a) An understanding of the contraints and benefits of different technologies
Through my work as a Learning Technologist, I have developed an interest in inclusive online spaces over the past 12 months. This has involved using my team blog and my professional blog1 to reflect on the design of virtual spaces, including meeting/webinar tool graphical user interfaces (GUIs). This has also included online session formats, i.e., the approach that the lecturer or facilitator takes to plan out the elements in a session and support the learner experience. Watch Parties are a session format that I have considered in-depth, a process prompted by an academic colleague in a school I support who sought my advice on the format, which they had learned of via Twitter (Nordmann, 2021).
To briefly explain the Watch Party format as it applies in Higher Education. The lecturer schedules time to watch pre-recorded learning content alongside the students. This content could be the lecturer’s own pre-recorded learning content, a mixture of their own content and curated open content (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, the Internet Archive), or curated open content alone. At its heart the format provides several practical and technical affordances the most important of which, during the pandemic, is the allocation of time for watching. Giving students permission to use the time to digest content collectively with the lecturer’s help on-hand.
As well as affordances I also learned of some perils. Having reviewed the aforementioned tips shared on Twitter, I identified two key problems. Both problems related to playing videos via screensharing in Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The first problem is that a screen-shared video is a flat facsimile of the original video player, therefore accessibility features such as closed captions are unavailable to student viewers. The second problem is that sharing a streaming video via streaming video (aka screenshare) results in issues with video quality and audio-visual synchronisation for student viewers. Two additional issues applied at my own institution where Microsoft Teams is used. The first issue was the requirement to turn on audio sharing at the point of each ‘screenshare’, I observed that staff easily missed the toggle button for audio sharing and the function itself was unreliable. The second issue was digital rights management (DRM) in Microsoft Teams; YouTube played on the instructor’s computer, but when that content was screenshared it was blocked in the students’ view. Based on my review the proposed workflow for Watch Parties was unviable, as it impacted on accessibility and learning experience.
By bringing the Watch Party concept to me, my academic colleague gave me the opportunity to perform a pre-mortem assessment; devising written guidance to avoid potential issues. I presented this guidance on my team blog, and shared it on Twitter, and via our Remote Teaching area on Microsoft Teams2. The guidance was based on discussions with staff who had run Watch Parties and my own experience of running them. My advice was still to use Microsoft Teams: to provide the chat backchannel during watching to facilitate digital presence; for calls between videos; and, for online activities between videos. The difference being that students watch the videos on their own computer/device during a specified timeslot and videos are linked/embedded in the VLE. I have subsequently presented to staff at the university on Watch Parties3 and devised requirements for a Minimum Viable Watch Party, as a memorable play on ‘Minimum Viable Product’ to help inform decisions based on institutionally supported software tools. Due to rapidly developing technologies this guidance will be iterative4. The feedback from academic colleagues has been positive, after some mixed success with third-party tools (e.g., YouTube Premieres).
Nordmann, E. [@emilynordmann] (2021) If you’re doing online lectures this semester, one format we found works well is watch parties... [Twitter] 18 January. Available at: https://twitter.com/emilynordmann/status/1351166551752384513?s=20 (Accessed: 23 May 2021)
Evidence: 2 x Blog/vlog posts from professional blog collated - Word document | PDF quick view (2021). ↩︎
Evidence: Watch Party Blog post from eLearning Team blog, Tweet, and Microsoft Teams post for academic staff about Watch Parties collated - Word document | PDF quick view. Posts explore: inclusive online spaces, watch parties and issues with subtitles access (2021). ↩︎
Evidence: Selected slides and staff feedback - PowerPoint | PDF quick view from ‘Watch Parties and Live Lectures - What, Why, Who, Where, How’ presented at School of Humanies and Applied Social Sciences Learning and Teaching Fortnight (Friday 23 April, 2021, repeated on Monday 26th April, 2021). ↩︎