Today, digital elements are included in almost all university teaching, from digital elements in campus courses to fully online courses. At the Center for University Teacher Education (CeUL), we work with developing teachers’ skills, such as how to use digital methods in teaching.

What’s the best way to use learning platforms like Athena?

“The design and functions of a learning platform are important of course, but I always say that it’s the instructor’s ideas that are crucial. Different learning platforms have different features, But how you set up the teaching is always the most important, regardless of platform”, says Ulf Olsson, who works with skills development in digital teaching at CeUL.

"Think about it and give it time"

In Athena there are many functions, ranging from anonymous hand-in and peer-review to linking teaching to different learning objectives. There are a lot of different options which can be a challenge for the teacher.

– When you’re a beginner, it can be difficult to get a good overview of a system like this. You can do a lot, but it also requires you to think through what you want to do. You may even need to turn off some features depending on the course layout.

Above all Ulf Olsson raises two general things to think about before starting a course.

– Firstly, think about what you want the students to learn, then use the platform to support these goals. Often, as a teacher, you know what the students find difficult and you can try to help them with that, with the help of digital support.

– The second is that in everyday life as a teacher, you have to take the time to design the digital study environment in a good way. Often we run out of time and rush at the last minute. So it's about giving yourself time to think about how Athena should be used to support learning in the best possible way.

More students can be active participants

There are also good opportunities to facilitate communication between teachers and students in a learning platform like Athena.

– What’s good about this system is that it creates a study environment where more students feel involved and can be active. This is especially important at SU where there are many “older” students with other commitments in addition to their studies who sometimes do not feel fully involved in the learning environment on campus.

One challenge is that it can be difficult as a teacher to get an overview of what students see in a learning platform.

– It's easy to see what you’ve done in the teacher view. And there is a student view where you can see what they see. But it can be difficult to understand the information that students receive on an ongoing basis when you make an update. It’s quite different than working with a regular, static website.

One way to keep track of the flow is through the self-directed tutorials available at Athena, which show how the system works for the students. CeUL has also developed “design patterns” for this, which include how to optimize the flow of information to the students in Athena.

– Design patterns are based on identifying teaching challenges and providing targeted solutions. For example, when there are many students and you want them to discuss in groups. What do you do? When it comes to Athena, for example, it might be about having a discussion forum to solve this.

Finally, do you have any good advice for those teachers who are thinking about using Athena?

– Get started, create a course and test! And give yourself plenty of time before the course starts.