On 9 April 2021, the Connected Classrooms Project held an online workshop to simulate a taught seminar, as a test-run for the style of teaching to be carried out in the module next year. The workshop ran for 1.5 hours, and included participants from Exeter as well as LUMS, in addition to academics from both institutions. Our aim was to allow students the space to connect on their own terms and discuss their findings around the prompt “Evaluate the emerging social movements coming out of South Asia, with reference to social media.” Tutors had assigned two essential readings outlining one example each from India and Pakistan, to give students an idea as to the direction they were expected to go in. During the workshop, students were split into breakout rooms on Zoom, with at least one representative from each university in each group. This was to ensure cross-institutional collaboration, and students were asked to work together and use Padlet to collate their ideas. Halfway through, tutors entered each breakout room for a short time to discuss students’ findings with them, preparing them to give a short presentation to the entire ‘class’ at the end of the workshop.
We were pleased to find that a great deal of the feedback at the end of the session was positive, and any concerns we had previously held were easily dismissed. Students indicated that there were no communication barriers, citing the previous year’s online teaching as the reason that they were able to easily work together in breakout rooms, having ample experience of using Zoom already. Since tutors allowed the students to work within their groups alone before joining breakout rooms, students were also able to get to know each other a little more than they would have in a more formal setting. As one student indicated in their feedback response: “A testament to how easy the communication was is that we hadn’t bothered to look back at the prompt until the tutors dropped in.”
Padlet was also considered a useful tool for collaboration, especially because it allowed students to post information in various multimedia formats such as via pictures, videos, as well as links to interesting websites and articles. Feedback also indicated that, for some students who are quieter than others, Padlet can be a good tool to enable them to feel like they are contributing to the discussion, without having to verbally join in. Perhaps most importantly, however, students were incredibly excited about the cross-institutional and cross-continental collaboration opportunity, and tutors found upon entering their breakout rooms that discussions involved a great deal of the back-and-forth sharing of information that a lack of access had previously made impossible for everyone to experience and enjoy.
As with any initiative, however, there is always room for improvement, and we were eager for students to help us narrow down the areas that they would like more guidance in. A major takeaway was that students were anxious for tutors to provide ice-breaker sessions, to enable them to form connections with their peers at both institutions. To quote one student, “I think working in isolation is the biggest challenge. To overcome that, I think live discussions/seminars can be productive.”
To this effect, we plan to put students into study groups at the beginning of the module, not only to help them get to know each other, but also so they may work together and produce a short presentation as part of a formative assessment. Fortunately, as much of the module will comprise of live seminars running on Zoom, we hope to ensure all learning outcomes can be met effectively.
We would like to thank the following students for participating in the workshop, and for providing such helpful feedback and encouragement: from LUMS, Aamna Asghar, Mohid Ahsan, Sufyan Mirza, Manahil Javed and Bakht Noor; and from Exeter, Phoebe Gale and Vaishnavi Singh.
For the next few months, we plan to complete designing our module, setting up the module ELE page and hold conversations with colleagues in other departments so that this module can become the first step towards an Exeter-LUMS co-run Masters in South Asian Studies, which is our dream! To learn more about Connected Classrooms, read our previous blog introducing the project here.