal’ St Andrews teaching.  But I wasn’t too worried about my ability to do the teaching or maintain standards and intended outcomes.  It has been tiring and time-consuming, and I don’t enjoy the 100% remote experience as much as physical-presence teaching, but it’s been more fulfilling and interesting than I feared.

How did you manage the process of moving your lectures and tutorials online?

Well, I didn’t have any lectures to move online.  All my teaching after the Spring break was either second level Classical Studies tutorials (one per week – 10 students), my Greek honours module seminars (two x 1 hr per week – 15 students) or one-to-one MLitt essay supervision (2 students) or one-to-one Hons dissertation supervision (1 student) or PhD supervision (jointly and one student).

One thing I said to myself immediately: ‘I’ve been teaching here for 22 years and so I should trust my instincts’. Also: I wasn’t going to spend hours and hours reading online teaching tips on social media etc. and I wasn’t going to have anything to do with tools or platforms that required me to watch hours of instruction videos or pages of .pdfs to get them right.  If I could set something up in 30 minutes and it was reasonably intuitive and pain free, then that was a good sign that the students would be able to handle it too. Luckily Teams for ‘live’ teaching and Moodle for more ‘asynchronous’ new elements fitted those criteria. Another reason for keeping things fairly basic and simple was that all of my teaching after Spring break was brand new to me, and on texts and scholarship which I didn’t have much recent or in-depth familiarity with.  So, creating lots of extra online content or learning how to use certain new tools was an opportunity cost: the more time I spent on making extra videos or handouts, the less time I would have for the sort of preparatory reading and thinking that would ensure that my ‘live’ teaching was really well-informed. In the case of my 2000-level teaching, that meant I was able to ‘see the wood from the trees’ with the students’ pre-seminar written contributions, and thus better steer the live discussion towards clearing up misunderstandings, underlining key points, and so on. In the case of my new Honours module, it meant that I was able to set the most appropriate and interesting online secondary reading. Another reason for keeping the ‘move online’ to a low ‘extra time’ cost was that I also had my MLitts and dissertation students’ draft work to feed back on, and some urgent ‘research impact’ work to do.

The Honours seminars were where I had the most autonomy with my decision-making.  We were told that we had to maintain ‘live’ teaching in the class hours with Teams the preferred platform but also to record that seminar teaching to accommodate students in different time zones.  I wasn’t that happy about this because I knew it would be hard to get everyone contributing in the hour in the way that I usually can with ‘normal’ seminars.  So I decided I would require the students to post some notes in answer to each seminar’s questions onto a Moodle forum: they’d each do a couple of blog posts, in effect.

I promised I would reply to each individual blog answer either before the seminar or within 72 hrs of it, and once we started this system, I found that in the live seminar itself I would draw on their posts as a means of structuring the discussion and taking us through chunks of set text or critical questions.  Sometimes I would ask a student to speak to or summarize what they’d posted, especially when I got sick of the sound of my own voice or where I thought someone’s blog could move us forward.

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about your teaching and the best way to deliver it under these circumstances? Did you make any changes?

Yes:  initially my seminar questions were often too ‘closed’. That was fine for a normal seminar, but once you’re asking 15 students to post on the same question, they can start to find it hard to say new things once 5 or 6 people have posted.  So you’d move from asking ‘What does this bit of the comedy say about gender relations?’, to ‘Discuss points of political, cultural and stylistic interest in this passage.’  That still meant someone talked about the gender dimension, but you’d get much more from the students that would be of use to them as well.

I also moved to more discussion and evaluation of items of scholarship than I’d normally do, as well.  I think that was partly because they’d flagged that anyway at the midway point but also because it forced them to think about different approaches to the set texts and it allowed each student to draw out something different from the set reading.  I also found myself moving from three main questions per seminar to two or telling them to just submit one or two answers and try to think about the third one.  That was for mine and their sake because with two seminars a week, they’d each be posting six blog posts a week otherwise!

I’d also consider using blogs more in my normal teaching because it gave me a better and more accurate picture of student engagement and levels of understanding. Some students don’t like to say much in seminars (online or normal) but they produced amazingly helpful, intelligent and thoughtful responses on the blogs.

You are a Reader in the School of Classics. Have you discovered any aspects of the new technology to be especially practically useful for the teaching of your subject in particular?

Well, I haven’t been teaching any Subhonours Greek or Latin this semester and that is where one tends to have to do more work detailed work on building students’ facility with decoding the grammar and syntax of a sentence or a passage. Or of looking at (say) a bit of Greek poetry or prose and analyzing its use of style, rhetorical devices and imagery. One way of doing this either interactively or by example in a lecture format is to use technology like smart boards or an online equivalent, or you can use various highlighting tools with a Powerpoint slide of a text.  We’re doing these promotional videos for our offer holders and prospective candidates at the moment and in those, I’ve noticed that some of my younger colleagues (which is now nearly all of them) seem to be using that sort of thing more than I would.  It’s probably time for me to get into that more.  With bigger groups of 15-30 it helps to keep everyone focused too. If you just rely on students to keep their place in a paper-based set text and listen to what you’re talking about, it can be hard to keep everyone on the same page (literally), whereas throwing successive bits of the same text on a screen and using different colours to highlight words and so on, probably helps students to keep up and follow everything.

I find Panopto useful. I think I might just record everything I do from now on.  We tend to think it’s good for students to learn note-taking and so on.  But if their tapping away on laptops or scribbling in notebooks all the time, I’m not sure they’re really listening and understanding things in the  moment.  Why not just record a tutorial or seminar so that they can review things and yet  direct their attention to the instructor and each other more when in the session?

For our big second year module, my colleague Sophie set up an Outlook share document for each tutorial and for each tutorial group. This allowed the students to type responses and ideas into the document before the live tutorial on Teams. This was an even simpler version of my blog idea. Because it only went live a couple of days before the tutorial, the students were quite often on at the same time and that replicated in-seminar chat in pairs or groups.  I could also draw on the document in the tutorial.  The only down side was that keen students tend to dominate things a bit and it’s hard to make students join in.  (For both modules I was teaching, I did issue some engagement alerts over this issue and it seemed to work).

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own experience?

With any form of teaching and learning (including online, or ‘dual delivery’) always start with what outcomes you want from a session and the module as a whole: that could be in terms of student understanding and skills or it could be about levels and spread of engagement and participation.  There is no point in using a piece of kit if it doesn’t get you those outcomes, and good learning and participation don’t have to take place in the live class hours. In fact, I think that in a well-designed module, the live hours are just the support and audit mechanism for where the real learning and skills acquisition takes place: in private study, through assessment, marking and feedback, and at exam time.

Given what you know now, what would you say to someone apprehensive about moving their teaching online?

You can actually keep things pretty aligned with what you were doing before so long as you realize that a lot of your students’ learning was already ‘asynchronous’, whether in private study in the library, or at home, or when talking with classmates. You might need to find ways of allowing students to help each other with that learning in lieu of live seminar discussion.

What are your favourite online resources for teaching Classics?

I quite like Panopto, MMS and Moodle because they’re so easy to use for PC users.  But there are also two Greek text databases called TLG and Perseus which contain grammar and dictionary tools.  They can lead students not to use and develop their grammar and vocabulary knowledge. But if used in the right way, they can give ex-beginners a real helping hand.  They can also save a lecturer time otherwise spent getting texts copied or cleared and don’t cost students any money.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

No! I’ve gone one enough, I think!


Remote Teaching Case Studies: Anindya Raychaudhuri, School of English

Our series on remote teaching is listening to voices from right across the university about teaching and learning online since the ‘lockdown’ started in the U.K. at the end of March. This week we’re interviewing Dr. Anindya Raychaudhuri who is a Senior Lecturer in the School of English and Director of Postgraduate Research. Anindya talks about using podcasts for student presentations, how he combined different kinds of technologies to structure his tutorials with an eye to making everything as inclusive as possible given the circumstances, and he emphasises the important role that postgraduate research students play in supporting teaching at the University.  Towards the end of his interview, we get a clear sense of just how hard St Andrews staff have been working to deliver the best possible teaching to their students.

Could you tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews?

I am a Senior Lecturer in the School of English. My role involves small- and large-group teaching at subhonours, honours and taught postgraduate level, along with research supervision, School administration (currently as Director of Postgraduate Research) and, finally, my own research.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your teaching before the Covid-19 outbreak?

I use technology in a limited sense. I use Moodle to distribute materials, PowerPoint to illustrate my talks and so on. I have a podcast assessment as part of the assessment for one of my modules, which involves me and my students using some other software – including Garageband, Audacity, VLC Player and so on. For example, a student might make an accessible 15 minute podcast explaining psychoanalysis and we would then have a discussion. It’s a useful exercise and the students enjoy it.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching was moving online?

I did and continue to think that there isn’t anywhere near enough recognition of the time, energy, and skills required to move teaching online. This is more understandable in the middle of last semester when we were dealing with a sudden, acute event – but this really worries me moving forward to next semester, when we are promising dual-delivery, with no clear idea yet as to what exactly that will look like, and how it will be put together. We need more clarity about the criteria used to set the guidelines for online teaching.

How did you manage the process of moving your lectures and tutorials online?

I decided early that I would do a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Recording lectures was the easiest component. For tutorials and small-group teaching, I transformed part of it into mini-lectures which I recorded as usual. The synchronous element was delivered on Teams using video chat when the group was very small (four or fewer, for MLitt teaching, for example). For the synchronous part of the tutorials for larger groups I used WhatsApp. This seemed to me to be the most inclusive approach given the differential access to the Internet for many of my students. I also had regular virtual office hours by appointment which allowed me to chat to my students one-to-one.

Did the process of moving online make you think differently about your teaching and the best way to deliver it under these circumstances? Did you make any changes?

I made many changes to my tutorials. I replaced all student-presentations with open-ended discussion questions. Both my students and I were working under a lot of stress and I felt that the more flexible I could be with class-prep for my students, the better. Abstracting the main points that I would normally raise in tutorials into a short lecture also substantially changed my teaching. It did however mean that students who weren’t able to attend the synchronous classes were still able to access the class in some way.

You are a Senior Lecturer in the School of English. Have you discovered any aspects of the new technology to be especially practically useful for the teaching of your subject in particular?

Going down the WhatsApp route was a little bit scary, as I think I was one of the few people who chose this method. But I think it worked well for me and especially for my students: it was more intuitive and easier to follow than the chat function in Teams, and it was more inclusive for students who didn’t have secure wi-fi access.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own experience?

It takes longer than you think, and takes more work than you think. The University as a whole has not been very good at recognising quite how hard the last semester has been for staff, and how hard the next semester is going to be, as the broader current crisis situation is normalised, and student expectations change. In the absence of better institutional support, self-care becomes more important.

Given what you know now, what would you say to someone apprehensive about moving their teaching online?

I think we would be right to be apprehensive. Online teaching can’t just be about replicating face-to-face teaching. If we are providing dual-delivery next semester, I am sure everyone will do the best they can, but there can’t be parity across the two tracks of teaching no matter what we do, and the University would do better to simply acknowledge that. Pretending that we can provide the same kind of teaching to all students is putting a lot of pressure on staff.

What are your favourite online resources for teaching English?

For me, I have found the combination of Panopto (for recording lectures), WhatsApp (for “live” tutorials), and Teams or Skype for one-on-one video calls to be the best combination.

 Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I would love for there to be more material support for staff throughout this process, such as childcare support. Our postgraduates are a source of teaching support and I hope this continues. I know that many of my colleagues have found the process hard, and are worried that the workload we are all under is not tenable in the long term. This needs to be first recognised and then dealt with at the highest levels.