Learning online. NU Professor’s experience

The 2019 pandemic has made a difference in educational environments around the world – universities everywhere are introducing online courses and distance learning. In the spring semester, Nazarbayev University switched to distance learning using Moodle’s BigBlueButton, Zoom, Qualtrics, PowerPoint, electronic journals, e-books, textbooks, and other resources of the Innovation Training Center. Since the beginning of the fall semester, Nazarbayev University students have continued to study online.

The goal of online learning is to create an environment for active participation of students in the educational process, to provide access to educational content, and to organize productive interaction between students and teachers both during and outside of designated lecture times. In online learning, the responsibility for mastering the material lies primarily with the student. The teacher, however, creates learning opportunities for the student by designing the virtual learning environment and acting as a moderator of the educational process.

Online learning is divided into two types – synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous –  is interactive training and consists of classes that are conducted in real time using electronic tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, Google Classroom, Adobe Connect. The teacher plans to be available online during certain hours to interact with students, give feedback, answer questions.

In asynchronous online learning, the teacher prepares and uploads self-study materials to an electronic portal, e.g. Moodle. The student enters the portal at a convenient time and performs tasks at his or her own pace without needing to attend a synchronous lesson. Written assignments are completed and sent to the teacher or uploaded to the portal before the specified deadline.

Dr. Duishon Shamatov, Associate professor at the NU Graduate School of Education, started practicing some elements of online learning for his students enrolled in the “Educational Leadership”  master program as early as 2013. Today, Dr. Shamatov shares his experience.

According to Professor Shamatov it is necessary to analyze the situation in advance to deliver online classes successfully.  The target audience of the course needs to be understood, as well as the technology available to potential students.  For example, what is their Internet access like, and how available are smartphones, tablets, desktop computers etc.? The NU Institutional Research team found that almost all NU students have access to personal computers and a stable internet connection. For the very small number of students who encounter difficulties with the online mode, due to internet connectivity or equipment needs, the University offers two options

The professor develops a course of study only after first trying to understand what digital learning skills the students possess and how effectively they use gadgets in the learning process.

Professor Shamatov recommends that teachers provide students with lecture material in advance for self-study. It is important that teachers do not just read long lectures online. To evaluate learning, he recommends using small tasks like a questionnaire or questions from students about the lecture material; group discussion (before or during a synchronous video conference); and summary/criticism in text or audio format, etc. 

“Teachers and instructors should also bear in mind the level of difficulty for different tasks, as it affects the distribution of student effort. For example, an instructor may give three or four assignments during a course to assess learning instead of one large assignment at the end of the course. In addition, students should have a clear understanding of the criteria used for assessment and what exactly affects the assessment itself – the quality, i.e. active participation in classes or the number of classes attended. All this should be immediately indicated by teachers in the course design,” said Dr. Shamatov.

Online learning uses the student-centered approach, the teacher, in turn, does not transfer knowledge but helps the student to assimilate and build knowledge. Therefore, educators should pay special attention to the types of tasks they assign, their timing, and format. Different types of tasks can serve as opportunities for student engagement and interaction. For example, in addition to the student’s individual work, they can be encouraged to work in pairs or groups to complete certain assignments.

It is noteworthy that NU launched the Innovative Learning hub which provides resources and support to develop innovative approaches to learning and teaching. The Hub offers multimedia guidance on how to design courses, teach and assess in online and blended modes and updates faculty and teaching assistants on the resources available regarding teaching online. Moreover, NU shares experience through regular webinars and seminars. The Office of the Provost conducts seminars in the areas of quality assurance, innovation, and institutional research. Universities with a specific interest in the NU approach to innovative learning are warmly welcomed to contact the NU Innovative Learning Hub.