Alternative activities to in-person teaching

There may be occasions where it is not practically possible for you to simultaneously deliver non-lecture activities (e.g. seminars, workshops, etc.) to students in-person and students joining via MS Teams.

In this blog post, we will explore some different options for delivering alternative activities for those students that cannot join in-person sessions. Before you begin to design an alternative activity, consider the following points:

  1. Which alternative activity will best emulate the experience that students in the original in-person session are getting?
  2. What are my intended learning outcomes and which activities will best achieve these?
  3. How long will it take me to plan an activity and do I have the capacity to do this?
  4. Think carefully about your assessment criteria – will the alternative activity that you provide allow the students to undertake the module assessments successfully?
  5. Clarity and focus are at the heart of any well-designed online activity. Ensure that students using your alternative activity know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. If you ask students to use any technology, you must provide students with clear and concise guidance on how to use these.

Different subjects will pose distinct challenges and opportunities as you try to design suitable alternative activities for students unable to join in-person sessions. The overarching aim is to ensure that all students feel included and that those not present do not feel that they are missing out in any way.

Here are a few examples of alternative activities you could design for students unable to join in-person sessions:

In-person activitiesAlternative activities
Seminar discussionsOnline seminar sessions: If you can do so, you could offer students that aren’t able to attend an in-person seminar the opportunity to join an online seminar where the same topics are discussed.
General discussionsBlackboard discussion boards: You could ask students to discuss a question/concept/problem through Blackboard discussion boards. You can monitor these discussion boards, grade them and set these up for specific groups of students within a module in Blackboard.
Field tripsVirtual Field Trips: You could design a virtual field trip where you would record yourself or a colleague visiting the sites that are planned for the physical field trip and narrate over the video and add captions. These video clips can be uploaded to Panopto and made available through the module folder in Blackboard. Another option, if you have the necessary equipment, is to create a 360-degree imagery tour of the field trip with information about the different points of interest.

Digital Scavenger Hunt:
Another option is to set up a digital scavenger hunt for students. For example, geolocational apps such as Geotourist provide students with information about a specific location as they approach it. For students that are unable to leave their accommodation, they could navigate the hunt through a web browser.

Virtual experiences: There are also numerous virtual pieces of software online that students could use to undertake different experiences or to visit a variety of locations. For example, students could use Google Earth to explore a specific landform, or they could take a virtual tour of the National Gallery.
Laboratory experimentsVirtual Laboratory Experiments: You could film yourself or a colleague conducting the same laboratory experiments as those undertaken in the in-person session. You could also add narration and captions to the video to explain the process that you are going through and to highlight any points that they should be aware if they were undertaking the experiment themselves. These video clips can be uploaded to Panopto and made available through the module folder in Blackboard.
Analyzing physical texts or images (e.g. manuscripts, poetry, drawings, paintings)Providing digital version of texts with annotations: If the copyright policy allows (please see AU's guidance) you can produce digital copies of texts or images that you analyzed with the students in-person and share them with those students unable to join the in-person session. Annotations could also be included in these texts/images to draw their attention to key sections/characteristics.
Small group projectOnline small group projects: Students could be split into groups and asked to work on a project over digital channels, e.g. meeting over MS Teams; using online forums (e.g. Discord); using Wikis in Blackboard; working on a collaborative document in MS Teams. You can also allocate students into different groups within a module in Blackboard so that each group has a dedicated space to work within the module.
In-class quizzesOnline quizzes: Quizzing software, such as Mentimeter, Socrative and Poll Everywhere (guidance on using polling software for teaching) can be utilised to gauge student understanding and to provide them with a platform to revisit and revise topics. You could also set up summative or formative tests in Blackboard for students to take.

It can be challenging to check for understating from students that have taken part in alternative activities. Providing students that are unable to attend in-person sessions with the opportunity to ask you questions in crucial – how about setting up drop-in sessions for students to join? Or how about creating discussion boards in Blackboard where students can ask questions to you and their fellow students? As mentioned above, quizzes are also an effective way to check for understanding.

If, after reading this blog post, you are still unable to think of any appropriate alternatives or if you’d like support in implementing your ideas, please email, and we would be happy to schedule a consultation with you over MS Teams to discuss this further.

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