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David Nunan © Nasir Hamid

I’m writing this blog as the second iteration of my module on Course Design, Assessment and Evaluation is now running. The module is part of a postgraduate certificate course in teaching evidence-based health care. What a time to be involved in both these topics! There has never been a time where the topics of education and health have been at the forefront of societal activity.

Our course sits at a somewhat unique crossroads here – knowledge and skills in understanding research evidence and its application to health decision-making and how to effectively teach these to others. We have the added element of the fact that we are all educators of how to appraise and apply evidence. It becomes very interesting when you start to apply these skills to the evidence base for how, what, and why we teach this topic the way we do.

 A strong theme throughout the module so far has been online teaching and e-learning, which for many has not been something they’ve had to seriously navigate until recently. There are many ‘top tips’ around effective online teaching, but I thought it might be useful to share a few examples of what we’ve been applying over the past year and that seems to ‘work’ for our students and tutors.


1. Be explicit 

About what your learners will be doing, how they will be doing it, what’s expected of them, and your role in facilitating all of this. Do this for each and every activity your learners will be participating in.

2. Prepare to be prepared

If you normally allow some time for your learners to prepare for your teaching sessions, allow more. Particularly if preparations involve the completion of specific tasks such as the creation of materials.

3. Chunk it 

If you are providing your learners with recorded lecturers that would normally last say 50 minutes, break it down into smaller chunks (5 – 15 minutes). This not only makes it easier for the students to pause/take breaks between chunks as well as making it easier to revisit specific elements and also helps you when you need to re-record a segment because you sneezed/the kids ran in/the dog barked/your phone which you forgot to put on silent rang.

4. Going live in 3,2,1...

If feasible, offer live ‘meet the tutor’ sessions as a follow-on from any asynchronous (I too did not know what this meant before the pandemic) teaching sessions. If there was one thing that consistently receives positive learner feedback, it’s the opportunity for learners to ‘virtually’ meet the tutors delivering the teaching activities on our course to ask questions and engage in further discussions.

5. Tech savvy, not slave

When it comes to technology, my view is we need to be mindful of not trying too hard to be ‘innovative’ for the sake of innovation as well as not being a slave to the format of online delivery. Your learners are likely to be familiar with many of the technologies we use. Try to maximise this as much as possible. Some examples:

-          In our face-to-face course we normally have a group presentation activity. Moving this online, we use MS Teams. No doubt familiar to most is the ‘Chat’ function. Teams also has a useful ‘Files’ function for sharing docs and folders etc. Instead of using the virtual learning environment (we use Canvas – which is good but clunky and unfamiliar), we let learners choose to use Teams chat or even WhatsApp. We also let them decide how they want to organise and share their final presentation with the rest of the group.

Creating your own content may help with learner engagement. Here is a picture of my home office set up (which I shouldn’t complain about but am actually quite sick of):



The visualiser is neat – it allows you at the click of a button to flip your camera to view your actual desk so you can write/draw or point a specific thing out in a book or document for discussion. The Wacom touchpad is another of my favourites. Think of it as a digital pen. I use it to sketch out key learning points. Here’s an example of study designs I use on a mock blackboard template (how to create the template here):




Remember Teams? It also has a whiteboard function where groups can share and edit notes/doodles. On seeing my chalkboard doodles, one group decided to use the same method to work out the design of a study they were appraising together:





-          “Step away please”

Being online both recreationally and now for education means a heck of a lot of screen time. Try setting some activities that don’t involve a screen E.g. “Print out and read the following [paper, chapter]”; “Listen to this podcast out on a walk/away from the screen and […]”, “Sketch out a diagram of […], take a photo of it and post it on the VLE discussion forum for comments.”

6. Include everyone

You probably use a range of practices in your familiar settings to ensure teaching is inclusive. But have you reflected on how these practices relate to the remote context? Have you considered identifying new ones you might adopt? If your situation was anything like mine, you may have struggled to slow down and reflect. Luckily, there are tools to help you with this. Here is one.

Doing what I do, teaching what I teach, and working where I work, how remiss would it be for me to leave you having to rely on my opinion alone. “Show me the evidence!”. Of course, here you go.

A final note, if you are an EBM educator and not on Twitter then I strongly encourage you to give it a go. Perhaps you are apprehensive? It’s natural. I was too. Here’s a great piece on how to get started. Trust me, you won’t look back. You can follow me @dnunan79


The 2021-22 Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching Evidence-Based Health Care is open for applications until end of July 2021. 

Individual modules on the programme are also available for accredited stand-alone places.