Reacting to the Pandemic: Development of online teaching material – a short case study 

Dr Orlanda Harvey
22nd October 2021

This case study demonstrates how the Social Work Team redesigned our teaching activities to support the move from face-to-face to online teaching as a result of lockdown. We worked together across the team to agree an over-arching structure for units so that the students had an engaging and consistent experience which included live seminars, online activities and pre-recorded lectures. The foremost consideration relating to student experience which concerned me was ensuring the online learning experience was engaging, met different learning styles and that there was some student/lecturer interactivity as teaching online can leave students feeling disconnected from the course (Martin 2019). This was a particular concern for me as my mid-course feedback had several comments relating to an appreciation of the practical elements of the sessions: 

‘I… enjoy the interactional learning experience, it seems very practical based which is a good learning style for me.’ 

Lecturer/student relationships are at the heart of good teaching practice (Martin 2019) and several students emailed to say they were looking forward to the virtual classrooms as they had been finding the situation a little anxiety-inducing. However, it was also clear that some students, due to other priorities, would not be able to join the ‘live’ sessions. It was, however, crucial to include these as a criticism of online teaching materials is the lack of presence of the lecturer in the classroom (Martin 2019) therefore, as a team we agreed to record the ‘live’ sessions.  

The BU Learning Technologies Team ran a series of ‘tech’ sessions to help us develop our knowledge of Brightspace, our virtual learning platform. Reflecting on these sessions, allowed us to consider how to re-structure Brightspace. At the heart of an effective teaching experience is learner engagement with the subject matter. As people have different preferences for the way they learn (Race 2015) it is useful to present learning materials in different ways (Ginns 2005) to match student learning styles and personal circumstances. We addressed this by using a range of teaching materials including: video discussions with practitioners, pre-reading, a quiz, videos, pre-recorded PowerPoint lectures (as instructor created video content can help students to help to support a quasi-student/lecturer relationship (Martin 2019)) and individual reflective activities. 

We felt that it might be overwhelming for the students if they were suddenly faced with more resources in Brightspace than previously. Therefore, to guide them through the materials and add structure, we each undertook different ways to help guide the students, for some this included the use of short videos, but for me this was through the creation of a hyperlinked workbook. This was important as in online environments an element of student engagement is facilitated through the design and organisation of learning material (Cohen et al. 2019). What was especially pleasing was that our hard work had not gone unnoticed and we received positive comments both about the structuring of materials but also the chance for students to re-watch recorded videos or use them to catch up if needed, as many of our students were also working or home-schilling throughout.  

One activity used in the virtual classroom to enhance participation demonstrates how online collaborative tools can aid student engagement. The Padlet online tool can help facilitate student’s participation and learning (Zhi and Su 2015), collect ideas and suggestions (Fisher 2017) and encourage discussion from students who do not normally engage (Sundararajan and Maquivar 2017). Having previously successfully used Padlet in face-to-face session, I decided to incorporate it to adapt a skills-practice activity. Students wrote their questions based on a scenario.  There was also the advantage of being able to post the Board on Brightspace after the session.  

Of the students attending, about half contributed. This raised the question as to why some chose not to. There could be a variety of reasons including difficulty accessing the link, being uncomfortable with technology, lacking confidence in sharing opinions, being uncomfortable with the topic. I had experienced a similar issue last time but this time I asked in the group chat for immediate feedback e.g. 

  • I enjoyed it too, this was a good visual learning tool for me 
  • I found it good fun and really engaging ! 
  • Especially the anonymous bit, if i had a question I was worried about asking, it might encourage me to ask it 

Interestingly, it was all positive, however I suspect this came from those who engaged, and this could be based on an individual’s learning style. Moreover, we all found that when using Padlet even in the face-to-face sessions some students participated more than others.  

One aspect that the team agreed was key to engaging the students was not to lose ‘live’ sessions, so rather than purely pre-recorded lectures, we all undertook weekly, virtual ‘live’ seminars. This was daunting, and we were fearful of a zoom call with lots of ‘blank screens’.  However, here our students were amazing, and if the broadband allowed the majority kept the videos on. As teaching in the online environment was a new experience, we dropped into each other’s sessions, working together, when we had the capacity. We received positive feedback from both colleagues and students about our ‘live’ sessions e.g. 

  • ‘I just wanted to say thank you again for the virtual lesson this morning. I really enjoyed the content and am loving the different tasks on Brightspace.’ 

In addition, as a team we also worked together to keep an element of face-to-face teaching, so that our students could continue the development of key social work skills practice. These sessions always received very positive feedback, but to be honest were very hard to manage as we also allowed for these students who were self-isolating to join us via a live zoom link. So we would have a 200-seater lecture there with 20 students (in masks) with a few students join us virtually. To support each other in the delivery of these (which to make them worthwhile were full days), we team taught them. This meant we worked together to bring the different skills and knowledge from each of units into a blended session, whereby students explored the different aspects of a case or situation for example, unpicking the laws and policies, that would apply to the case, what models and methods might be used, what theories might apply and then how they might engage with the service users around key communication and relationship building skills.  

Reflecting on the experience of delivering online learning, the creation of workbooks to help structure the students learning was appreciated and is something we will be continuing, and also the short videos to introduce key subject areas. The ‘live’, virtual sessions were a great stop gap, but students all love being in face-to-face lectures so we will be back in the classroom next semester (pandemic willing). However, for our CPD students, who are in practice, the developments we have made in blended learning and working in the online environment have proved invaluable, as it gives them so much more flexibility around managing their learning that we will be continuing these.  


  • Cohen, J., & Jackson-Haub, D. (2019). Designing Learning for Student Engagement: An Online First Year Higher Education Experience. The International Journal of Technologies in Learning, 26(2), 35–41. 
  • Fisher, C. D., 2017. Padlet: An Online Tool for Learner Engagement and Collaboration. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 16 (1), 163–165. 
  • Ginns, P., 2005. Meta-analysis of the modality effect. Learning and Instruction, 15 (4), 313–331. 
  • Martin, J., 2019. Building relationships and increasing engagement in the virtual classroom: Practical tools for the online instructor. Journal of Educators Online, 16 (1). 
  • Race, P., 2015. The lecturer’s toolkit: a practical guide to assessment, learning and teaching [online]. London ; New York : Routledge, 2015. 
  • Sundararajan, N., & Maquivar, M. G. (2017). How to increase student participation and engagement using Padlet: A case study of collaborative discussion in an animal sciences course. In Journal of Animal Science (Vol. 95, p. 356). 
  • Zhi, Q., & Su, M. (2015). Enhance Collaborative Learning by Visualizing Process of Knowledge Building with Padlet. 2015 International Conference of Educational Innovation through Technology (EITT), 221. 
Meet the author(s)

Dr Orlanda Harvey

Senior lecturer in Social Work
Orlanda is a senior lecturer in the Social Work Team, specialising in Developing Professional Relationships and Leadership. She completed her doctoral research in 2020 exploring men's recreational use of Androgenic Anabolic Steroid Use. Her research interests include: Image and Performance Enhancing Substance Use, Domestic Violence and Abuse, leadership, and reflective practice.
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