Leveraging on technological affordances for emergency remote teaching – experience with a large class undergraduate module

By Associate Professor Yeong Foong May, Lee Zheng Wei and Lee Seow Chong (National University of Singapore)

We read with interest the blogs by Redmond & Brown (2020) and Dabner (2020). The entries highlighted the need to engage and support students in this unprecedented time of emergency remote teaching during COVID-19.

Based on the elements of the Online Engagement Framework for Higher Education (Redmond et al. 2018), we illustrate below how we used these from August to November 2020 in an online undergraduate Life Sciences module with about 200 students. We provide examples of our activities mapped to the framework (Redmond et al. 2018) and strategies proposed by Dabner (2020) to support students in an online learning environment.

Online engagement element (by Redmond et al., 2018) Strategies
(by Dabner, 2020)
Specific activity and observations
Social engagement Community connectedness Virtual tutorial group – We created virtual tutorial groups on Microsoft Teams. Students were given one tutorial slot per week to meet and attempt problems collaboratively.

We noted students discussing questions, exchanging information and answers to quizzes via video calls and chats. This indicated a level of community connectedness within each group.

Cognitive engagement Co-construction and collaboration Social annotation – We used a social annotation platform (Perusall) for students to read scientific articles collaboratively outside-of-class. We scaffolded students’ reading of articles with questions prompts and supplementary notes. We also fed back on students’ posts. Three reiterative cycles of Perusall were incorporated in the module.

Students exchanged comments, queries and clarifications with one another. Students also resolved their doubts through questioning and answering.

Behavioral engagement Communication Communication of deadlines and standards – We communicated the deadlines and standards expected of the learning activities at the start of the module. We uploaded question prompts, video recordings and supplementary notes to facilitate students’ reading and understanding of primary research articles.

We observed at least 90% of students submitted the assignments on time. Overall, their submissions minimally attained satisfactory quality.

Collaborative engagement Co-construction and collaboration Assessment as learning –We designed two short-answer questions (SAQ) targeted at interpreting scientific data and designing experiments for each round of Perusall article reading. Students could discuss doubts among themselves but answered the questions individually. Following a scoring rubric provided by the instructor, each student evaluated two submissions and their own assignment. The instructors provided overall comments to the class to sum up the assignments.

We observed that students were able to rate their classmates’ submissions based on the rubric provided. They were also able to provide brief comments on what their classmate did well and what their classmate should improve on.

Emotional engagement Community connectedness Roles of instructors – We joined students in their respective video calls or chats at Teams during virtual tutorial sessions. We facilitated their discussions and clarified doubts related to the tasks. We also identified common misconceptions from their Perusall annotations and provided clarifications to the class.

Our participation was meant to recognize their motivation in learning. Where appropriate, we explained expectations and verified information gathered by students. As such, we provided opportunity for students to have personal contact with us.

In the above, while we provided specific example within each element of engagement, it is also possible that each activity could span multiple elements. Given that student engagement is key to learning outcomes, a framework aligning the use of technology to different elements of engagement can help faculty ensure that appropriate technology is employed.

However, we would like to highlight further considerations when designing activities to engage students in an online learning environment:

  • Engagement in- and out-of-class – Use both synchronous and asynchronous platforms to provide more opportunities for students to interact among themselves.
  • Scaffolding – Equip students with fundamental knowledge needed to engage with advanced topics.
  • Reiterative cycles – Provide multiple opportunities for students to practice and master skills.
  • Feedback – Provide students with feedback from instructors and peers to better achieve learning outcomes.


Dabner, N. (2020, May 8). I ‘C’ you … communication, community, connectedness and co-construction within the context of tertiary education responses to COVID-19. ASCILITE Technology Enhanced Learning Blog. https://blog.ascilite.org/i-c-you-communication-community-connectedness-and-co-construction-within-the-context-of-tertiary-education-responses-to-covid-19/

Redmond, P., Brown, A. (2020, May 21). Online Learning and Teaching: Thinking beyond the technology to student engagement. ASCILITE Technology Enhanced Learning Blog. https://blog.ascilite.org/online-learning-and-teaching-thinking-beyond-the-technology-to-student-engagement/

Redmond, P., Heffernan, A., Abawi, L., Brown, A., & Henderson, R. (2018). An Online Engagement Framework for Higher Education. Online Learning, 22(1). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175