By Dr. Chris Rudyk, Contract Instructor, Department of Neuroscience

This is the first of a four-part series by Neuroscience instructors on their experiences with the sudden and rapid transition to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current world situation has given us this new challenge of modifying our teaching styles to teach in an entirely new online format. Like anyone, at first, I was scared, no petrified, of this challenge having had no experience in teaching online, using video editing software/recording, or teaching in front of a computer screen and four walls. In addition, the idea of seeing myself teach scared me. Even under normal circumstances I often avoid pictures and really dislike hearing myself. However, like any challenge, I decided to rise to the occasion and use this as a learning opportunity for myself.

Over the summer of 2020, I taught two pre-recorded courses, and while definitely a learning experience, it has become an accomplishment I am now proud of as I went into this new domain knowing nothing, and over time, found ways to grow as an instructor, to engage my students, and to deliver content in a manner that allowed them to learn in the best way possible under the circumstances. However, prior to delving into this new online adventure, these are some things that I wish someone told me.

1. Recording and video editing is going to take you TIME.

If you are a perfectionist (like many of us drawn to this profession tend to be), the lecture recording and video editing is going to take a lot longer than you may anticipate. If you’re anything like me, you will record and re-record until it is just right (well almost right – it never feels quite right), no matter how many times you tell yourself that this time, you’ll keep going if you make an error (and you are going to tell yourself that a lot).

So, my first piece of advice is to budget more time than you think is necessary. I cannot stress this enough. In lectures delivered in person or over Zoom, you have no choice but to correct yourself and carry on when you make a mistake. In the case of pre-recorded videos, we can edit out, quite simply, our mistakes. We can record over and over again to the point of fatigue, and this can easily wear you down.

On that note, I would encourage you to do your best to let little mistakes go when recording your lectures, or if you can, pretend you are live and simply correct your mistake and move on. This is certainly easier said than done, and I, too, should be taking this advice – it’s a work in progress! While the online world offers plenty of great tools and software to edit out our mistakes and make our pre-recorded lectures interesting and engaging, these can also be dangerous tools for us perfectionists!

2. Record in increments.

 As you all know, when you work with computers and computer software things can go wrong, more often than not. Our computers can shut down for no reason, our cameras can stop working, the voice recording software might shut off, we can think we were recording when we weren’t, etc. That said, some additional advice is to record your videos in increments – not only will it help you mitigate these issues, but it also adds a benefit to the students. My experience so far suggests that students really like when I post my lecture in different “parts,” as this allowed them to break up the sometimes dense material into more manageable pieces and take breaks.

3. Uploading the lecture videos is going to take time.

So, after finally being somewhat satisfied with the video editing process (you are never completely satisfied), it now comes time to upload your video. Here, you will find that sometimes your video files are very large, your upload speed is low, and that uploading takes a lot of time in general. Not only that, after you have uploaded to different media platforms (e.g. MediaSpace, YouTube, etc.), having taken 30-45 minutes, you might get an error message (at the end), so you have to repeat this process over, and sometimes over again. Just remember to budget more time than you are expecting when it comes time to upload your videos.

4. You will make mistakes and you can’t anticipate student questions.

 With pre-recorded lectures, you are teaching in an entirely new format that is more reliant on you and less reliant on class participation and direction. In a live in-classroom setting, students can participate by asking questions and oftentimes guide the direction of the lecture. Participation from the class is helpful as it enables you to realize that something should have been included when it was not, that content needs more clarification, etc. In a pre-recorded world, unfortunately despite your concerted efforts to impart the material to the best of your ability, trying to ensure everything is there and to anticipate student questions, there are things you are going to miss, and some delivered material will need further clarification. We are human and we make mistakes, and that is okay.

With that said, some other advice is to budget more time for responding to student emails as you will receive more emails asking for clarification. In fact, you will find often that students ask for clarification on the same topic. I ended up including an anonymous “Ask the instructor/TA” forum where I encouraged students to ask questions, and I would post questions from the emails I received. I found that this helped with the number of emails I received, and it likely helped those students afraid to ask questions.

5. It’s going to be harder to engage with your students, and it’s going to be a lonely experience.

 What I wish I knew most is that with pre-recorded lectures, you unfortunately do not have the opportunity to engage student interaction in the lecture itself and it’s going to be a lonely experience. If you are an instructor who welcomes student interaction and engaging student learning in class, and budget time for this, you are going to miss this immensely. With pre-recorded videos, you don’t get to discuss the material in class, you can’t see where students are misunderstanding the material, and you can’t promote in-class student interaction. Of course, there are ways that you can still engage student learning – through polls or meeting online at different times – but it is still not going to be the same, and more often, not all students will show up.

Not only that, teaching in front of a screen with no audience is going to feel lonely. You spend a lot of time by yourself in front of a computer screen, not only creating/modifying your lectures for this new online world, but also recording, uploading, meeting with students, etc. In addition, while you will receive some positive feedback regarding your lectures, a lot of the interaction that you do have with your students might relate more to you clarifying material or administrative tasks, rather than having a discussion on course content itself, which can feel defeating. But that’s okay. This experience is also lonely for other instructors I have spoken to and for the students as well. Many students also love the in-class interaction, and that too has been taken from them. We just have to remember that this experience is temporary, and we are all in this together.

6. There are positives.

While a lot of this blog post focused on the negative aspects of pre-recording your lectures, there are some positives. In this new method of teaching, you yourself get to be a student again – you learn different methods of teaching, you read about different ways to make your lecture content engaging and how to get your students interested in the topics that you are teaching, and you read multiple blogs and watch videos on how to be a more effective teacher. In reality, this is actually a professional development opportunity for us. This opportunity allows us to rise to the challenge, do better, and be the best teachers we can be. I have come up with so many new ideas on better ways to deliver my in-class lectures when we are able to return to the classroom. And I continue to modify my pre-recorded videos as I learn and navigate this new online world. I have now completed two online courses where I pre-recorded my lectures and feel a sense of accomplishment after a difficult challenge. You got this!!!

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