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Principles of online education at St George’s

Studies consistently show that good online teaching, learning and assessment experiences require careful design and planning. Where this is undertaken, the use of technology has the potential to enhance student activity, to extend student learning both individually and collaboratively and to foster the creation of higher-order knowledge (Smyth et al., 2011)

To ensure that the various dimensions of providing education online are comprehensively considered and that there is a measure of consistency in the student experience across programmes, we are asking course and programme teams to work within six guiding principles.

The design and implementation of online teaching and learning should:

  • P1: Foster and sustain a strong learning community that is inclusive and accessible to all.

  • P2: Create a clear and scaffolded learning journey that is appropriate to the goals and purposes of the course.

  • P3: Be clear about standards and expectations of both staff and students.

  • P4: Balance synchronous social learning with independent self-paced study.

  • P5: Where possible and appropriate, develop a hybrid approach to experiential and practice-based learning, by using virtual scenarios and multi-media resources to augment on-campus and/or field-based activity.

  • P6: Have responsive evaluation built in, in partnership with students.

Sets of considerations

These underpinning Principles are developed in the table below as set of considerations.

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1. Set up and Organisation
To checkDetailsLinks and Examples

Are all students and staff able to access and use the equipment and systems that are being employed?

Do not use technologies that are not supported by the University.

Choose tools that will create a balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities as well as individual and collaborative/group learning experiences.

Give time in your teaching to practising and ensuring that everyone is confident with the tools you use.

see the section entitled Guidance for links with technology and key considerations set out later in this document for further details).

Does the online learning environment adhere to the SGUL Canvas Minimum Standards (TBC) for course layout and structure?

Summarise here the elements in the standards (TBC): explicitness about Learning Outcomes, and course structure and processes, including around assessment

Aim for consistency across all the modules in a programme. A week-by-week scheduling (rather than thematic) structure enables you to scaffold the students learning throughout the term/semester.

Canvas Minimum Standards (TBC) and teaching planning template (TBC)

Is there signposting to additional teaching and support, for example from the Library and Academic Success Centre.

Make use of existing resources by building this into your lesson plan and directing students to this.

Please make contact with your liaison librarian.

Visit this LibGuide for teaching staff for more information about how liaison librarians can support you.

Visit the Library module in Canvas and StudyPlus

Is the way you plan to organise your online sessions reflective of students’ learning needs? Avoid expanding group sizes with the primary aim of reducing workload.

Decide if your student cohort will belong to smaller learning groups, how you will organise these and how you will deploy your staff? Will there be peer-led study groups? Will these group change across the module or remain constant throughout? How often will they meet? How will students know which groups they belong to and what the purpose of each is?

It is important that we remain within the Staff-Student ratio that are appropriate for the activity type. Link to terminology

Is it clear to students how they will receive the schedule of teaching activities for the semester?

TBC: MyTimetable will be used for all onsite sessions, and these should be scheduled first. All other learning activities will be on Canvas. Dates/times given only for synchronous/live sessions. Onsite sessions listed would say “see MyTimetable”, so no need to update on Canvas if changes.


What teaching and learning resources do you have access to and how can you make good use of them? Using curated material will give you more time to interact with students to build and sustain community, developing their applied and higher-level thinking, and giving feedback on learning.

Resources might be found internally at St George’s or from external sources. They could include lecture material in library resources, MOOCS, YouTube videos. Direct links to these can be made on Canvas

Visit the library’s list of online teaching and learning resources and subject LibGuides.

Please make contact with your liaison librarian for further information on digitisation of texts and workshops or guidance on trusted information source

How will your staff team communicate?

How will you deploy them?

How can you make sure that guest lecturers are aware of the overall course structure and approach and are included in problem-solving and developmental discussions as they occur?

Are there opportunities for collaborative teaching?

Will students have the continuity of a single tutor across a number of weeks?

2. Form a Learning Community
You shouldDetailsLinks and Examples

Think through and reduce barriers to learning, ensuring that you take an inclusive approach from the outset.

Be mindful to make content diverse, representative and relevant to all learners.

Barriers might include access to appropriate hardware/software, regular Wi-Fi or unlimited internet downloads, a lack of flexibility in how, and for how long students are able to engage in learning (particularly if they do not have access to a personal study space), and content not designed to be inclusive to a range of learning needs (e.g. dyslexia friendly). Consider how students might engage with learning tasks if they face any of these issues.

Details of technology requirements are provided later in this document under Guidance for links with technology and key considerations

Find ways actively to build, sustain and refresh relationships between the teacher(s) and the student(s), and between students.

Good rapport cannot be expected to develop naturally; it must be planned for, deliberately fostered and given time.

Curated list of resources for staff on how to deliver an engaging online class (TBC)

Plan some social and fun activities. This is particularly important in the initial stages, but helping your students feel good about their learning community should be a consideration throughout.

These activities may also double as ways for students to try out the technological tools you plan to use.

“Icebreaker” activities that aim to help students get to know each other can be used for teambuilding as well as engage students in learning.

Examples can be found here (TBC)

Take time to establish your (friendly) presence and that of your team

Consider recording a short introductory video of yourself and your team before the first session so that your students can know you (remember that they may not get to meet you face-to-face for some time).

Visit here for how to do this using Panopto

Model friendly, social and clear ways of interacting.

Be conscious of the language you use.

Further guidance on creating opportunities or tasks that ask students to reflect regularly on their learning – to maintain motivation and engagement (metacognition) is available here (TBC)

Think about ways in which students can interact with each other informally and without a teacher present.

Time to socialise before and after scheduled formal learning can be very valuable in allowing students to connect with each other

Use online breakout rooms as ‘have a break rooms’

Consider the role of the personal tutor in building a social community.

3. Make standards and expectations clear
You shouldDetailsLinks and Examples

Set and maintain high expectations of student engagement and performance and give clarity about what forms of engagement are expected; for example, looking at preparatory materials prior to a discussion, when to have camera on etc.

Design for variety in activities so that students can engage in different ways.

Clarify expectations at outset and throughout but remember that flexibility will also be important as expectations may need to change as you work out with your students what works well and what needs adjusting.

Make clear what is core and absolutely necessary so that if students have to prioritise, they have some guidance.

See the key terminologies used in the framework to describe teaching and learning activities set out in this document.

Resource on ways of checking that students are engaging plus example.

Be clear to students about what they can expect from you.

When will you put up preparatory materials?

What feedback can they expect on their work and by when.?

What will your moderating role in discussions be?

How you will respond to email queries and so on?


Ensure that platforms and/or systems being used to deliver teaching and supporting students’ learning adheres to the principles of data protection by which St George’s is governed.


See here for Information Governance at St George’s.

4. Create a clear learning journey and scaffold the learning
You shouldDetailsLinks and Examples

Design around the intended Learning Outcomes for the course.

What do students need to know, what they need to be able to do, and what options do you have to create a process, through which they will meet the intended Learning Outcomes of the course?

Particularly for ‘taught content’ rather than practice-based learning, it is good practice to articulate the intended LOs for each session and/or week. The PBL approach is a recognised exception to this, although the purpose of engaging in PBL should still be made explicit to students

Resource: How to formulate Learning Outcomes for a session and a course (TBC)

Consider the modes of learning that students need to do and how you can actively engage them, for example: acquisition, inquiry,

discussion, practice, collaboration and production

Should students be experiencing all of these types of learning in order to meet the Learning Outcomes for the course? Are there other modes of learning that students need to engage in? What balance is needed between them?

ABC Learning Design is one method that can help you design for the range of different learning modes

This resource explains the 6 learning types while this video by Diana Laurillard introduces the six learning types in less than 3 minutes.

Consider how you can support experiential or practice-based learning.

Multimedia resources

There are a range of good practice across St George’s on this so please contact CIDE and CTiE for further details.

Think about the Affective and Social Domains (TBC) of learning as well as the Cognitive and Psychomotor Domains (TBC)

These can strongly affect motivation and engagement and should be an explicit part of course design.

See Section 2 above.

Take an ‘assessment for learning’ approach

This involves building towards summative assessment through formative opportunities for students to practice and build confidence in what they are learning. They should also have opportunities to give and receive feedback as the course progresses.

Visit this KCL resource for details

Enable students to monitor their own progress on the module.

Consider using the Canvas feature where students can mark off the activities, they have undertaken.

See this page in Canvas for further details

Create opportunities or tasks that ask students to reflect regularly on their learning – to maintain motivation and engagement (metacognition).

Make this discussable, not just individual reflection

Resource and example

5. Balance synchronous social learning with independent self-paced study
You shouldDetailsLinks and Examples

Use combinations of synchronous (happening at a scheduled real time) and asynchronous (can be done independently) activities

Make use of chat and forum functions to allow discussion asynchronously.

Templates to help get the balance (Future Learn)

Consider the need for balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities so that students are able to access their learning (refer Principle 1)

Synchronous learning has advantages such as live engagement, dynamic learning, and depth of instruction. However, its drawbacks include rigid schedule for students and potential for technical difficulties. Asynchronous learning offers students flexibility and self-paced learning but there is a risk of isolation and reduced engagement.


Avoid simple replication of face-to-face methods

Lectures should be reviewed and reconsidered – can the material be conveyed in a sequence of shorter chunks (e.g. 10-minute bite-size videos).

Are there resources that students can use to learn about a concept? There may be some exceptions e.g. Live Lectures may be appropriate where the use of Pre-Recorded Lectures (PRL) may hinder students from conceptualising complex information sometimes due to technical challenges (Rose, 2009).

Visit this resource on “chunking” for further details.

Record any synchronous events so that they can be reviewed later by students and available to students unable to be present.

This is an important part of an inclusive approach


Give consideration to students with disabilities

Do they have opportunities to engage? Are the files you are sharing meeting accessibility good practice?

Further information on accessibility can be found later in this document under the section entitled Accessibility tools and resources

Limit the length of teacher discourse (a lecture) to a maximum of 45 minutes. Within this students shouldn’t be listening for longer than 20 minutes without a break or switch of focus. Consider a max length of a session at 120 mins for non-lecture activities and 1 hour for lecture activities.

Consider what are students doing in a synchronous session: listening? discussing? Answering questions, etc.

Consider that ‘less is more’ - a ten-minute mini-lecture can take 20 minutes for a student to watch

Resource showing how to transform a lecture

In a PBL or similar long session consider combining a decent length break (20 minutes) with other techniques for maintaining engagement with the learning

Use breakout rooms etc. so that students are engaging with each other, possibly creating something that can be shared.

Example vignettes (TBC)

Devise activities for students to undertake pre- and post-synchronous activities.

This is part of thinking about the learning journey and is also part of the basic design template for Canvas.

Where are the students before the session? How should they prepare? What do they do next?

See the teaching planning template (TBC) and Canvas Minimum Standards (TBC) for details

6. Evaluate as you go along
You shouldDetailsLinks and examples

Seek to understand how your students engage in the activities you have designed and scheduled for them and involve them in making suggestions.

This should strengthen the social and collaborative engagement elements of your module/course – and also allowing you to enhance things as you go along.

Keep your polling short and succinct or students will get fatigued and engagement will drop off.

Use quick online poll (TBC) or sticky notes in Canvas to get students’ feedback so you can respond and improve.

Key terminologies used in the framework to describe teaching and learning activities

This set of terms is intended to help establish a common way of referring to the types of teaching and learning activities we will use as part of online education at St Georges, with benefits for students’ experience as well as exchange amongst staff.

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Synchronous and Asynchronous
These terms are important in online education and crop up a lot. The first refers to activity that occurs in real scheduled time or ‘live’. The second refers to activity that can take place at any time or in the students’ (or teacher’s) ‘own time’, albeit within the overall structure of the course e.g. the weekly asynchronous activity (some background reading, say) must happen before the next weekly synchronous event (an online discussion of the reading). Designing an online course usually requires planning for a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous activities and making productive relationships between them.
Large Group Live Online teaching
Synchronous large group teaching and learning (>35 participants) organised in a live virtual meeting room e.g. Teams or Big Blue Button where students and teacher(s) meet together to communicate with voice, video and whiteboard. Live Online Lectures fall into this category, but also some other activities like virtual ward rounds, where being in a large group does not adversely affect the student’s learning experience. We recommend that such sessions should not be longer than 2 hours and that there should be breaks after 20 minutes.
Pre-Recorded Lectures
Asynchronous delivery to a large group where the lecturer records a lecture outside of class and shares with students in a digital format e.g. via Panopto, often breaking the content down into smaller chunks and interspersing these with quizzes and other activities to maintain student engagement and consolidate learning. This type also includes the use of curated online content from trusted sources to explain specific concepts. Pre-Recorded Lectures can be accessed remotely from anywhere. We recommend that students should not be asked to listen to pre-recorded lectures of longer than 45 mins and note that a break after 20 mins is advisable. Breaking content into 10-minute chunks is often best practice. An example of a bite-size lecture is available here.
Self-directed and self-paced learning
In its broadest meaning, self-directed learning describes a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes (Knowles, 1975, p. 18). Self-paced learning is learning that students can undertake in their own time, asynchronously.
Small Group Teaching (including tutorial and workshop)
Synchronous activity (up to c 35 students) via Teams or Big Blue Button where you can talk to students, share materials, use polls, and get students to contribute their thoughts and ideas in discussions and sometimes work in smaller groups with other students. Activities can include students making a presentation on set topics/issue, lecturers giving mini lectures which require high-level interactivity from the students, discussions around assignment questions, and so on. Can also take the form of a practical workshop with more hands-on learning (around clinical or communications skills for example). Group size can vary but it may be harder to manage and provide a good learning experience where numbers are larger. Break-out rooms can be effectively used to maximise interaction.
Group work
Can take place synchronously within small group teaching; and can be student-led or lecturer-led. Can also be a project that students undertake collaboratively over some time.
Problem-Based Learning (PBL), Case-Based Learning and variants (including virtual labs)
Synchronous activity which can be delivered within a small group teaching setting; this can be student-led or lecturer-led. PBL consists of problems designed to challenge students to use problem-solving techniques, self-directed learning strategies, team participation skills, and disciplinary knowledge. This can be unstructured open-ended problems used to drive learning. CBL presents students with specific scenarios that are inspired by real-world examples that students may experience.
Team-Based Learning (TBL)
Synchronous activity which can be delivered within a tutorial or workshop setting. Team-Based Learning (TBL) is a prescribed version of Problem-Based Learning that is highly engaging for students because it confronts them with real-world problems and forces them to work in teams to make a decision; TBL flips the classroom so that students must come to class armed with the knowledge that they will then use to grapple with the problems presented to them.


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