Remote Teaching Case Studies: Kirsty Duff, International Education Institute

Wednesday 22 April 2020

We’re continuing our series interviewing members of academic staff who have been teaching online since the pandemic began to unfold here in the U.K.

We’re delighted that Dr. Kirsty Duff from the International Education Institute has agreed to be our second interviewee.  Kirsty finds that engaging with the new technology actually takes her back to her early days training to be a teacher. She has found the channels on Teams especially useful and – interestingly – has found that they encourage less confident students to speak more while more confident students tend to think more before talking.  Over to you, Kirsty!


Tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews.

I’m Programme Director for the International Foundation Programme for Medicine and EAP tutor at IE

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

For some lessons, I integrated quiz platforms like Socrative and PollEverywhere for practice or progress checks.  Otherwise my use of technology was limited.

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

I was both nervous and excited. I had been testing out Teams prior to Spring Break: we expected (regardless of the situation in the U.K.) that some students would not be able to return afterward.

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

Teams has provided a pretty good ‘virtual’ classroom: most of what did live as a class can now be done using it.  Having channels for specific ‘strands’ of the module set up in advance, with Group work channels where students can break out, is great.  Having a ‘sandpit’ team with colleagues allowed us to test out things before they went live.

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

It has taken me back to my initial teacher training and thinking about the class minute by minute – especially in terms of the interaction who is interacting with whom, at what point, and for how long; I think a lot about whether and how I can see that a learning objective has been met when I can’t ‘see’ the whole class all of the time.

You are Academic English Tutor based at the International Education Institute. Have you discovered any aspects of the new technology to be especially practically useful for Academic English tutoring in particular?

The channels are very useful.  They are great for getting students to understand exactly what they are doing. They also automatically collate all the relevant information in one place. This is great for students who may have previously been taking notes on scraps of paper. They’ve now got an automatic filing system.  Most importantly, I have noticed that students who were less confident when face-to-face seem to be able to express themselves more; students who may have rushed to answer are taking more time to formulate answers.

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

Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment.

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

Keep calm and carry on.  There will be glitches but the students are very forgiving.  Create a ‘test team’ and invite some colleagues to try out new features and provide some constructive feedback and support.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

These are unprecedented times but we shouldn’t feel that every class has to be all- singing and all-dancing with bells and whistles and whatnot.  Sometimes a simple Powerpoint lecture is exactly what you need.

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