The Learning and Teaching Activities area

The Learning and Teaching Activities area is designed to structure and present information and resources for students related to module study.

The key guidance for using this section is simply to ensure that information is presenting clearly, accessibly and in a coherent and logical sequence. Particularly relevant to the experience for those new to studying at Aston, care should also be taken to ensure that expectations of students are clearly explained and that they are presented with information in a timely and proportionate way. This section can be used to embed Panopto recordings, copies of notes or presentation materials from taught sessions, and details of clearly defined study activities.

Whilst this section should support and provide structure to all student learning activities including self-directed study, materials and information should relate primarily to scheduled learning and teaching ‘contact’ activities, both Live and interactive (synchronous – such as lectures, seminars and tutorials), and Flexible Learning Activity (asynchronous – structured, Aston produced and/or curated study content and activities with clearly defined completion time and timescales).

Final decisions regarding the terminology used to describe asynchronous learning and teaching activities will be made by the end of July 2020.

Noting that all asynchronous learning activities scheduled as formal contact time must incorporate Aston produced content or clearly defined curated academic support, some illustrative examples of relevant asynchronous learning and teaching activities include:

  • Review of published Panopto recording and completion of additional required reading.
  • Completion of a desktop research exercise and engagement with an academically curated Discussion Board, Journal Space, or Wiki exercise.

Supporting and delivering engaging synchronous learning and teaching

Running live sessions with students requires practice, for both students and staff, and is best approached through focused consideration of key points of interaction: Tutor to Student, Student to Student, and Student to Tutor, and in terms of a gradual release of responsibility from tutor, to students, to student.

Diagram highlighting the gradual realise of responsibility as a process of active demonstration, collaboration, towards individual responsibility
Scaffolded learning theory of Jerome Bruner (1976). The gradual release of responsibility from teacher to student. Adapted from: Fisher, D. and N. Frey, Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Virginia, 2008.

In practical terms, this means:

  • Ensuring active demonstration as well as explanation for how to engage with learning activities in terms of direct instruction.
  • Providing structured opportunities for students to engage with learning activity with direct support.
  • Providing structured opportunities for students to work together.
  • Clearly defining student responsibilities in terms of how they are expected to work autonomously.

Accessibility and inclusive practice

In terms of inclusive practice, Aston is committed to ensuring that our programmes of study reflect the diversity and individual learning needs of our students. Make sure your curriculum and learning materials reflect an international and research informed perspective.

It is also important to consider the context in which your students are studying when publishing content or facilitating synchronous online engagement activities. For example, links to most video sharing platforms including YouTube and Vimeo will not be accessible everywhere, notably in China. It is also recommended to keep file sizes as small as possible and groups sizes for webinars in particular as small as possible to improve access for those with slower internet connectivity, and to embed as much information as possible within Blackboard content areas rather than attach as files requiring download. For example, it is preferable to record narrated PowerPoint materials using Panopto than to attach PowerPoint files with recorded narration and to keep recordings as short as possible.

When supporting students with significant challenges engaging with synchronous online activities and/or accessing information related to their studies, some key guidance includes ensuring that dialogue with other colleagues involved in supporting the student is undertaken and that students are:

Note that all on campus students, their Personal Tutors, Module Leaders, Programme Directors and Senior Tutors including Associate Deans for Learning and Teaching will have access to the MyEngagement learning analytics system. Reach out, talk to colleagues, work in a coordinated way, and use MyEngagement to record and share notes about your dialogue with and interventions in support of students.

Beyond technical issues of accessibility, it is also important to consider the accessibility of materials and resources in terms of their format and presentation. Blackboard Ally provides students with the opportunity to download content in different formats but care should be given to ensure information is presented in accessible ways. For example, it is important to avoid scanned PDF documents (to ensure functionality of screen reader software) and ensure that images have text descriptions added.

Key technical guidance about improving the accessibility of published learning materials and resources is available. This includes information about how to use Blackboard Ally to improve accessibility and guidance about tools including auto captioning for audio and video content.

Top tips for improving accessibility for students include:

  • Ensure that all students are reassured and provided clear guidance about actions to take should they experience any connection issues during synchronous webinars.
  • Keep Panopto recordings short and import, then edit, the automatically generated captions.
  • Keep participant numbers low for synchronous webinar sessions and below 25 if supporting students internationally whenever possible.
  • Plan for how to support students who may have difficulty engaging with online study.

Work is underway across the sector to develop solutions to improve international accessibility for students.

Teaching large groups

Modules with very large numbers of students have always represented a unique challenge. Noting that Blackboard Collaborate Ultra can technically accommodate up to 250 participants in a standard webinar session and up to 500 participants in an individual session, accessibility for students, and particularly for those studying overseas, is always improved through limiting the number of participants in an individual session through use of smaller group activities.

Key guidance for staff in terms of supporting synchronous webinars using Collaborate Ultra is:

  • Ensure that protocols for webinar sessions and expectations of students are clearly explained in advance of the start of sessions. This should include reassurance for students regarding any technical difficulties they may experience and an explanation of what would happen should the Tutor be unable to support the session. Careful consideration should be given where sensitive or potentially challenging topics may be covered (consider that anything can be recorded and potentially shared by any participant).
  • Limit synchronous webinars to small groups whenever possible. When supporting students studying in China, for example, maximum group sizes of 25 are advised.
  • Managing synchronous online and interactive teaching activities requires practice to develop confidence.
  • Co-deliver sessions with a colleague whenever possible if supporting webinars with large numbers of participants. Additional support for responding to posts in the chat area or addressing queries from individual groups during breakout sessions can be extremely useful.
  • Individuals with access issues can be extremely disruptive particularly at the start of sessions and having additional support can be useful in directing individuals to appropriate settings and/or noting any connectivity issues experienced by individual participants for later follow up support.
  • Note that when you are engaged in supporting a webinar, students unable to attend or access for other reasons may seek to contact you via email. It can be useful to set up an automatic email reply that includes reassurance for students should they contact you whilst you are unable to respond immediately.
  • Ensure any presentations or learning materials are available with time for review and ideally uploaded as accessible documents to preserve formatting.

Considerations regarding student engagement and participation in taught sessions

It is important to note that a significant proportion of students, particularly those new to studying at Aston and without an established social network, can find interaction and active participation in teaching sessions a daunting experience and be uncertain about the expectations placed on them. It is therefore important that students are actively supported in developing their engagement and participation in taught sessions and provided with clear instruction about the expectations placed on them.

  • Provide clear guidance regarding any required preparation prior to sessions.
  • Set and remind students of participation and behaviour expectations at the start of sessions.
  • Structure and demonstrate how to engage and participate and provide focused opportunities to develop confidence.
  • Recognise that there is a balance to be struck between allowing students to develop their engagement at a pace they feel comfortable with, and actively encouraging or requiring participation so that anxieties can be overcome quickly. Direct personalised support for some students may be required if engagement and participation is not developing as judged to be in the best interests of the student.
  • Manage student expectations by highlighting that some students may not be able to participate directly due to their individual circumstances. For example, if using Collaborate breakout rooms, it is important to highlight that some students may not be able to participate directly (video, audio or chat) for technical or other reasons and that this should not be a cause for concern.
  • It can take time to get to know your students without active interaction. It is useful to establish clear plans for how you will structure opportunities to get to know your students and protocols for supporting students in getting to know each other in the context of module study. Recognising the potential for social integration activities to be undertaken at programme level and University level, well designed discussion board activity can be a useful way of encouraging student interaction whilst providing tutors with opportunities to get to know and respond to students individually.

Recording of synchronous teaching activities

Where a lecture or webinar is recorded, everyone attending the lecture or participating in the webinar should be made aware that it is being recorded, why it is being recorded and who will have access to it. Students, in agreeing to the University’s Terms and Conditions of Enrolment, acknowledge that such recordings will take place.

The key point within the Aston policy regarding recording and publication of taught sessions is:

Where it is appropriate to the learning experience, the University expects all staff to audio record live lectures in front of a student audience, and live webinars. There may be instances where recording a lecture or webinar is inappropriate, for example due to ethical issues, the use of sensitive material, or because interactive elements are embedded within those lectures. The decision not to record a lecture or webinar should be made by the member of staff in conjunction with the Programme Director(s). The reasons why a lecture or webinar is not recorded should be made clear to the students.

Considerations regarding recording of interactive teaching activities:

  • Students may be less willing to interact or contribute directly if they are concerned about this being recorded. Particularly relevant for students who are new to Aston, it is recommended that unless there is an active reason for doing so, such as recording of presentations by students, that interactive elements of synchronous online activity are not recorded at least during the initial sessions.
  • Some students may be unable to engage synchronously with taught sessions and a recording may be important for the student to be able to catch up and remain engaged with their studies.
  • Note that a summary by the Tutor recorded independently of timetabled teaching activities can be a useful way of summarising key information and discussion points for students unable to engage with synchronous activities.
  • Note that with careful structuring of synchronous webinars and lectures, key sections can be recorded and clearly defined for students and paused when seeking to encourage interaction and student participation.


For technical help contact the TEL team