Supporting innovation in teaching, learning and learner development at Roehampton

eLearningMeet: Moving theory, virtual dancing – the transformation to distance learning

Dr. Stacey Prickett

Dr. Stacey Prickett

Two years ago the Dance Department was awarded a small grant to convert some MA modules from being delivered ‘face-to-face’ to having a ‘distance learning’ delivery mode. One of the modules that underwent this transformation was Dr. Stacey Prickett’s own taught module called Dance and the Politics of Identity. This transition challenged academics accustomed teaching practice.

In face-to-face lectures and seminars, Stacey noted that it was easy to display material like the exceptional video below, which was sufficiently engaging and controversial to immediately provoke a lively discussion amongst the students. But, the challenge that faced her and her Dance colleagues was how to achieve this via distance learning?

Stacey admitted that her first instinct when planning to re-configure the face-to-face module into a distance learning one, had been to turn the original lecture content into a book. However, she saw that this could effectively transmute a highly interactive and dynamic course into a substantively passive and transmissive one. Hence, to avoid this outcome, she identified the need first, to transform lecture content into discussion generating questions and second, to get students to fully engage with discussions online. No mean feat, but she rose to the challenge.

Dance and the Politics of Identity_DAN020LD51S Module-site-homepage

Screen shot of module site in Moodle 2013-14

The distance learning approach envisaged required an online platform and the University’s VLE, Moodle was the most straight-forward and appropriate choice. Stacey developed a module site for the distance learning module in Moodle (see left thumbnail: click to open view of entire module site homepage).

She used the Book tool to present snippets of course content interspersed with topical thought provoking questions. Students were then instructed to respond to these questions in various Forums on the module site. To coax students into readily engaging with this type of activity, it was necessary to foster group cohesion and trust in the online environment. Stacey tried a number of things to achieve both a willingness on the part of students to socialise online generally and then to use the Forums to facilitate their learning more specifically. Her efforts resulted in this list of Do’s and Don’ts:

  • DO – start the course with a low stakes, “warm-up”/”ice-breaker” Forum. Stacey asked her students to, “Introduce yourself — whatever biographical detail you feel is important as well as detailing what you hope to get out of this module“.
    MA Dance student warming up

    MA student and dancer warming-up on a cruise ship

  • DO – invite and encourage the personal voice and request that they post their photos and videos. Asking students to personalise their online profile with photos, etc. helps too.
  • DO – invite students to draw on their own experience and to talk about their community in relation to topics being discussed.
  • DO – contribute/respond to the discussion yourself occasionally, students like to feel that you’re interested in what they have to say. Find a balance between commenting on their posts and letting them pick things up from one another’s postings.
  • DO – be clear about what is to be discussed in each Forum. Otherwise, forums can become overladen with content, daunting and potentially confusing.
  • DON’T – assess Forum posts. Students may be put off by this. BUT
  • DO – make their contributions to a Forum serve a purpose beyond the discussion. Stacey instructed students to further develop and integrate their forum posts into a couple of short summative essays that were assessed. Thus, her students found it worthwhile to undertake a task that was not assessed because it “feeds forward” (Gibbs, 2010, p. 22) into one that is.

Stacey also found that group cohesion and a sense of belonging was also helped by the offer of one face-to-face session in the middle of the term and tutorials via Skype or in person rather than communicating solely by email and in forums.

Student Feedback

Despite some initial resistance to the distance learning delivery mode there was very positive feedback around how the module got them thinking about theory early on and encouraged them to relate to it by drawing on their own experience, communities and identity. They also valued the opportunity the Forums provided to write more from the outset in a non-threatening, “un-assessed” setting. This practice meant that they approached their summative essay writing tasks with a lot more confidence than they would have had without it. In addition, Stacey found that the quality of the online discussions was often at least as good and in some ways better, than those she had experienced in her face-to-face classes.

Stacey’s 7-minute eLearningMeet Presentation Summer 2014 (the primary source for this post)

Support Available

If you would like advice or support to use these learning technologies to achieve similar learning outcomes for students of your module(s), or to discuss any other matter related to eLearning please contact your Department’s eLearning Adviser.


Lil Buck Swan at Vail International Dance Festival – YouTube [WWW Document], n.d. URL (accessed 7.11.14)

Gibbs, G., 2010. Using assessment to support student learning. Leeds Met Press, ISBN. 

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