Remote Teaching Case Studies: Lenia Kouneni, School of Art History

Friday 7 August 2020

This week we’re interviewing Dr. Lenia Kouneni, Lecturer in the School of Art History, as part of our series on remote teaching and learning. Lenia tells us how the School used a combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and describes the main challenges once the physical University closed during the pandemic. To take just one example: she very much missed taking her students to field trips in galleries and museums!

On the other hand, Lenia says that the fact that I had been using Panopto for some time meant that she wasn’t completely at sea, although she emphasises that recording a lecture that she gives live in front of her students, in an actual teaching room, is not the same as sitting in front of a computer screen and speaking for an hour on her own! In addition, she had to make sure that her children remained quiet at the time, which meant that most of the recordings took place late at night. Not an easy task!  She’s now busily preparing for the new academic year and talks a little about some of the new challenges this brings towards the end.

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

I am an Associate Lecturer (Education focused) in the School of Art History. Due to the nature of my contract, I am particularly involved in teaching. I teach at Sub-honours, Honours and Postgraduate levels, both in team-taught and single-taught modules.

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

I have been using Panopto for three years now for my honours modules. It started as an experiment, but the students like it a lot. It gives them the opportunity to ‘sit back’ and enjoy the lectures without frantically typing notes and they can review and revise the material again later. It is also particularly helpful for students with disabilities and non-native English speakers. I have been using Moodle and MMS for various aspects of the modules. Like most of us, I also make use of the Library’s Online reading list facility and I use Powerpoint for my lectures and seminars. I also use various online resources to facilitate learning, such as online dictionaries, museums sites, and so on.

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

For all of us, it was (and still is) a different experience, and not only a different teaching experience; it’s a different life experience too. On one hand, I was relieved that the University was taking appropriate measures to protect the safety of students and staff. On the other, we had to quickly move our teaching online, which meant learning new skills and getting up to speed with new technologies very limited quickly. Distance learning takes time and effort and requires experience that most of us do not have.

The time we moved to online teaching also coincided with school closure. Having two primary school children at home does not constitute the most productive working environment! It was a very stressful time for all of us. Caring for young children with their own (justifiable) anxieties, while learning about new tools, systems and platforms while also trying to ease the students’ (again justifiable) worries seemed daunting.

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

In the School of Art History, we used a combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching. The main challenge was to decide on the format of teaching and to alter any assignments that were no longer feasible online. For example, we often take our students to field trips in galleries and museums: that was no longer possible.

The fact that I had been using Panopto for some time meant that at least this part was somewhat familiar to me. It was rather straightforward to record all lectures using it, but it was a very different experience from my previous ones. Recording a lecture that I give live in front of my students in an actual teaching room is not the same as sitting in front of a computer screen and speaking for an hour on my own. I also had to make sure that my children remained quiet at the time, which meant that most of the recordings took place late at night.

For the rest of my teaching, I used a combination of Moodle and Teams. Tutorials and seminars were mostly synchronous, encouraging student participation. I made extensive use of the notebook in Teams, posting questions and giving students the opportunity to engage with the weekly readings, and  to think critically before our ‘face-to-face’ tutorial.

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 was certainly a very different experience. I had to modify some of the assessments (especially those based on field trips) and think creatively about ways to involve all students in seminars and tutorials. Instead of the traditional 50 minute tutorial, I asked students to take some time before our meeting to respond to some questions I had posed for them using the Teams notebook. I then used the first 15 minutes or so of any tutorial to go through their answers before we had our live session. This meant that I could ask them to elaborate or clarify or give an example of something that they had written down. It worked really well as a starting point and a way to reduce the ‘awkwardness’ of the new online tutorial.

In my discipline we also work primarily with objects and we value first hand learning and experience. We often use physical materials from Special Collections or the Museum Collections as part of our teaching; not being able to do this anymore, we had to turn to digital surrogates.

All in all, the tutorials and seminars went much better than I had feared, but it was for me a more strenuous process. I found it required far more energy, mainly because the feedback one gets from students is not direct, especially in terms of body language cues.


You are an Associate Lecturer (Education Focused) in the School of Art History here at St Andrews. Have you discovered any aspects of the new technologies to be especially practically useful for the teaching of your subject in particular?

An increasing number of museums, galleries, and so on have been digitalising their collections and, due to COVID, a number of planned exhibitions also went online. In the absence of physical presence and observation, these are great alternatives and open up a wealth of resources for staff and students. We lose some of its benefits of the direct engagement with objects, but working with digital surrogates gives us an opportunity to create a more engaging, interactive experience for our students. Setting up small teams of students who will engage with objects in a digital form, may encourage them to participate actively, take control of their learning, learn from one another and foster an academic community. The University Museum Team here at St Andrews have been working hard to digitalise the collections and have been encouraging students and staff to use them for research and teaching. I am very excited to see the new developments soon (the 3D objects, annotations and story tools; the single interface, and so on).


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

Careful time management! Teaching online and working from home poses certain challenges to work-life balance. It is also important to think carefully of the learning outcomes of each module and choose the technology and platforms that are better suited to them. We all need to keep in mind that online teaching is for us a necessary emergency measure during a pandemic. We should still try to give the best academic experience to our students, but we should also not feel compelled to produce elaborate online teaching modules in a short space of time that normally take years to plan and implement!


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

It is quite understandable to be apprehensive of a teaching mode that we were not trained for. It takes us out of our comfort zone and, especially during the time of a pandemic, this is not an easy thing. Do not be afraid to ask for help and to talk to colleagues; in the School of Art History we often share our experiences, challenges and tips for teaching online and I have found these discussions very encouraging and helpful. I could not have done it with the support of our Director of Teaching, Head of School, and administrative staff, or without the help from colleagues. And make use of the Hive run by the Technology Enhanced Learning team!


What are your favourite online resources relevant to your subject?

In terms of teaching, the Art History Teaching Resources (AHTR) is worth checking. The blog Experiments in Art History: Teaching with Digital Tools is also very useful for anyone interested in teaching art history in new and innovative ways. There are many online resources to study art history, such as the Art and Architecture Archive, the Index of Medieval Art, Artists of the World Online, the Artstor Digital Library, the Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the Renaissance, the sites of major museums etc.


Is there anything else that you would like to add?

The coming semester and year will pose additional challenges to all of us. The dual delivery is different from the online only teaching we did for the second part of the last semester; one of my worries is to provide the same level of teaching to all students whether they are physically here or not. Finally, whereas last year we had all met our students face-to-face and established connections with them before we moved all teaching online, this year will be different and we would have to meet new students through Teams. We are all working hard to prepare for that.

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