By Maria Radeva 

We held a TILE Network webinar in May and hosted Dr Emily Nordmann and Dr Jill MacKay, who talked about their preprint paper on supporting a temporary online pivot in Higher Education. The current situation has forced most educational institutions worldwide to close their campuses for the second part of the 2019-2020 academic year. Therefore, face-to-face programmes were delivered online and many students were assessed online. Dr Nordmann and Dr MacKay consider that the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19 is likely to continue, therefore, contingency plans are being discussed and worked on for the 2020-2021 academic year. Although each institution, programme and course require different level of support, resources and expertise, the main concern, regarding how to provide teaching and assessment that is accessible and fair for all students, remains for all educators. Dr Nordmann and Dr MacKay presented 10 guiding principles that can be used by every conceivable pedagogy to help converting face-to-face practices into distance teaching and learning for new and continuing students.

According to Rule 1, a temporary online pivot is not the same as emergency remote teaching or a specialised online course. A big part of the student and teaching community is not familiarised with distance learning and thus, this type of teaching is considered as a threat to the education sector. Furthermore, programmes adhering to professional standards may require more effort from educators to be planned in such a way to meet accreditation standards. Contingency plans for the 2020/2021 academic year should be more robust than emergency remote teachings, as this is a step that should be made in order to meet the workload, pedagogy and practicalities until the situation normalises.

According to Rule 2, the focus should be on recording and providing asynchronous content, thus enabling students to access the material at any time. The pivot to online may cause issues mainly among disadvantaged and first-year students, such as lack of appropriate working environment, lack of access to technology and under-developed skills for independent online study. However, the online learning environment will be better for students who struggle with accommodation or engaging with on-campus programmes.

Rule 3 states that students should be given the opportunity for synchronous and asynchronous contact and communication with staff and peers. Although lecture recordings should be offered asynchronously, synchronous contact can be beneficial for students to seek support or clarification regarding course material or assessments and discuss course content with peers and tutors. Dr Nordmann and Dr MacKay talk about different programs for setting up video conferences, asynchronous technologies, such as VLE and the process of preparing synchronous events/videos.

According to Rule 4, due to the lack of experience of online learning among students, educators should set and communicate clearly their expectations about engagement at the beginning of the course. As most of the academic work will require independent learning, students should receive support to achieve the academic standards and independently develop their skills in the time provided. The pivot to online can lead to unrealistic expectations about educators’ availability, therefore, communications from staff should be clear and direct towards alternative sources of support.

Rule 5 is about designing appropriate assessments and communicating expectations clearly. Providing feedback is a crucial part of the learning process, therefore, students should have the opportunity to engage with their work after submitting it. It will be necessary to rethink the design principles and the marking criteria, because it is likely that any assessment on a pivoted course will be open book. Dr Nordmann and Dr MacKay propose different ways to approach this change and several ideas about students’ assessment.

Rule 6 promotes monitoring and supporting engagement. Educators should ensure students’ engagement with courses and peers is regular and sustained, as it is an important part of student learning and well-being. Dr Nordmann and Dr MacKay suggest ways how to monitor engagement for asynchronous and synchronous content, e.g., via checklists on the VLE and offering regular drop-in sessions.

According to Rule 7, educators should review the use and format of recorded content. Lecturers may use recording from past years; however, they may need to record new ones that can be more suitable for the online-only delivery, e.g., a series of shorter videos. This may require recording introductory videos, replacing old material with new one and following lecture capture policy.

Rule 8 is about focusing on achievable learning outcomes for field, laboratory and performance work. Teaching disciplines with a practical component online, such as field, laboratory and performance work, should be carefully considered. Dr Nordmann and Dr MacKay discuss advantages and disadvantages of this change, combined with advices and strategies for teaching practical skills online. One idea that was suggested is to provide students with prerecorded videos on the parts that the lecturer teaches in a more frontal way and use the synchronous sessions for group activities and structured discussions.

According to Rule 9, educators should ensure resources are available, accessible and signposted. According to Dr Nordmann and Dr MacKay, attention should be paid to associated resources, such as additional PowerPoint slides and short navigational videos to provide guidance for using online spaces. The reading lists should include only online accessible resources, even if they are less favoured materials. This is likely to have a positive effect on student engagement and motivation.

Rule 10 is about creating a community for staff and students. Dr Nordmann and Dr MacKay propose that communication between staff and students will be vital, especially until everyone adapts to the pivot. This will make the online community stronger and is particularly important for first-year students.

Dr Nordmann provided concrete examples for online pivot plans, guided by the 10 rules. There was also a discussion, which included guests’ concerns and opinions, as well as, new ideas. Watch the recording to find out what other educators think.

About the Blog Post Author:

Maria Radeva is a third-year (soon-to-be forth-year) Psychology student at the University of Dundee. Her passion for Psychology started when she was in high school in Bulgaria, as she participated in many national Philosophy and Psychology student conferences, competitions and debates. Furthermore, her grandma was a well-known psychologist back home, so she knew this is the career she wants to pursue. She was not sure exactly which discipline would be the best for her, but after three years of studying different aspects of this field, she realised that she is most interested in Cognition and Emotion, Forensic Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Applied Psychology. Maria is curious and always tries to find articles, TedTalks and books that can help her acquire new knowledge and skills. She is grateful to be part of the TILE Network and meet people who are also innovative and thirsty for knowledge. She became a volunteer at the TILE Network because the education system in Scotland (both Secondary and Further Education) is very different to the one in Bulgaria and she started realising how important the educators’ approach is. This motivated her to read more and even suggest new practices, techniques and other ideas to her teachers. Furthermore, she has been involved in journalism (writing articles, short stories and preparing interviews) for quite a long time. Therefore, this volunteering opportunity is not only a chance for her to contribute to something bigger than student community, but also to communicate with professionals, acquire invaluable experience and knowledge, and of course to do what she loves – to write.


As continued COVID-19 disruption looks likely across the world, contingency plans are being drawn-up for the 2020-2021 academic year. This includes delivering face-to-face programmes fully-online for both new and continuing cohorts of students. This temporary pivot will necessitate distance teaching and learning across almost every conceivable pedagogy, from fundamental degrees to professionally accredited ones. In this seminar we will discuss our new preprint “10 simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education” and how, despite much of what is to come being far from simple, there are a number of underlying principles that can be used to support the planning process (and how these rules don’t just apply to higher education, despite the focus of the paper). We will also present interdisciplinary examples for online pivot plans that are built around the 10 rules. Finally, we will end with a discussion of the concerns and challenges that face you as educators.


About the speakers:

Dr Emily Nordmann is a teaching-focused lecturer in the School of Psychology, University of Glasgow. The main focus of her pedagogical research is how lecture capture can be used as an effective learning tool. She teaches statistics and research methods using R and is a firm supporter of open and reproducible research practices and educational resources. You can follow her on Twitter @EmilyNordmann.

Dr Jill MacKay is a Lecturer in Veterinary Science Education at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. Her research interests mainly lie within research methodology and exploring how students learn in digital environments. She has been known to play the odd video game. You can follow her on Twitter: @jilly_mackay.

All authors of this project:

  • Emily Nordmann, Level 1 Year Lead, School of Psychology, University of Glasgow, @EmilyNordmann
  • Chiara Horlin, MSc Online Distance Learning Programme Lead, School of Psychology, University of Glasgow, @aussiewegie
  • Jacqui Hutchison, Level 1 Course Lead, School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, @jacqui_hutch
  • Jo-Anne Murray, Assistant Vice-Principal for Digital Education, University of Glasgow, @Jo_AnneMurray
  • Louise Robson, Director of Learning and Teaching, Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, @louisescicomm
  • Michael Seery, Director of Teaching, School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh, @seerymk​
  • Jill MacKay, UG Course Organiser, Distance Learning PG Course Organiser, University of Edinburgh, @jilly_mackay