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?
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.
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