First offered in Spring 2021 in the Neuroscience Center Zurich PhD program, this course guided doctoral students to develop high-quality interdisciplinary research project ideas. Each student co-registered for the course with another student from a different research group and developed a project idea bridging both of their backgrounds. At the end of the course, each team presented their final idea as a PowerPoint presentation to Elizabeth Amadei (instructor) and doctoral supervisors for feedback and grading.
The course used a hybrid online/in-person teaching mode. The course featured 5, 2-hour teaching sessions on Zoom, which guided teams through the development of their project ideas according to a process I developed (see Figure 1, linked below). Each teaching session focused on one part of the process and provided specific activities to achieve this part. For example, in order to prepare students to explore each other’s research disciplines (one part of the process), students drafted a ‘hosting plan’ of experiences they would provide to their partner to introduce them to their discipline (activity). Students completed these activities with their partners during the teaching sessions as well as on their own time (out-of-class work). While students could choose to do the out-of-class work online or in-person, the practical details (e.g. showing another student a piece of laboratory equipment) often required students to meet in person or take a hybrid approach.
The course used a hybrid online/in-person teaching mode. The course featured 5, 2-hour teaching sessions on Zoom, which guided teams through the development of their project ideas according to a process I developed (see figure 1, gallery above). Each teaching session focused on one part of the process and provided specific activities to achieve this part. For example, in order to prepare students to explore each other’s research disciplines (one part of the process), students drafted a ‘hosting plan’ of experiences they would provide to their partner to introduce them to their discipline (activity). Students completed these activities with their partners during the teaching sessions as well as on their own time (out-of-class work). While students could choose to do the out-of-class work online or in-person, the practical details (e.g. showing another student a piece of laboratory equipment) often required students to meet in person or take a hybrid approach.
Students participated in the teaching sessions and out-of-class work in the form of specific activities. Some example activities were:
- Individual: Prior to course start, preparing a 1-slide summary of their doctoral research to present to other students and find a partner to co-register for the course (see Figure 2, gallery above)
- Team: Completing an online whiteboard listing the knowledge, methods and tools each student brings to their team’s initial project idea (‘Exploration question’, (see figure 3, gallery above)
- Individual: Drafting a hosting plan listing the specific activities they will provide to their partner to introduce their partner to their research discipline (see figure 4, gallery above)
- Individual: Hosting partner and being hosted by partner. Documenting experiences in a hosting journal (see journal template, link below)
- Team: Preparing a final presentation (see final presentation template, link below)
- Student-lecturer: Outside of teaching sessions, I primarily used a dedicated Slack workspace to send announcements and reminders, post activity-related documents (e.g. hosting plan template), receive activity deliverables (e.g. completed hosting plans) and answer any student questions.
Given that the hosting journal and final presentation were the two graded deliverables (see assessment, section below), I also scheduled two Zoom meetings with each team to discuss their progress on their journals and final presentations.
- Student-student: Students used Slack to send direct messages to their partner and either correspond digitally or coordinate meeting in person.
- Lecturer-lecturer: N/A (I was the only lecturer)
Ways that students receive support and feedback:
During teaching sessions, I tried to build in a feedback loop into each activity by first simulating the activity myself (e.g. showing demos, examples or templates), answering any questions, having students perform the activity, and then having one or more students/teams present their work to the rest of the class for feedback.
For the graded deliverables (journal, final presentation), I gave a detailed written explanation for each grade, explaining how the student’s work mapped onto the provided grading rubric.
I also met with each team during the preparation of their journals and final presentations to give feedback on their work with respect to the grading rubric and enable them to make adjustments prior to the final grading. I also offered to meet with each team more than the two required journal and presentation meetings if they needed additional support.
Each student received a final grade on the scale of 1 to 6. The grade consisted of a journal that each student completed individually (40% of final grade; graded by me according to a rubric shared with students) and the student team’s final presentation (60% of final grade; graded by me and student team’s doctoral supervisors according to a rubric shared with students).
During the pandemic: I first taught this course during the pandemic (Spring 2021), so I do not have experience beforehand.
Advantages: The main advantage of teaching on Zoom was that students could easily log in from their individual locations. I was also able to find suitable digital versions of activities that I would normally have done in-person (e.g. posting on a digital whiteboard).
Disadvatiges: One disadvantage of the online format was that it was hard to read students’ nonverbal feedback. Therefore, I tried to incorporate several layers of feedback as described above.
Another disadvantage was the difficulty of matching students into pairs to co-register for the course. Approximately 1 month before the course start, I hosted a 2-hour online Apero event (on the platform Wonder), where students interested in taking the course presented their individual doctoral projects to each other, with the goal of finding a parther through a common question or interest. Several students had difficulty understanding the platform (i.e. each person is an avatar that moves through a digital space) and technical issues displaying their screen. These problems made it more difficult for students to connect with each other.
After the pandemic: I would still consider doing the teaching sessions online because I was able to make digital versions of activities, and students were able to successfully communicate with me and their partners and develop high-quality ideas. The online format also gives more flexibility to students to log in from their individual locations.
However, I would replace the online Apero event with an in-person event. This would allow students to more easily and comfortably get to know each other in a natural social context.
What discussion points are you particularly interested in when exchanging with other lecturers?
Given the emphasis of teamwork in my course, I would be very interested to see other examples of team activities and how lecturers promoted effective teamwork in their courses (both online and in-person). I would also be interested to hear lecturers’ opinions on which course elements worked especially well online, and would they continue doing these elements online after the pandemic.