The end of March was a busy time for colleges and lecturers. On 23 March, the Department for Education announced that all colleges were to close except to a small group of students – and within a few days, Tyne Coast College, where I teach, had a home learning page live. It contains access information for students, free resources and advice to make the most of working from home, alongside appropriate health and wellbeing information.
I teach marine school to four classes of students – and although the Marine and Coastguard Agency, in conjunction with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), cancelled all exams, I am still delivering lessons covering topics like management of vessel operations, structures and maintenance and ship stability through webinars.
There was little time to get set up at home, and I had to hit the ground running. Luckily, the wonderful IT department came to my aid whenever I was lost.
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The first lesson was probably the most useful in terms of getting to grips with the technology. I explained to the students how the learning will be carried out and how to get the most from it. At the outset, I told them the notes they need to have to hand, together with calculators and stationery they needed for the lesson. Next, I advised them to keep their microphones on mute and use the chat for raising any questions during the lesson. I also told them to take notes during the presentation and unmute to answer any questions that I ask them on the topic. Once the rules were set, the delivery of the lecture was no different from how it would be presented in a classroom.
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The topics covered in MVO were tanker operations, dry bulk cargo and passenger operations. I would teach for about 10 minutes and then assess students through direct questioning on what I had covered. This would break the monotony and encourage students to be more attentive. I took a short break every hour – just as I would do in classroom teaching. Other than the fact I was not able to play short educational subscription videos that I normally do in the classroom, the lessons were quite interactive and enjoyable for both me and my students.
For the structures and maintenance module, I was able to cover maintenance on ships and condition of assignment of freeboard. The student participation was great, and I was able to assess their understanding by asking them random questions on the topics at the end of every 10 minutes of teaching. Microsoft Teams is a great platform for webinars and for keeping in touch with students in such grim and testing times. The PowerPoint presentations ran seamlessly, and the students were encouraged to record videos of the presentation for revision at a later date.
In ship stability, I covered righting arm curves, grain calculation, angle of heel on turning and centroids. This was for a large cohort group comprising of 22 students, and the teaching involved calculations and graph work. I was able to see the written work as students uploaded the images of the graphs and calculations in files and the chat window. The students were quite excited about this new method of teaching and I must confess it was an enjoyable experience for me, too.
Connected, engaged and occupied
This experience of online distance teaching and learning has certainly been an eye-opener, both for faculty as well as students. The speed at which we all have taken to this new way of working has surprised even us.
One of my students, a young man from India, asked me why it took coronavirus to push us into this. All stakeholders are saving commuting time, are able to work from the comfort of their own homes and can have their favourite cup of coffee as an added attraction. While we stay locked down in our homes, I must say that this new way of working, with webinars and online lectures, is keeping us connected, engaged and occupied. The cost of operations for both students and institutes is bound to reduce once the dust settles a bit.
Manoj Singh is a marine school lecturer at Tyne Coast College