Online learning in practice: using weekly video mailbags

In 2020, our academic staff have embraced new practices for teaching online.  Dr Kate Howell from the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences (FVAS) has been recording weekly video mailbag announcements for her students of food chemistry.

Video mailbags are one of five initiatives she is implementing as part of the Improving Online Learning Quality Learning and Teaching Initatives (LTIs).

Now that we are half way through the semester, we asked Dr Howell about her experience of creating mailbag videos for her students, and her tips for others who may wish to create them in their subjects.

Q: How did you find the experience of recording your mailbag videos?

“It's pretty simple to set them up. Technologically, it's been super easy, just using Echo360 to get a snapshot of myself and chatting through what's happening that week - where we've come from, what's coming up and then where we're going. And I've found that process quite good to summarise for myself as well, because I make notes for myself as I'm thinking about what happened last week, what’s the connection to this week, what I need to do, what they need to do. And so I found that articulating things that I was doing myself, maybe that’s better for everyone”.

Q: Do you have any tips for people who are thinking of creating mailbag videos for their subjects?

“Adding your personality in it might be good. I'd say the students quite like that, you know, that I'm a real person. They are getting a sense of a person at the University who’s running the subject, that it’s not a faceless exercise. I've enjoyed finding different backdrops - I was actually thinking I might go to the park one day, just kind of mixing it up a little bit.  I’ve been a bit silly sometimes, I went walking and saw some lorikeets so I took a photo, things like that. I know a lot of the students are overseas, so it’s giving them a sense of what's happening in Melbourne, the changing season, to give them a Melbourne experience.”

Q: Would you use mailbag videos again in the future? For a fully online subject? For a blended subject?

"I think I would, it sets me up for the week. I think it sets the students up as well … I essentially say the same things that I do in in the introduction, but I think it's a better way to listen, a better way to be engaged with the academic as a person. And I was thinking I might in a mailbag say this is some of the feedback, and this is my thinking and these are the requirements of the uni. And yeah, I definitely will be."

Thank you to Dr Kate Howell for sharing her experience and tips. It’s great to hear how this initiative is working for these subjects and students.

To find out how to create mailbag videos, and other strategies for enhancing online and blended learning, see the step-by-step Learning Environments guides on Implementing Online Learning Quality.

Dr Kate Howell images from mailbag and lorikeets