Department of Communication Science

Innovative Teaching: Digital Teaching Lab

The Department always strives to teach better and to contribute towards teaching excellence and innovation. Since the beginning of 2017, lecturers in the Department have been teaching students via live broadcasts from our Digital Teaching Lab (DTL). By making use of interactive classes on a Google Education platform, lecturers in the Department have become more hands-on in their interactions with and support of students.

Mrs Nadine Hamman, the Digital Teaching Laboratory Manager, explains the DTL as follows:

Introduction

The Digital Teaching Laboratory (DTL) is situated within the Department of Communication Science at the University of South Africa (Unisa). The purpose of the DTL is to experiment with the latest technologies – and keeping ahead with the application of digital media for teaching. The JoinIn platform, as a subproject of the DTL, was developed as a world-leading interactive live streaming educational platform with no single scalable platform performing in a similar way.

Background

 In 2017, the Digital Teaching Laboratory (DTL) was properly established. 

At the beginning, the JoinIn platform was quite complicated with layers of programming that had to be loaded in sequence and tabs to be open in order to do enable streaming. The goal for 2017 was to simplify the technology and the use thereof to the extent that the average academic will be able to use the platform without extensive training. At the end of 2017, the scheduling and broadcast of live interactive streams were automated for lecturers and all activities (for students) embedded on one interface (questionnaires, presentations, links etc.). 

The Q&A function, which is a critical element of the interaction between students and lecturers during live streaming classes, was developed to provide a threaded discussion, allowing students who cannot attend the live class to also participate in the interaction – being able to ask questions and contribute to the discussion in the Q&A section.

Based on a theoretical media position developed by Marshall McLuhan (who coined the terms “global village” and “the medium is the message”) a pedagogical model “face-to-face at a distance” is being developed. The idea is to simulate a one-on-one pedagogical encounter and efforts to optimise this pedagogical position is ongoing. The first steps towards this model has been realised because the optimal environment is to do these live streaming from the offices with only the lecturer’s laptop (and an additional screen if lecturers prefer) simulating a situation where a student sits across the table. 

Current practices in the DTL

The primary function of the laboratory up to the end of 2018 was to develop the interactive live streaming technology and platforms and to simplify the use of the JoinIn platform to allow staff to use the live streaming easily. Another aim was to familiarise the broader university community with interactive live streaming as a pedagogical tool and establish it as accepted practice. The Unisa teaching community as well as the students have met these goals with a large-scale uptake. 

Historic first broadcast

The first ever historic, interactive broadcast was held on 25 August 2016 for COM3708 by Prof Danie du Plessis. Five consecutive sessions with COM3708 students followed; Prof Danie du Plessis, Ms Therise Breett-Van Niekerk and Mr Lucky Mawasha presented. Evidently with these sessions many teething problems were identified. Many changes to software development and presentation are underway to curb some of the difficulties as well as preferences identified. Several meetings were held with Google in this regard.

Since the appointment of the DTL manager (effective from June 2017), other departments have utilised the technology and the lab with great success.

Future practices

The well-equipped studio with green wall and good cameras have been used for media studies training or community projects, and especially the creation of Open Educational Resources (OERs). A primary goal is to initiate individual and group research in the lab and continue with experimenting with the latest technologies – and keeping ahead with the application of digital media for teaching. In this way, the lab will support research in pedagogy as well as the technology itself.

For more information, contact:
Mrs Nadine Hamman
Digital Teaching Laboratory Manager
Tel: 012 429 6522
E-mail: hamman@unisa.ac.za

Last modified: 2019/04/10