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Spark Economics researcher Homer shares useful online teaching tips!

Based in Queen's Management School, Spark researcher Homer Wagenaar recently attended the Early Lecturers course of the Economics Network, a UK-based international network for the teaching of economics. Read his account below and tips below!

In the fall of 2020, I attended the Early Lecturers course of the Economics Network, a UK-based international network for the teaching of economics. Considering the special COVID-19 induced circumstances that lectures find themselves in today, there was a lot of attention on doing digital teaching. Here is small summary of some general tips and tricks I learnt there, in the hope that these may prove useful to others.

1.       Think of inclusivity

The last six months have made clear that resources such as space and time to work, as well as a good functioning home computer and a strong broadband connection are not accessible to all students.

It is therefore useful to think of appropriateness: what is the most appropriate way to deliver each part of your content? Does it need to be a zoom or Microsoft teams call, or a video for students to download and watch? Think of low-broadband alternatives.

-          Audio only: you could make a podcast of your content

-          Chat only: a tutorial could be done entirely as a chat session online

Furthermore, another good solution is to try to minimise the content delivered during online sessions, and expand the content delivered through other means (flipping the classroom). The digital sessions can then be used fully for putting the content to practice, and more interactive teaching – to which it is most adapted.


2.       Think of reusability

If you are going to make a podcast or videos, this will cost you more time than teaching directly via Microsoft teams. It is therefore useful to recuperate this investment by making videos you make reusable, both for yourself and others, and for other years to recoup some of the investment.


-          Do not mention context markers such as time or date, or specific course names

-          Make smaller videos rather than one big one. It is then easier to make a new recording to replace that part of your lecture that is out of date.


3.       Discussion boards

Doing questions and student emails via discussion boards can save time, as it can function as a form of FAQ on the go, thereby preventing you answering the same question several times. You can also stimulate students to respond to one another first, before you provide the answers. You can force them to use the discussion board by saying you will not answer student emails if they can use the discussion board. Help them in the beginning by copy-pasting their questions in the discussion board and answer them there. 

4.       Community building and killing the dead waiting time

A problem of no longer meeting physically is that a community function of the university is more difficult to do. This is important because students are more willing to participate and share if they know and trust one another.

It does not have to cost a lot of time. You can give students something to do while the stragglers come in. Several ideas are collected on this website:

Another idea is to stimulate more group work, or to keep the same groups throughout the course.


5.       Use of games and experiments

Games and experiments can still be done in online teaching. There is free software for this, with classex being most flexible/programmable:




The economics network has a nice page of ideas for games and experiments, and has anyway a wealth of information and very readable guides on teaching:


6.       Teaching style in online teaching

Online teaching is different in style than teaching in front of a classroom. It is more like radio or television: there is an intimacy to it. The presenting style is more like a one-on-one table conversation than a distant lecture: so it’s fine to sit for example. Hand gestures can be integrated in teaching, for instance by putting your elbows on the table. It may feel unfamiliar, but the trainer showed us it can look natural.

In digital teaching articulation, a slow speed and pauses are extra important.


7.        Some other software allows for ‘post-it note’ type brainstorms and feedback online.


8.       Conclusion, post-COVID-19?

I found that many of these digital tips and tricks forced me to rethink what teaching should do, and how it can be performed. Even when we go back to normal I believe we can still learn from the period we are currently facing. Many of the digital tools can still be applied when we go back to normal in some way, such as the discussion board or online experiments. I feel that other principles, such as thinking about inclusivity, reusability and teaching style are crucial, whether lockdown or not. even if they will be applied different to physical teaching.

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