Review: EconTEAching Session 7: Designing Courses for the Transition to Online Teaching, by Dr Dunli Li (UCL)

The seventh session of the #EconTEAching chats organised by CTaLE and the Department of Economics at Warwick took place on 29th July 2020. It featured Dr. Abdullah Al-Bahrani (Northern Kentucky University) and Dr. Cristina Santos (Open University), and was chaired by Dr Cloda Jenkins from CTaLE at UCL. The session live-stream can be found on the CTaLE YouTube channel.

Transition to online teaching could be challenging yet rewarding. The conversation started with an overview of the transition and then centred around topics such as online learning material, engagement, technology, assessment and support, associated with this transition. In the following, the highlights from each topic are summarised:

Overview of the transition

Two principles are mentioned in the conversation. (1) Scaffolding – Break down the material into basic components and meet the learning outcome in a cumulative way. Along the learning journey, milestones are set and students are given regular and personalized feedback. (2) Constructive alignment – Be clear about the learning outcome from the beginning and align the teaching, assessment with the learning outcome.

Learning material

Preparation for the transition can be costly. Educators need to spend time on learning and experimenting with different things and develop content in online format. Meantime, institutions should invest in the infrastructure.

Videos play an important role in online learning. There is much material available. Here, the question was discussed if existing ones produced by third parties shall be used or if there is a value added in making own videos. Both strategies might be working. However, depending on the objective, creating one’s own videos helps to develop the sense of community with the lecturer as the “face” of the course. A nice example is the video on “How to Create Online Education Videos” by Dr. Abdullah Al-Bahrani.

It was noted that videos, as a format of delivery of information, should not be made too long and straight to the point, as students’ attention span is diminishing. Moreover, it was recommended that lecturers should make videos more interactive by introducing activities (e.g. a poll in the middle of the video). Software such as H5P can make this possible.   

Alongside videos, reading material could be provided. Using a variety of media was recommended here in order to cater for different types of learners e.g. visual learners or aural leaners. Also, a combination of reading with activities was suggested. In line with the scaffolding approach, the reading tasks were recommended to be broke down into weekly workload.


How to engage students online, particularly for large groups? The importance of consistency was stressed. It is key here that students can reach lecturers via office hours for clarification of issues. Also, particular attention needs to be paid to students progressing at different speeds. An effective way to deal with this is, for example, setting compulsory ‘milestones’, such as weekly assessments (including MCQs and reflective and application questions). Setting up a discussion board for particularly facilitating small group discussions has proved to be helpful to develop relationships and a sense of community.

Moreover, engagement was viewed as one dimension of ICEBERG model (Integrated, Collaborative, Engaging, Balanced, Economical, Reflective and Gradual). There are several factors that contribute to development of online community, e.g. enough tutors with opportunity for feedback, the way tutors connect to students, online synchronous forums and group size which should be linked to the goal of activity.  

An interesting question on tips for icebreakers in online teaching was raised from the audience. From the following discussion, several tips emerged, such as asking students to use Flipgrid to create a short video to introduce themselves, or asking students to submit an online assignment with hand-drawn diagrams and share them with each other.


In the context of online teaching, technology is obviously crucial. Zoom, MS Teams and Adobe Connect, among others, are used. Notability on the iPad could be useful for writing mathematical equations, which are quite important in Economics. As for video editing software, it was mentioned to use Final Cut Pro for Mac and Adobe Premiere Pro for PC.

There are accessibility issues such as internet access, bandwidth and different time zones. ‘Low tech’ alternatives (offline and accessible versions) of module material could be created. Recordings of synchronous tutorials are to be provided, if allowed. If this is not possible, a written summary of tutorial sessions could be made available. Videos could be made available though both YouTube and the university’s virtual learning environment.


One question on online assessments is: how to prevent or discourage cheating by students? It was discussed that exams could be ‘individualised’, i.e. building a large question bank to avoid students to answer the same ones. Moreover, how to set questions is important: they should be designed in a way that plagiarism is discouraged, e.g. by writing questions that need a higher level of independent thinking (e.g. reflection and application/relating abstract concepts to ‘real-world’ problems).  

An obvious issue of group work is free riding. There was a discussion on finding a balance between willingness to accept some free riding and getting more deep learning through collaboration.

For discussion on online assessment in more detail, check #EconTEAching Session 1 on April 29th 2020.

Support for colleagues on the transition to online teaching

How can we support fellow lecturers and TAs for the transition to online teaching? University teaching and learning centres such as Centre for Teaching and Learning Economics (CTaLE) at UCL and Centre for Economic Education (CEE) at Northern Kentucky University provide useful resources. For example, check the “Adaptable Learning Design in Economics Guide” by Prof. Parama Chaudhury and Dr. Cloda Jenkins from CTaLE at UCL. In the journey of experimenting with different new things and trialling new solutions, it is important that we learn from each other.

Overall, it emerged from this session that the transition to online teaching is challenging yet rewarding. It enables educators to experiment and learn new things and also helps them to reflect on students’ learning experience, in particular the alignment of teaching and learning.

Thanks to Abdullah, Cristina and Cloda for the insightful conversation, and to all the participants for the great discussion!

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