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Bridging the gap

Distance teaching: a successful challenge at the ESCP

Distance teaching: a successful challenge at the ESCP

While most higher education institutions are now fully immersed in the organisation of distance learning courses, Roberto Quaglia, Professor of Strategy and Management at the ESCP Business School, had already embarked on the exercise during the first wave of COVID-19 in June 2020. As an active consultant in many companies, he taught the course “Problem Solving and Communication” to about a hundred students in a virtual classroom for 10 days. Hector Drawin, a trainee at Google and a technology fan, was one of the students to attend the lectures, which were taught with Wooclap and the video conferencing tool Blackboard.

In this particular context, one of the crucial elements of a good distance learning course is its level of interactivity. That is what Prof. Roberto Quaglia had in mind when he started using Wooclap.

« By varying the type of educational content, teachers free themselves from the monotonous effect of a lecture by creating a new rhythm: role playing, case studies, films, TV shows… »

Every 20 minutes, he would ask his students questions and urge them to participate, to stimulate and retain their learning. Offering students a comprehensive set of theory, case illustrations, and applications could be the key to delivering a course that students value in a distance learning setting.

In a cross interview, the teacher and student discussed their experience of the importance of interaction in the context of distance learning courses.

Stimulating the attention of your class with Wooclap

The challenges of stimulating the attention of a completely virtual classroom are numerous, and vary according to the size of the class.

Roberto Quaglia (R.Q.), Professor of Strategy & Management at ESCP Business School : We need to distinguish two groups: small (<40 students) and large (100-300 students) ones.

For small groups, the didactics of a virtual experience are very similar to what I would do in a physical classroom: I will talk about a theoretical framework, illustrate it with a practical application, then split the class into subgroups and make people work together to solve a specific case. Finally, I’ll call back all the groups to share and compare their work.

However, for large groups, things get complicated. You can’t replicate the previous method at this scale, because you are using a video conferencing platform with a list of 150 names and their webcams are turned off. You can ask questions, but seldom get answers in the chat. Bottom line: you have no clue what’s happening behind the screen. The whole experience feels impersonal. Hence, this is where we teachers have to get creative and redesign their teaching methods, and where technology comes in to help us make it happen at scale.

Hector Drawin (H.D.), Student (MiM) at the ESCP Business School : I would say engagement and boredom are the main challenges facing the teacher. Attending a 3-hour physics lecture of a teacher reading their slides can already be pretty boring, but doing it virtually takes it to another level. This is not exclusive to virtual classes, but the difference with an ordinary class is that the teacher is not in the room, so they cannot exert their authority to demand everyone’s attention. They are competing for my attention with a host of distractions, like watching Youtube videos, calling a friend, or even cooking a meal. But when teachers use technology to stimulate our attention, as Prof. Quaglia did, it’s a different story.

Reinventing teaching practices

R.Q. : I had already tried other EdTech tools before, but I got started on Wooclap very quickly because of how intuitive it is. I didn’t try to use all the question-types on the first day, but I expanded depending on what I wanted to do in each class. Basically, the formula I try to apply is :

« Theory + Application + Feedback = successful lecture »

The reason why you can’t interact with large groups of students (100+) in the same way you would with smaller groups (around 30) is because the transition time from one step (e.g., “Theory”) to another (e.g., “Application”) increases with the number of students, making it too slow to be usable with large classes. And each time there is some latency in your class, you create an opportunity for students to disengage.

What struck me is how little Wooclap disrupts the flow of my teaching. You can literally engage your students in a matter of seconds. I particularly appreciate Wooclap’s Powerpoint integration, which allows me to insert my questions directly into my Powerpoint slides, and the QR code feature. When I combine those tools, I get almost 100% of my 100+ students’ class to answer in 3-4 minutes.

Another thing I noticed is that Wooclap enables introverts to participate. These students don’t like to be in the spotlight, so they won’t use the mic or talk in the chat. They feel at ease participating on Wooclap because they have no fear of being singled out. Therefore, instead of always getting the same extroverted participants, I get answers from a wider diversity of students, which in turn sparks more interesting debates!

H.D. : Wooclap’s main effect was to break the monotony of regular classes. It created a dynamic, instilled rhythm in the lecture. Each time I started being distracted, a Wooclap quiz would focus my attention. The whole experience was seamless: the professor would display a QR code, I’d scan it with my phone’s camera, land on a webpage, and without having to download an app or create an account, I’d simply select the answer and hit “send”! It was so engaging that I found myself being attentive just so I wouldn’t miss the next question.

I also appreciated Prof. Quaglia’s efforts to illustrate his theories. He used a variety of multimedia content and formats, which kept the class invigorating: we had the opportunity to read use cases, watch excerpts from famous TV shows (Mad Men), movies (12 angry men) and public speeches (Steve Jobs). This was the first “layer of practice”. The second layer consisted of immediately analysing the piece of content we were presented with through the lens of the theory we had just studied.

« Being able to apply freshly learned theories through interactive content was very useful to reinforce new knowledge in my memory. »

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Julie Lemaire

Julie Lemaire

Rather than fighting smartphones, Wooclap turns them into an exceptional learning tool.