Anja Skaar Jacobsen is an educator at Copenhagen Adult Education Centre (KVUC), with the educational responsibility for 70 students per semester within the fields of Physics and Chemistry. She also teaches Philosophy of science at the Niels Bohr Institute. During the last year, 80% of her teaching has been online.

How did you handle this new situation when you first started doing online classes? What new tools and approaches did you start using?

KVUC has offered online classes at all levels for many years. Therefore, we have developed a lot of online teaching materials such as short videos with theory presentation and written and oral assignments. I am well acquainted with the material since I also teach online courses under normal circumstances, and I take an active part in the development of the material. When lockdown started a year ago it was therefore relatively easy for me to implement some of the material in my other classes as well.

During the spring 2020 we learned to use Teams as a teaching platform. I interchange between brief half hour lectures or asynchrone teaching videos, group and individual assignments, virtual and kitchen experiments, and the occasional kahoot.

I started using my ipad and the app Notability, which works quite well in lecturing and showing examples of problem solving, etc. on Teams. I have also used my ipad sometimes for showing “kitchen” experiments and that seems to work relatively well.

Some kitchen experiments work out all right at the C-level, but I find that one quickly runs out of topics.

What are some positive experiences you have had with online classes? Are there any activities which work just as well as in normal classes, or maybe even better?

For some students groupwork turns out well, for others it doesn’t work at all with online teaching no matter what. Some of the groups get very close. They support and complement each other very well in the groupwork. They even arrange to meet up and dine at each other’s places, even though they live far apart in different corners of Sjælland.

I find that individual oral assignments work well. Students perform small videos where they present a subject. In that way I get to hear all students, some of whom might otherwise seem rather invisible and inaudible in a Teams classroom. The disadvantage is that it takes a lot of time to comment on the videos.

Group presentations of a subject also works smoothly, something I tried mainly in a philosophy of science course at the Niels Bohr Institute. It doesn’t take long for a powerpoint to be up and running on Zoom compared to in a physical classroom. However, a presentation in the classroom also involves body language and eye contact which is completely missing on the screen. Plenum discussions can work well in a class with actively engaged students and not so well in classes with more passive students, this is similar to classroom discussions, I find.

I find it relatively easy to help students with a particular calculation or a formula with the share screen function in Zoom or Teams. So rather than trying to explain something in an email, perhaps these platforms can be used in the future to help and guide students when out of the classroom.

In your experience, what does not work well in the virtual classroom?

The practical elements of physics and chemistry do not work well virtually. Live demo experiments do not work in my opinion. I have tried to use a projector to show students at home reflection and refraction phenomena, but the students at home were one big question mark. They had to perform the experiment themselves when they were back in the classroom in order to understand what was going on.

In normal classes I often hear students utter that they understand the subject much better after they have performed related experiments. At the KVUC we developed a virtual lab including small videos of the experimental devices, setups and the measurements and provided the students with data sets to analyse, but there is no Eureka experience about analysing experiments in this way. In general, I find that students do not grasp what goes on in experiments unless they have performed them themselves. I think this became particularly clear during the spring semester of 2020.

I have a blind person in one of my classes. It is even more difficult to make models and drawings comprehensible for her online than it would have been in the classroom, where I could have hold her finger to show her a drawing of an atom, for example.

What will you take with you back to the physical classroom when it becomes possible to teach in person again?
A lot of joy that online teaching is over. I will use Teams for helping and guiding students who have questions about particular assignments etc.