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Tips on using digital tools on your course from the Teacher of the year

Infobox bredvid dator
Picture: Unsplash

“I’m committed to the students and their education and I want to make the best I can with the help of the tools we have at our disposal”, says Igor Martins, teacher at School of Economics and Management, Lund University. Since Igor is such a popular teacher he was asked to share his best tips for teaching.

Igor was asked to share his best tips for teaching, not by chance but because Igor knows something about good teaching: He was appointed “Teacher of the year at LUSEM 2020”, an award presented by the union LundaEkonomerna annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to teaching, according to the students.

Igor loves to teach. The question is though, what makes Igor’s teaching this good, can others learn from him and can he teach us how to use digital tools in a valuable way?

 “During the autumn I managed to give the students what they needed despite the situation. We were lucky to have Canvas when Covid-19 came. I think it is an excellent tool if you use it in the right way. I have also used Zoom for lectures, but we also met in person, in small groups. Most of my lectures were hybrid solutions with a small group in a classroom and the rest at Zoom. I put effort into the Zoom meetings to make them as good as possible. I check the brightness of the light; the angle of the computer screen and I always look into the camera lenses on my laptop. Small, simple things but so important…."

Spring 2021, so far...

With restricted regulations, it is not possible to meet at all in person. What is your best shot when it comes to Zoom meetings for the moment?

"Just not overthink it too much. All of us – and especially the students – are used to getting information through a screen. We get entertainment, culture, news, sports, knowledge, and all else through screens. It is not, or at least it should not be, that uncomfortable or incomprehensible for the students. I just make sure to rehearse my lectures and have them with as much fluidity as possible. I try not to think about the Zoom too much. It is just a tool or just the means to an end. The students are there for the content and, so long this message is communicated, it is fine!"

"All that said, there might be some little things that can give flavor to the lecture. One can, for example, start with a little quiz. Several websites like mentimeter.com offer the possibility for you to build a quick 2 to 3 question quiz that is shareable through a link. It is highly interactive, and you can share the results with the students right away. It can be a good strategy to break the ice and get the lecture going. It also allows you to quickly scan the class’s knowledge before the lecture. You can repeat the very same quiz at the end of the lecture to assess if the proportion of correct answers improved."

More on using Canvas in a good way?

"I have recently resolved to minimize the number of times I use 'announcements'. If you use too much, it means that the information is not clear enough. I have seen some courses where multiple announcements happen daily. After a while, you need to wonder if 1) you are displaying information and 2) is there anybody reading it after you resort to this tool for the 6th or 7th time? So far, I have managed to keep it minimal while, at the same time, I have not been receiving many e-mails from students wanting me to clarify something related to the course structure."

Ultimately, the goal is to always make it easier for the students. Igor has several ways of doing that:
“I always present something new to the students, something that is not available in the articles or the course literature and they can always find it in my slides, uploaded in Canvas. My course structure is the same, week after week. I am a minimalist…I want to keep it clean. The students know where to find everything, always in the same place. I pay a lot of attention to the number of clicks required to access the contents on Canvas. I also name my files in a certain way to make it easier for the students. If they download my files they will end up in the same order as I decided upon in the first place. And I avoid giving assignments over weekends, we work hard during the week and when the weekend comes both me and my students can feel free.”

Igor Martins

Igor's key tips for a better course and more pleased students:

  • Keep the same course structure week after week. 
  • Put all course materials in one place.
  • Give the students as few clicks as possible to access materials and relevant information.  
  • Be a minimalist and keep it clean.
  • Before announcing something on Canvas, wonder why this announcement is necessary. 
  • Quizzes can be a good tool to gauge the class’s knowledge before the lecture.