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Talis Elevate

The shift to online and Talis Elevate

Matt East
Shift to Online

Like me, I’m sure you’ve received a myriad of updates from companies products you use giving an update on COVID19; talking about unprecedented times and unknowns ahead for all of us. This is not intended to be another one of those, don’t worry. 

This kind of statement is particularly true for HE. The transition to 100% online is hugely daunting for staff, students, administrators and support staff across our institutions, but likewise, a number of exciting opportunities can come from this. I think it’s safe to say, the way we teach moving forward will learn a lot (good and bad) from the experience we gain now. 

During the recent strike action, we saw quite clearly how helpful Talis Elevate could be for those studying without academic input and guidance. Likewise, Talis Elevate has been used on Distance Learning and Degree Apprenticeship courses, enabling context-rich discussion to occur.  Whilst this is obviously an entirely different situation, it was insightful to observe the interaction between students on courses with little academic involvement.

There are a number of points I’d like to highlight where/how Talis Elevate can be used in this online-first approach. These pointers may have a Talis Elevate flavor, but in general, I see these as good practice for any online delivery.

Going beyond the webinar 

Understandably, the shift to online really focussed initially on how we can replace the lecture room. The growth in the usage of synchronous tools like Zoom has been significant, and it’s great to see all the positive outcomes from this type of engagement. However, that’s not online learning done. Online learning isn’t just about ‘teaching via the web’, you can’t just accept a shift from what you do face to face to online is going to be enough. Proper online learning design takes a considerable amount of time, resources, and knowledge to get it right, institutions like the OU invest millions in their design process for this very reason. There are some real key take-home points we need to consider as we review how we approach the new norm. 

I found this post from Daniel Stanford a really good way to articulate the different zones of delivery for online, that require varying levels of bandwidth and immediacy.

Having a blend of different activities and modalities is important for any course though, face to face or online, so taking a blend of these examples is valuable. This feeds nicely onto my next point though…

Balancing synchronous and asynchronous activity

Our students, more than ever now, will be studying at different times. With unexpected childcare, widespread illness, and other challenges life is currently throwing our way, we need to be more cognizant than ever that we can’t have the attention of the whole cohort at the same time. 

We’ve heard repeatedly from our academic users that Talis Elevate can be a really valuable medium for asynchronous activity. From building an active reading approach to your teaching ahead of seminars to creating a live discussion document around your lecture notes, or images. Providing a mechanism for students to work together at different times is, in my opinion, one of the most important things to consider when approaching online delivery. Giving students enough time to complete the activity as well (e.g. give a week, not 24h) is also good to factor in where possible. 

Be explicit, what’s the input and what’s the desired output? 

Don’t just upload content and expect your students to know what you want them to do. Be explicit. This could be the guidance that’s scaffolded around the content in the VLE, adding to the description of the content you upload to Talis Elevate, or posing guided questions or prompts through content before sharing with the cohort. I’m personally a fan of guided questions in content, but it depends on the activity of course on how applicable this can be.


Building the course community 

When this doesn’t exist in a physical space, it’s even more important to develop the course community in the online space. This can take on a number of different approaches, from enabling a webinar room just for a chat (we’ve bought in the virtual water cooler convo within Talis for this reason) to Whatsapp groups when desired. But for educational activity specifically, a hugely valuable element of online learning revolves around the use of personal experience and reflection and sharing that. Building specific activities into your content, giving students’ to share their own perspective or experience (if applicable). A balance of using content and context-specific discussion using Talis Elevate and a general forum for thematic discussion works nicely here. When this really works, we’ve had feedback from students that the conversation becomes equally as valuable as the content’ obviously really great to hear. 

(Taken from Jesse Stomell’s Digital Studies syllabus)

Move away from one resource type  

I’m sure we’ve all experienced at one point in our academic lives the teacher who just speaks off PPT slides, and that’s the teaching done. Well now imagine that in an online-only environment. 

With online learning, considering the pace of activity, and the diversity of content is really important to aid interest and learning retention. Without getting into a debate over learning styles, there is a case to be made for using a variety of resources to spark critical thinking and diversification of opinion on the subject matter. I have seen some great examples of academics providing reading/watching every week that present similar information from a different perspective. With Talis Elevate, being able to frame the activity within that content adds another dimension for creating discussion and debate 


(How image annotation looks in Talis Elevate)

We’re all in this together

You as an academic can’t be there to answer all specific questions your cohort asks 24/7. Why not develop the expectation on your courses that if another student has the answer or even an opinion on the question being asked, they should answer? Line by line annotation tends to be much more grounded, contextualised, and rich in comparison to traditional discussion boards and co-creation of knowledge is something we hear time and time again from students is a real value point of what Talis Elevate can offer, so why not build this into the general mantra of the course? If you can help your peers out, then do!


Don’t go nuclear 

Okay, so I’m obviously coming at this from a Talis Elevate angle. But I’ll be the first to say using only Talis Elevate on your course for everything would not be good practice, as with the use of any single tool or approach. Likewise, building discussion into EVERY piece of content you upload and use in your teaching may be slightly overkilling. By just adding resources to Talis Elevate, you’re enabling the questioning within the cohort and private note-taking, and dialogue within the content. Where and when you do decide to build activity in, make sure you’re explicit in your expectations and timelines. We’ve found previously that when students know this is a capability in the product, particularly with online courses, questions, answers, and general discussion just happen without academic instruction.


(An example of how academic has used video in their module with Talis Elevate)

You’re not alone, this is scary for everyone 

This has been tough for us, but remember, this is not the norm for your students as well. Anxiety will be high, engagement will be distracted, expectations will be all over the place. Anything we can do to remove some of the anxiety should be considered. Why not throw a bit of fun into what you’re doing as well, where possible. Don’t be afraid to sometimes add something that’s only partially relevant to the week’s learning. I’ve seen a couple of academics upload something timely and ever so slightly relevant to that week’s learning,  to just get students’ used to commenting on video, but this ended up changing the whole discussion approach on the course with very little guidance, and even helped redirect. There’s so much content on YouTube that could be funny, exciting, inspiring or controversial that could be used in some way to spark engagement. Don’t be afraid to throw a curveball into the mix!  


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