“How I survived teaching a massive online course”

Read the testimony of a survivor and learn some tips to survive too

By Adrian Zicari, Professor of Accounting and Management Control and the K-lab team

The first pedagogical workshop took place on February 3rd, co-organised by Emmanuelle Le Nagard, Associate Dean for Pedagogy and the K-lab team. 

The purpose of the workshop was twofold: presenting Professor Zicari’s experience with teaching an online course and some of the digital tools that can help teaching. 20 external lecturers and Faculty attended the workshop, discussing with Prof. Zicari and sharing their own experiences.

Responsible Leadership SPOC (small private online course) has been developed by Adrian Zicari, Professor of Accounting and Management Control, on behalf of the Grande Ecole program. This course is mandatory for all students across ESSEC campuses and has been taught 4 times.

Three evolving aspects of today’s business education:

1 – the place: in the past, students used to come to the campus/school. Now part of them remain at a distance, in their hometown or home country.

2 – content: knowledge used to be created by professors and cascaded into their courses. While it is still the case, students and hiring companies are now looking for skills and competencies.

3 – pace: studies are organised in terms and students follow courses organised likewise. However, learners’ expectations have been changing with the pandemic and people are more and more looking for an adapted or personalised pace of learning. 

The Responsible Leadership course content is fully online from the start, students can learn at their own pace. 

It includes mainly asynchronous content:

⇒ collection of readings
⇒ videos
⇒ interviews
⇒ activities

Punctuated with 3 to 4 synchronous online meetings.

This course is NOT a recording of a conventional course, nor a MOOC (i.e. a mere collection of videos and multiple question quizzes). 

This format has its own rules, and it is good for introductory courses. It can bring everyone at a homogeneous level. It is not adapted for an elective course. This course was born digital. It is important to notice that even after several iterations, the course can always adapt its content, its pace: it is a living process. This is crucial to avoid the “low cost” perception. This course has the same quality level as a regular physical course. 

Why do you use peer assessment for grading students? How does it work?

We made that choice for pedagogical reasons: we are training managers who have to be able to evaluate other people’s work, to provide people with constructive feedback. Also, for pragmatic reasons, as there are a lot of students in the course. 

Many students like to assess others’ essays. Peer assessment is another way to learn, to see different perspectives.

Note that peer assessment is done double blind, completely anonymously. And it is not an automatic process, the teacher must supervise the system. For example, I randomly select some essays, go through them and sometimes I have to re-grade them.

How do you guarantee that students follow a thread (one module after the other)? Do they get lost sometimes? 

For the first versions of the course, we had a very structured approach: a quiz the first week, an essay the second one, etc. We realised at some point that all the course was all about deadlines.
So we changed and left everything accessible except for one specific module and the simulation. 

Besides, there is a completion progress indicator on the course Moodle space and students receive reminders for the big deadlines. 

Nowadays, the pace of the course remains in students’ hands, they can go through all the course content very quickly or not. 

How do you encourage students’ participation and interactivity?

Besides peer assessment, I leave a comment on the forum each week. It is an open question, whose purpose is to bring students to speak out. 

Several online meetings are organised (3 to 4). Either to discuss what has been shared in the forum or to have practitioners who talk about their professional experience on the matter.

Those meetings are synchronous contacts with the professor and peers. Around half of the students attend them. During the meeting, I use a software named Beekast, that allows the user to participate in some dynamic activities. Moodle platform has also proven very useful.

Interaction happens only if you look for it. You need to be very pro-active.

What happens if some students manage to write the essays or/and take quizzes without watching the videos? 

With the online, asynchronous format, part of the students’ efforts are non observable.

Having said this, the fact is that the course videos provide a theoretical basis, and it is rather difficult to write essays or to answer a quiz without knowing them. 

For those students who prefer not to watch videos, we also publish the scripts, so that students can read instead of watching.

As a conclusion, teachers should not be scared by online teaching. It can be a place for experimenting other teaching methods, exploring new paces and developing a different way of interaction with students.

Future pedagogical workshops will explore new teaching issues and tool functionalities. 

Next one will be on “Evaluating fellow team members in project-based pedagogy”, by Marie-Léandre Gomez and Anne-Sophie de Gabriac, on the 7th of April, in dual mode.

Watch professor Zicari’s testimony